I’m going to start with a question. For the female readers, do you believe you have had equal opportunity in your career? And for the men, do you think your female colleagues have had equal opportunity? For my part, I believe I have had equal opportunity. I think that superannuation is one of the better industries from this perspective. Yes, there are certain companies and divisions of companies in our industry where this isn’t the case. And yes, we still have a gender pay gap and yes we don’t have enough female representation on boards and in senior management.
However, I’m seeing the introduction of good HR policies, an increased understanding of the differences in how men and women operate in the workplace, growing support from male CEOs, more focus on metrics and KPIs and companies rolling out training to address some of the inequities. So, I am optimistic about the future.
Hence, my thesis is that we are on our way to achieving gender equality in the workplace. However, like so often when a challenge is overcome, another one surfaces. I believe balancing career and motherhood (and fatherhood) may be an even more “wicked” problem than equality. My experience is that it is hard. Very hard. Further, I think it is a social phenomenon of this century.
If one is not careful, a career mum can end up running around like the proverbial headless chicken, being pulled in all directions, with constant feelings of guilt and physical exhaustion. At worst there can be illness, anxiety, depression, marriage break-ups and unhappy kids.
So, how can we “have it all”? Given my background in strategy, I was inclined to try to think about this challenge strategically. My strong view is that there is no silver bullet. Instead we need a holistic approach.
As a career mum, I have tried to do things a bit differently. This included working part-time and flexibly for over 12 years at Colonial First State/ CBA, which was quite unusual in a general manager role. Needless to say, I had a lot of support from my employer.
I was also happy to consciously put my career on hold while I had my three children. Over time, I became fascinated by the stories of my female friends and colleagues working in the superannuation and funds management industries, particularly the growing cohort who were working part-time in senior roles.
McKinsey 7S framework
When it came to framing the topic and bringing these learnings together, I thought that the best way to do it, to capture the strategic nature of the problem and the holistic nature of the solution, was to apply the McKinsey 7S framework to the life of a career mum. The McKinsey 7S framework is a well-known business strategy framework.
The first “S” is shared values and normally refers to corporate culture. For a career mum, it’s the shared values between her and her partner. They need to work out what’s going to make them happy and get on the same page.
The second “S” is structure, normally referring to organisation structure.
In the case of career mums, it’s about how you structure your life. I am a big advocate for part-time work and I think it is critical to achieving balance (assuming you don’t have a “house husband”).
The next “S” is style. For a career mum, this is her style in the workplace.
The fourth “S” is skills. For career mums, this is about how she can use her skills to position herself in a part-time role with the right company and a supportive boss.
The next “S” is strategy. For a career mum, the most important strategy is the child care strategy.
The next “S” is staff. For a career mum, this is the combination of what her partner does and what they can outsource.
The final “S” is systems. For career mums these are the processes and technology she needs to put in place.
In conclusion, I don’t think it’s possible to “have it all.” I also don’t think it’s possible to be a perfect career mum. However, I do think with some forward planning and prioritising, it is possible to have the bits of “it all” that you want. Quentin Bryce put it well when she said, “you can have it all, but not all at the same time.”
Nicolette Rubinsztein is a non-executive Director at UniSuper, SuperEd and the Actuaries Institute. She is author of “Not Guilty”, a guide book for career mums.