Women function as wives or girl-friends, mothers, aunts, grandmothers even, while working full time in the labor force. Research shows that although women are spending more time in the work place, they are also spending more time in child-care responsibilities. Women have continued to have to work two full time jobs, sometimes more, to make ends meet, as well as to meet demands both at home and work. In the majority of cases, women are single parents with the primary responsibility for raising children.
Additionally, more and more women are involved in business and are either entrepreneurs or working as executives in organizations, which very often are male dominated and unsympathetic to the needs and support systems that would help them to properly fulfil their roles. Many women in the executive arena have written books giving voice to their experiences, primarily with the aim of empowering women that they can do it all in this quest to thrive in spaces previously dominated by men. From Sheryl Sandsberg, who advocated that women could have it all, to Arena Huffington of Thrive, who herself became an advocate of mental health after being diagnosed with burn out, to Michelle Obama, who talked about “becoming” in your own space, more and more women are writing in an effort to encourage not just survival, but thriving in all aspects of their lives.
Here in the Caribbean, to a large extent, we receive that encouragement from our mothers and we see how it has fueled the thriving of our girls and women in academia, the working world, and now the business world. This, to a large extent, is due to the matriarchal society in which we were raised and the messaging received, either overt or subtle.
Central to this ongoing struggle, though, is a unique challenge to women: achieving work-life balance! It is unique to us because the dynamics of the work environment continue to exert enormous pressure on working women. The scientific literature is clear that “working women experience greater difficulty than men in balancing work and family”. There is often conflict as there is “job spill-over” into the home environment; and often working women are called upon to make sacrifices in one or other environment, and to adhere to distinct norms which are different to men. As I experienced recently, when one is forced to make a professional sacrifice for family empowerment, our society neither understands nor has structures in place to support this changing reality of the work and business place as it relates to women.
Impaired work life balance results in multiple mental health challenges for women. Chronic stress related conditions, depression, anxiety and burn out, and the multitude of related medical illnesses are not uncommon as a result. Not to mention the effect on family and professional relationships as one navigates potentially rough waters. Following are some tips to improve our personal resilience so that we can effectively manage the stresses of the multiple roles which we may be required to carry:
Accept that finding that “sweet spot” between work and home is not a perfect science and we must let go of the ideal in our heads. Do your very best in each area of responsibility and advocate for what you may need to be successful. We are not required to be perfect; we should only aim to live our best lives possible in the time we have allocated on this earth.