By Marissa Geist, CEO
My generation of women leaders stands on the shoulders of giants. We owe access to our C-suite positions to those tenacious women who went before us, breaking through glass ceilings and blazing trails into the boardroom.
When I took the reins as CEO of Cielo, I had big shoes to fill. My predecessor had battled her way into the business. In those days, she had to dress and act like a man to avoid being the one asked to serve the coffee in a meeting. She was fighting for a voice and for a seat at the table.
Our generation’s fight is different. Women are at the table – perhaps not as frequently as we’d hoped, but we are there. Our fight isn’t to get in the door, it’s the battle for balance: to combine a thriving career with a rewarding home life.
The multitasking myth
In the days of power suits, movies like Mr. Mom doubled down on stereotypes and mocked more equitable roles in the home. I’m not sure we’ve come so very far. Nearly every ambitious woman I know is still struggling to figure out how to balance career advancement and family life. And I’m not just talking about the kids, but our partnerships and marriages.
Studies show "45% of female breadwinners do the majority of household tasks" compared to just 12% of male breadwinners. Harvard research confirms that women continue to be the “project managers” of the home. Our supposed ability to multitask cannot become the excuse for this unequal division of labor.
As a society, we remain conflicted about women’s success. In 2016, 29% of women out-earned their husbands, yet research shows that even those earning 80% or more of the family’s income are often reluctant to call themselves the “breadwinner.” That same research found that when women do better than their husbands financially, they take on more housework, not less.
I am fortunate to have a great spouse who is supportive of my career. However, the rules haven’t been written for what “supportive of my career” looks like when it comes to childcare, housework, grocery shopping, meal making and the dreaded laundry pile. Why is it that when we shift the breadwinning mantle to our shoulders, the household management doesn’t shift to our spouse? Is he helping me out with the housework? Or is the housework his?
When we made such a massive shift in the rules at work, we underestimated that there is a bigger, more personal shift that needs to happen at home. We don’t have a model for a sustainable version of this life – yet.
Building for balance
There’s certainly more work to do in the boardroom to achieve gender balance. Without this, young women professionals could look at what we are doing, see the struggle and continue to opt out. So how can we support women in the workplace when much of this is a private conversation?
We can start by simply talking about it. Talk about it in mentoring relationships, talk about it in career advisement and talk about it with male colleagues. Many successful women I know are just now beginning to normalize this conversation. We’ve gone years thinking this was limited to our individual experience and relationship issues, only to recognize that it is more common than not. Bridging the conversation, let us crowdsource a solution and find a community both at work and at home.
Women in business aren’t banging on the door to be let in anymore. There’s no need to redo the work of the past. Instead, we should focus on ensuring those coming up behind us don’t have to face the same exhausting juggle and impossible trade-offs we did. We can actively work on creating balance by starting the next conversation. We owe it to the women who paved the way for us to continue building forward, better.
Together we can reset and keep resetting expectations, challenging the deep-rooted assumptions. This is a conversation to have again and again so you get your joy and your role and aspirations in the workplace.
Start the conversation – and don’t stop. Yes, it’s intensely personal, which is why these conversations haven’t made it to the top of our agendas. That in itself is holding back the creation of a new norm. Give yourself permission to not do it all and renegotiate the new norms.
Originally featured in Forbes.