Men view the "work world" and the "personal world" as distinct disconnected spheres of activity. Women tend to view their "work worlds" as circles within the spheres of their "personal worlds". There are benefits to both views. Today, Michelle Obama described a good example of the benefits of the male view (advance to around 7:45 on this clip).
She explains that when he walks from his office in the West Wing to the family quarters, President Obama lets work drain away so he can be present as a father and husband. It is safe to assume that when he walks back to the West Wing in the morning, he lets home drain away.
On Monday, I was working with a group of women from India and we had a discussion about whether women in India face a choice between being mothers and being successful career women. I made two main points in the discussion.
First that most of the Fortune 500 women CEOs are mothers, so the obvious answer is, no. We don't face an either/or choice.
The second was that to get ahead, it is important how a woman manages her home life when at work. It is useful to learn to let our home life drain away so we can be fully present as professionals and leaders. Because, while our identities as women might be deeply tied to our identities as mothers, our identities as leaders are not.
A woman who leads with home issues will be seen as a less valuable resource. Recently, a participant in one of our assessments received many comments about the significant demands of her home life. The unstated message behind these comments is that she has trouble meeting the demands of the current job given her home life, so why would management consider her for a bigger job in the future.
If compartmentalizing is something you'd like to get better at, here are 3 tips:
- If you have to pick up your children or attend an event, don't explain to anyone. Leave and take care of business. If you have to explain, say something like, "I have an appointment."
- Don't initiate conversations with discussions about your family. If the men you work with do, feel free to contribute at a personal level that goes no further than theirs.
- Be sensitive to over-displaying family in your work space. Look at the work areas of people whose jobs you aspire to and take a cue from them.
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls.
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