Thursday, 27 August 2015

Boardroom Blues - paying the hidden price of success
Just as we thought we had finally cracked the Glass Ceiling, it seems that life on the other side might be making us sick. New academic research  reported by Anna Maxted in this weeks Times shows growing levels of burnout among senior women.  Experts explained  that women in their forties are most susceptible with growing numbers experiencing a form of extreme stress which in medical terms is heading towards depression. "Women are trying to forge ahead professionally, they have children, elderly parents and they're trying to hold it all together".

Perfectionism can clearly be toxic to health and happiness.  As more women take on senior roles, more 'Alpha Females' are emerging and it's doing us real harm.  These are typically senior high achieving women who want to be perfect in all aspects of their lives - well-rounded children, a partner who is her soulmate plus a chic home, a wardrobe to create envy amongst her friends and all that on less that six hours sleep a night.

We have always had a tendency to be our own harshest critics so why is this getting worse?  I think we're victims of our own success.  Ironically now that being the prime breadwinner is becoming much more the norm, women are now under pressure to earn the sort of high salaries that fund private school fees, three holdiays a year and a house in London or the Home Counties.

According to Family and Childcare Trust, childcare costs have risen by a third in five years pushing many families into one parent caring for children rather than work to pay for childcare  Living costs for the squeezed middle classes are rising at a breathtaking speed and it is increasingly these women on the other side of the Glass Ceiling who are feeling the full force of the pressure to meet those expectations for their families.
The chief chillaxer shows how it done   DailyMail
Part of the problem is our desire to put ourselves under insane amounts of pressure.  Alpha female tendencies plus a healthy dose of female guilt are not things our male counterparts suffer from.  Because men don't worry much about these issues, they use most of their emotional energy to deliver results at work then 'chillax' at the weekends with their families.

Another, less discussed issue is how men whose wives are now the primary breadwinners handle the emotional dynamic of playing supporter. Less naturally the nurturers, they may well find their wife owning the pressure of keeping up the house, fees and family expectations is very disempowering.  It's bad enough that they don't earn more money, now they are not responsible for the long term welfare of their families. That's a big shift.

Men and women can - thankfully - now both be primary breadwinners or primary carers pretty interchangeably.  But in lots of other ways the sexes are not the same.  They handle stress differently and men whose wives are the primary breadwinner need to be able to empathise not just transfer how they would feel in the same position.  More should be done to build support networks for men who are the primary carers and this should include this kind of education and honest discussion.

We should continue to monitor our own perfectionist tendencies to avoid self-destructive behaviour.  Perhaps we should all have our own checklists - don't sweat the small stuff and decide with your partner what are the trade-offs you're prepared to make for example are you happy to put your children in different schools if it takes some of the financial pressure off you?

We can't wait around to get this right.  If women are going to successfully consolidate the tremendous gains we have made to secure senior roles then we need to adjust or we'll find ourselves the victims of our own success.  This really is doable - we just need to be self aware and take care of ourselves.