Much discussion, debate and hand-wringing has been had over the concept of “having it all.” I am not sure who first coined this phrase or how we ended up obsessing endlessly over whether women can have successful careers and thriving, happy families, but it is time to unequivocally end this debate.
Today, women represent 47 per cent of the workforce and over 70 per cent of women with children under 16 work. In Canada, 90 per cent of women return to work within one year of having a child and 30 per cent of women are the primary breadwinners in the family. The reality for the vast majority of families today is that mothers work and their financial contribution to the family is becoming increasingly significant.
Given that mothers are working — and that this is the norm, not the exception for most families today — the discussion should be focused on how we ensure that women thrive and succeed in the corporate world alongside men. Surely they should expect the time and effort they invest in their careers to reap similar success and rewards to that of men.
The question we should be asking is how do we create work environments that allow women to prosper in their careers and rise into leadership roles along with men.
It is time to make having children and raising families an integral part of any talent management strategy. Providing transparent maternity leave policies and re-integration practices post-leave, along with allowing for flexible work arrangements for both men and women during their careers, should be the norm in business today.
“It is time to stop questioning the value women bring to the economy, and the value that brings to our families and society.”
Most importantly, employers need to ensure that having children does not impede prospects for career progression and compensation. Biological clocks have a tendency to be at odds with today’s career clocks, and that timing can lead to women being taken off leadership tracks when they have children. Companies need to take a long-term perspective on their employees’ careers and allow for alternative pace and paths to leadership.
Creating work environments that reflect the reality that both women and men are working and raising children is critical to not only women, but to the competitiveness of the economy. We are not maximizing the talent pool when 50 per cent of the population is absent from the vast majority of leadership roles that shape our economy.
Furthermore, the persistent gender pay gap is largely related to biases on the value of men’s talent versus women’s talent and outdated views on gender roles and family income. This comes at a significant cost to the wealth of women and their families. Simply closing the gender wage gap is estimated to increase GDP in the U.S. and Canada by approximately 10 per cent.
If the definition of “having it all” is having a successful career and a happy, healthy family, we all deserve that, man or woman. Admittedly, we won’t “have it all” every hour of every day or every day of every week, but the balance between work and family will swing with the needs and rhythms of both.
It is time to stop questioning the value women bring to the economy, and the value that brings to our families and society. Societies that recognize the critical role women play in the economy and modernize the corporate environment to reflect the reality of today’s families will be the ones that build great companies and lead in the century ahead.
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