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I want some decent role models

Recently at work we have been rolling out a mentoring programme and I put my hand up to ask if I could be matched to someone.  In my imagination a mentor would be someone who I could learn from, someone who could help me navigate the minefields of trying to combine a career and motherhood and marriage and all whilst having nice shoes.  Not exactly a tall order I’d have thought.

I may be being blinkered or be missing something but what has come out of this process is that it appears that there are a very few people that I look at on the corporate ladder and want to grow into.

I can’t see any working mothers who have a two career household.  The message coming across loud and clear is that if you want to succeed at the top then you need to be the big cheese at home as well as in the office and without that support you’re not going to make it.  Given that Mr Muddling is very clear that he is not even going to consider giving it all up to become a house husband we have a bit of a problem.  And it leaves me with nobody I see ahead of me on the career ladder who has navigated through the same challenges I have or even understand them.  I’m not even narrowing my search to just women, it appears that there is not a man at the top of this business who has a wife with an equivalent career.  Why not?  Certainly it leaves me without someone I can talk to about how Mr Muddling and I can carry on both doing well in our jobs whilst not requiring one of us to become a trailing wife.  I want to understand how you can make it work not be told that there is no way it can work.  I don’t believe that there is no way it can work despite all this evidence to the contrary.

Having children also doesn’t seem to be good for your career.  There are a lot of senior women who have chosen to be child free.  Unfortunately I can’t (nor would I want to) turn the clock back to the days before babies but that does seem to be something I should have considered.  I can see that your career can be all consuming and that if you want to succeed you need focus but I’m not prepared to sacrifice having a family to get ahead.  And again, that single-minded determination to get ahead isn’t really me.  I want to talk to someone who can share with me how to balance the needs of ambition and the desire to have a career with the calls of home and family.  I want to learn how to do this and to learn what pitfalls to avoid.  I don’t want to have to pretend that I don’t have children to be successful.

I’m also going to sound incredibly shallow if I say that being badly dressed also appears to be something you need to do here to be successful.  I don’t believe that a uniform of dark suit and white shirt means that people don’t focus on my clothes but on what I’m saying.  I like to look nice, I like to not wear suits and to embrace dresses and accessories.  I don’t want to merge into the background and I try very hard that my outfits don’t dominate the conversation but reinforce my personality.  If I’m the only woman in the room, so long as I look smart, I’m going to stand out by virtue of my sex even if I’m dressed in the dreariest clothes possible.  And you know what, having great shoes can act as an icebreaker and doesn’t signal that I’m an airhead.  But apparently the vibe here seems to be that the route to the top needs you need to look more butch than Bradshaw.

So I look around for role models and I’m not sure I want to become any of them – I don’t want to emulate them and I certainly don’t want to dress like them.
Perhaps this is the problem with this job and this organisation, with the City and the work I do, perhaps the reason we are losing women hand over fist is because, like me, after 15 years pushing ahead and trying to get to the top, we’ve looked up and realised that we don’t like the look of those at the top.

As always the question is what next, what now, what can I do? 

Do I stay and try and change things one pair of nice shoes at a time or do I get out before I start thinking that I need to tone it down to get ahead?

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11 comments to I want some decent role models

  • anna

    I truly understand what u say & wish I knew such mentors too. Sometimes I feel like I’m on this journey all by myself and there’s no one to help

  • So much resonates! My trade is certainly less City-ish but very male dominated. And most of them have very bad teeth (all that wine). Best advice I was ever given, by a woman/mother in the trade was to put family first, then you will never look back with regret. But I know I’m not really answering your question. To that, I’d say push on through and never give in to the black trouser suit from M&S.

  • Thanks for this – this is my first visit here, and I feel like you’re blogging about my life! I was at (yet another) meeting at a firm (City, law) last night on “How can we help more women reach the top?”. Depressing how little has changed in the 15 years I’ve been having this conversation, and more depressing still how few role models and mentors there are who seem to be making this work.

    Part of that, though, I think, is because there really aren’t that many women in the generation ahead of us who have done it quite the way we’re now trying to do it. Gender equality in the workplace is still an evolving concept and the earliest pioneers – those women who carved out their careers in the 1980s and are nearing retirement now – did it – and I’m generalising wildly here – in part by emulating men. They dressed in a sober way, didn’t have children (or didn’t talk about it too much if they did) and generally ‘acted tough’. They fought tooth and nail for what they have acheived, often at great personal cost, and it’s our privilege to be standing on their shoulders. Like all of us, having made choices and sacrifices, they don’t like those to be second-guessed or challenged even implicitly, and so my own experience is that I don’t find many women older than me who really have much patience discussing children, clothes, personal impact, etc with me.

    What we’re trying to do now (I’m assuming we’re roughly peers – mid-30’s – small children, around 15 years in the workplace), is move the evolution on a step so that we can take our place as women in the workplace without having to go in disguise as men. I want to bring all of myself – all of my strengths, experience, approach, context, etc to bear in the work that I do – and be actively respected, not just tolerated, for it. That brings with it its own privileges (nice shoes!), and its own challenges (“Good grief! You’re wearing something floral! You’re a GIRL! Argh – I can’t leave this complicated piece of business modelling with you – let me find you some macrame” etc)

    And as for what that means we should actually DO? For my money – wear nice clothes, try to be a role model for the women coming behind me, stay flexible in what the right balance looks like, try not to give up. Remember that nothing rocks like my kids. Remember it’s just a job. Remember that life is long. And short. Pay the mortgage. Drink gin.

    • That last paragraph has it right down – remaining true to me and who I am is key because whether they like it or not I am a woman, and a mother but I’m still good at this job

      p.s. pleased to meet you!

  • Role with the punches | Emmaeus

    […] the lack of role models, and how valuable more would be – a view echoed, brilliantly, by Muddling Along Mummy in her blog earlier this […]

  • Now there’s foo d for thought, I sadly don’t have your answer, I was made redundant during my pregnancy and haven’t returned to work since as I have twins.
    Thanks for entering this into the carnival I’m sure many will resonate with it

  • Thanks for linking up. Working in the NHS I’m happy to say that being a woman isn’t too much of a problem in terms of progression but kids are another story.

    Like a lot of careers it is possible to go part time or work flexibly but you won’t be taken as seriously and you’re very unlikely to get promoted until you return to full time. We also have the particular problem that many senior roles involve out of hours work or at least being on call from home and you will occasionally have to dash to the hospital in the middle of the night if there’s a major incident which would be a nightmare for childcare.

    As a result I’m resigned to staying in my mid-level job while the boys are young. It’s a bit frustrating but I figure I’ve got at least another 30 years of working. There’s still time to be a high flyer, fingers crossed!

  • Bagadoodoo

    I totally see your point, so I hate to say this. I just don’t know if it is possible to sustain a two career family at the high end at least until children are old enough for boarding school! My B-in-L hauled his way up the corporate ladder to board of multi national. They relocated every two years & for the last five years before retirement he was abroad 50% of the time. No way was he EVER available to help with childcare/school pick ups etc. My big Sis is laid back, sociable made new friends everywhere she went, found work that suited her – special needs teaching, school governor, charity work. She wasn’t sitting waiting to welcome him home from a trip with a special meal. Oh no, M&S in fridge you know how to work microwave, I’m out with new friends much to my mother’s horror. Still she managed house, son, dogs – it’s got to be done & with all those relocations how could they have managed if she wanted a similar career? Family life is family life – compromising all the way to meet all the conflicting needs. One (I’m being gender neutral here) just has to decide who is making which compromise but someone’s gotta do it.

  • madurama

    Just stumbled upon this Muddling. I was thinking of asking my line manager to be my mentor. She is a senior manager, almost board level but she is just pregnant with her first child. She is mid-30s like me too. I’d have preferred someone who has experience with small children like I have. Oh well.. I keep searching… Lateral Mentors anyone?

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