We talk about successful gender equality programmes needing to work with the whole woman. What does that mean? Anna and Cal, Shine For Women’s founders, explain why it’s necessary.

The Juggling Act

Following centuries of expectation of women’s roles around child-rearing, home-making and ‘husband maintenance’, we’ve spent the last 50 years adding opportunities for women to enter the workforce and build a career. But has society really ever rebooted the expectations of what women do at home – and whose fault is that? Anna and Cal, the founders of Shine for Women, take a look at The Juggling Act and why women are doing it all.

“It all comes down to our definition of success!” says Anna. “Its very different for the men and the women. A man says he is successful if he earns a lot of money doing the career he wanted, or has worked hard for. Women are different. They will only call themselves successful if they are winning at home AND at work. This includes a good family life, a great job, a successful emotional and physical relationship with their partner, a good work/life balance, a clean and tidy house….and all of that. If all of those things (and more) are not absolutely right, then we see ourselves as not perfect.”

Caroline agrees. “We cannot really measure a woman on what success means for a man. That’s obvious. That’s why at Shine we say to the women that attend workshops ‘You do not have to compartmentalise. You are not just bringing your ‘business persona’; you are bringing ALL of you to this programme. Women are made up from these parts – we cannot simply focus on one of those, because they all link.”

“Most of the strategic excellence courses I ran for professional women previously,” says Anna, “were in very male dominated industries like law and consulting or oil. So they were all about ‘fixing’ the women – giving them management or networking skills, making them a bit more ‘man-like’. Women don’t actually need any help in that way – they are resourceful and creative. We just need to give them some time out from the office to give them some clarity about what they need and want. We need to bring women together to get their network warm and and support each other.”

“Yes, they want to do well with all of these roles,” says Caroline, “But they’ll not define themselves as successful if even one of those roles isn’t going well. So often we have women that come to a Shine workshop and as they start opening up to us they are saying similar things; they might be really flying at work, but they don’t get home to see the kids or ‘spend enough time with my husband’ or ‘my weight and fitness levels aren’t great right now’…they will never define themselves as successful because one of these things isn’t quite as they wish it to be. So that standard to which they hold themselves is so high it’s actually impossible to ever find a woman that would define herself as completely successful. So we tell them ‘focus on what you want to do next, get your clarity on what your bigger professional game might be – but if you ignore everything else it isn’t going to work.’ They might be coming to talk about their careers but there is no point in doing that if you don’t put your personal life in order.”

“Absolutely,” agrees Anna, “Often when we do sessions around ‘what help you need’, someone might decide that they want to go for the CEO job but the actual support they need for that is a really decent nanny. Until they acknowledge that there’s something else they need, it doesn’t actually work. In a Shine workshop we would actually be coaching around that.”

“So often it isn’t about their actual work” says Cal. “Yesterday I had someone talking to me about what job they wanted to do and she burst into tears. Actually it turned out that she had been single for three years and had therefore thrown herself into work and was really miserable. What she actually needed to do was re-think the plan on how she was going to find a partner in life which is ultimately more important than her next job.”

“Women have a reluctance to ask for help. They feel as if they are failing if they haven’t got it covered. So the danger is that they are really tough on themselves. Equally, women add roles all the time. Even if they are managing their work all the time and their marriage and family life is working well, the moment that they are successful they will add another one. It’s never ending. So therefore they can never truly define their life as successful because as soon as everything is right – they introduce something else.”

Anna adds: “That’s why so many women end up leaving their job. They can’t cope. Women feel guilty about childcare, use nurseries rather than nannies or mother’s helpers (which considering how many illnesses your child needs to go through to build up their immune system do not work). I find it astonishing that in a country where nannies were invented and the school system works for mothers (in Germany primary school ends at noon) childcare still has such a big stigma.

Is it bad to enjoy your job? Something you have been trained for and you are extremely good at? I’m not telling my kids that my work is a terrible sacrifice and that I’d rather bake cup cakes all day or spend my life in the salt mines of play groups (I did try that when they were young).  I love to work and I love to go away and run my workshops and I love going to London because it gives me a break from the sometimes boring routine of motherhood which I like equally but not all of the time and I always had someone to help me looking after my children.”