Working Woman’s Dilemma: Boardroom or Playroom?

Posted: March 5, 2015

A working woman’s dilemma stems from having to balance a whole lot of things. Drop the guilt – it is okay for women to want it all!

Some time ago, PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi raised headlines when she said why women still can’t have it all. The matter actually raised some serious issues women face at work. Despite the herculean multitasking efforts, what do you actually choose – your career or your family?

Globally, only a 24 per cent of senior management roles are now filled by women. Women working professionals are constantly on their toes. They always have a thousand things running in the mind: if the slides are well prepared for the meeting, if the gas was switched off, if the baby sitter is managing the baby well and the list is endless.

Even in the Harry Potter series we get to read how a witch manages all the household work thanks to her magical wand, but in our muggle world, women are tackling it all without the wand or broomstick. As Charlotte Whitton puts it, “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”

“Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”

Surprisingly, even with the changing times, the yardstick for a working woman’s success today is judged by the fit-gap of her accomplishments over her work-life balance, while for men the scale is more calibrated over just the professional success. This thought needs to change and hopefully with changing times and society, it will in the days to come.

The funny part is – even if your children and husband are supportive about your career, the guilt of “I am not able to do enough for them” keeps tormenting the woman. In a recent gathering, one of our firm’s senior partners described how she felt so guilty for not being able to attend her son’s first day of college as she was at the client site. She confessed it to her son a few years later and apologized to him, and to her surprise her son did not even remember anything about that event and they had a good laugh about it!

Despite the fact that more men today are willing to take up household work and responsibilities to help their better halves carve out their professions, it can still be seen that most women choose their families over their career with the general thought, “I need to adjust; I am the woman in the house”. A very successful manager whom I knew gave up her career as no one from her extended family was ready to support her child while she was away at work. “Hopefully I will get some opportunity when my child grows up and can manage herself but I am not sure how to keep myself technologically at par with my peers for the next few years”, she said. Companies and firms do offer flexibility with work from home and sabbaticals but it is a fact that the focus and efforts needed to handle, conquer and break the glass ceiling will be a mammoth task.

And the woman who fails to cope up with the personal expectations and gives up her career for the greater good of herself and her family faces a brutal realization. After a few years, she is no longer needed 24*7 by her children, her spouse has advanced years in his career and most of her family, peers and relatives know her as someone who gave up her career for her family; from the independent achiever she has transformed into the dependent wife. Many such women I know are very happy with their lives and enjoy the household chores but most of them who once dreamt of climbing the corporate ladder but no longer find themselves a fit in the race feel extremely dejected and out of place.

Many companies have initiatives by which they hire the former women employees who had to quit due to personal reasons but are now ready to make a comeback. The alpha returner’s trend is on the rise abroad and in India and I hope it continues to soar. Societal norms and pressure affect a woman’s career choices to the extent that she is forced to choose and prioritize. But times are changing fast and hopefully, we will have a more open and liberal society where a woman finds it is easy to share the work load at home without bearing the guilt suffix attached after her ambitions.

If I were asked to share my personal experience, I would say the woman is the backbone of her household, she is the one who maintains the perfect balance between the home and work life and ensures the smooth functioning of her family’s life. Our daily schedule is like a string of pulleys attached to each other. You need to maintain that perfect equilibrium to ensure the load is balanced.

As women, we have no will to shear off any responsibility. I need to ensure I finish up the relevant deliverables before my presentation at work, I need to manage my domestic helper properly, I need to ensure my husband’s lunchbox is packed, I need to ensure my project report is submitted on time with the best quality, I need to ensure I get the medicines my mother-in-law needs and also get the required groceries while getting back from work.  Sounds like I am juggling on the tightrope walk? We do that every single day, because we are working women.

We still manage the show, we seek perfection but admit that we can also err and we learn from it!

But in spite of the non-stop juggling between the work and the plethora of responsibilities, we manage. We manage to lead the team at work, we manage to organize the birthday party for our kids, we manage to take our parents to the doctor visits, we manage to bake the special dish for our dear husband and we still manage to catch some sleep before the next day begins! Yes, may be the room decoration for the birthday celebration could have been more colourful, maybe we reached the hospital five minutes later, maybe the dish cooked is slightly burnt but so what? We still manage the show. We seek perfection but admit that we can also err and we learn from it! This is the fact which makes us so powerful, so capable and makes us a woman!

While sitting through a boardroom meeting, the woman next to you might be fighting an internal battle of whether she should be in the boardroom – taking crucial decisions for her company or in her baby’s playroom – playing with him and trying to make him laugh. I do not think she deserves to fight this guilt war or give up her dreams. I think in addition to a more conscious society, a family’s backing and outlook towards supporting a daughter or a daughter-in-law’s career should also evolve. It should be understood that a woman’s professional aspirations also need to be equally respected and supported any day.

Most importantly, a woman herself should try and focus on what she feels is important for her happiness and success professionally. She has to let go of the guilt factor lingering on her mind – it should be understood that you cannot please everybody all the time, you need to emphasise on what you enjoy the most. As Marie Curie puts it “We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”

Image of a lady working on her laptop via Shutterstock

A Consultant by profession, Aditi loves reading, writing, oration and belly dancing...

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3 Comments


  1. Loved the article Aditi and especially this line: it should be understood that you cannot please everybody all the time, you need to emphasise on what you enjoy the most. Being a working woman myself I can relate to it 100%…good read!

  2. Wonderful write up..cudnt say it better

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