I was having dinner with a few friends who were mothers and we were talking about our kids and work. One of them recently resigned from a high paying and high level marketing position in the private sector. She did this so she could focus and spend more time nurturing and teaching her four children. She shared with us that one of her female colleagues told her that she was still young and it was “such a waste” for her to stop work to look after children. That statement both irked me and amused me at the same time. How could it ever be a waste to be responsible to raise and nurture a helpless infant into a happy, healthy and valuable young adult? I feel that such a statement may reflect how parenting is valued in an economically driven society. Is making money and developing a career more valued than making children and building them up?
Ever since women entered the workforce, there has been a tug-of-war of sorts especially for working mothers. On one hand, we want to be involved, to contribute and have a sense of personal achievement in work, and yet feel the natural calling to nurture and spend time with our children. In culture, in society and in policies, it is the dichotomous nature of how women are defined – stay-home mother versus career mother – that shape employment and the way we work. Does it have to be one or the other? Why not both?
- In a survey by Citi and LinkedIn early this year, 96% of the 520 professional women think that “having it all” – careers, financial stability and relationships – is attainable.
- For the majority of women in the survey, success was defined by having a job they enjoy, where their work is valued. Only 17% of women stated that reaching the height of success in their field was a factor of “having it all.” For another 15%, success meant being their own boss.
What’s interesting here is that the majority defined success in job satisfaction and appreciation; not advancement. Gallup, known for its Q12 Employee Engagement Survey has also done extensive research to show the link between high employee engagement and high work performance. And high employee engagement has more to do with having personal development, a sense of purpose and appreciation.
Another research by sociologist Catherine Hakim from the London School of Economics highlights that there are three lifestyle preferences that women choose: home-centered, work-centered or adaptive. Her research points out that about 20% of women favor a home-centered life, 20% for a work-centered life, while the 60% majority of women prefer a life that combines career and family, i.e. adaptive. I’ve not done empirical research on this but based on what I hear from colleagues, ex-colleagues, husband’s colleagues and other peers and friends, I would say that this is true.
So what has all these got to do with the work-family ideals of women, the ideals of employers in having a high performing workforce, and the government’s hope to increase fertility rates?
Maybe employers and the government should take a leaf from my husband’s jest “listen to the wife, she’s always right.” Many government incentives favor the full-time working mother – working mother child relief, tax relief for working mothers who hire domestic helpers, higher childcare subsidies for working mothers. So what do women want? If the research mentioned above is anything to go by, then more incentives and policies should target and reach the majority of women who want a life that combines career and family rather than full-time working mothers, as well as incentivize employers to support flexible work arrangements.
Having the infrastructure and policies to support flexible work arrangements is important. But what truly makes it successful is trust and managing work performance by outcome and not by face time. In the Singapore context and culture, it might be a big paradigm shift as well as a learning curve for employers and individual managers to leverage on technology in managing staff remotely and by outcome. But the greatest mountain to overcome comes down to the value of having a culture of trust.
Focus on the Family Singapore was just awarded the Work-life Excellence Award 2012 and as a staff, I can truly testify that this organization understands and practices the value of meeting staff’s work-life needs. It’s one thing to have semblances of a pro-worklife employer by having fruits in office, implementing annual family day or even asking staff to go home on time or early on Fridays. But trust is really the deal breaker. Ernest Hemingway once said “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
The employer-employee relationship works both ways. That’s why I think the articulated culture here at Focus supports the commitment to work-life excellence – Trust Culture, Healthy Conflict, 100% Commitment, Accountability and Results. I’m the beneficiary of this trust and commitment from my leaders in the organization. I am one of the 60% of women who prefer a life that combines career and family and I can say that I’m “having it all.”