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What Gives? Career or Family?

Category: Pro-Opinion, gender, Family, career

What Gives? Career or Family?

You may have seen the uproar recently when Kirsty Allsopp, property developer, mother and domestic goddess shared the advice she would give to her daughter with the Telegraph:

"Darling, do you know what? Don't go to university. Start work straight after school, stay at home, save up your deposit – I'll help you, let's get you into a flat. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you're 27."

While I was at first shocked by this advice, it is very close to my experience. I left school with A-Levels, went to work, saved up and bought a flat by the time I was 25, found a nice boyfriend, who became my husband, and had a baby at 30. Darn it I missed Kristy’s target by 3 years. But life was different then wasn't it? There were jobs for those who wanted them, technology wasn't as prolific and so there was less competition, and property prices were achievable for first time buyers. I didn't wait to go to University as Kirsty advises, I studied in the evening while working full-time, it took longer and I am sure I didn't have as much fun as I would have done being a full-time student, but I think Kirsty would approve.

I won't be sharing Kirsty’s advice with my daughter as I think it’s out of date for Millenials who need a degree to get a job, to get on the property ladder, and may meet their future spouse at University, however I concede it does have some merit.

• We can't deny women’s body clocks and unless we all decide to freeze our eggs and have surrogates waiting in the wings, which is possible by the way, then there is an upper limit on having children safely for us and them.

• I have met many successful career women who lament ‘have children now, don't wait, if you wait it may never happen’, they speak from bitter experience of choosing career over family. Although, increasingly I meet women who are childfree by choice, rather than childless.

• University is not for everyone, it doesn't guarantee you a job and your dream job may be to be a fantastic wife, mother, homemaker and if so you really should be Kirsty’s child.

I started a discussion about this on LinkedIn and here’s one response which I think sums up the complexity of the career or family challenge for women:

I understand where she is coming from. Especially as a woman in my early 30s who is just getting on track career wise and thinking about whether the next step - a family of my own - is even possible. Its true... Nature really is not a feminist and that needs to be thrown in to the limelight for discussion. However, as I want a certain standard of living for any child I might have and as the standard of living has dropped across a generation in London ( i.e. a small 3 bedroom family home is now a luxury item), it looks as though I will be forced to choose career or family... and for me one comes before the other. Children aren't cheap!

So what gives? Career or family?

It seems that women must plan their family life as well as there careers with the same tenacity if they don't want to miss out. Yet I think the pressure could be reduced if organisations provided more organic and flexible career paths for women and men.

Womens careers are rarely linear, we may be coming at the ladder straight from University, we may not get onto the ladder until later due to having children, or we may step off the ladder to have children and then want to return. None of these routes mean that we take our careers less seriously or are less equipped than our male counterparts, yet we often feel that we are penalised as a result.

How organisations accommodate those different career entry, exit and return points makes a big difference. How you involve men as part of the parenting equation does so too, and it starts not with policies but behaviours from those at the top.

I say well done to Kirsty for bringing it up, she definitely does not speak for all women, but who does? Let’s not vilify her for having an opinion; lets use it to fuel the debate. What do you think of her advice? What gives in your life? Career or family?

Jenny Garrett, Award Winning Executive Coach, founder of Reflexion Associates, a leadership and coaching consultancy and author of Rocking Your Role – the how to guide to success for female breadwinners. Find out more about her here.

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