Balance for Better - a personal reflection
For those of you who don’t know me and are new to my blog, I retired from corporate life in June 2017. Well I say retired, it was more of a throw my toys out of the pram and walk away. The first thing I did was to go travelling for six months, which was when I started blogging. Two things I never thought I would do in my life, travel and write. For the first time in my life I had space and time to do something different.
Before I left the corporate world, I had been asked to give talks to some of the more junior women in the organisation I worked for. This led me to spend some time reflecting on both my life and my career. It had never really occurred to me how much change there has been for women in my lifetime, change which is still ongoing.
Starting work at the tender age of sixteen, the expectations and rules were very different. I met my first husband at work, and I had to get a new job, because married couples could not work in the same organisation. It was always the woman who had to move, because they just had a job, not a career. Then the expectation was to have children after two years. We were very young when we married 18 and 20, so it wasn’t too surprising that we chose not to have children within the normal timescales. We were divorced ten years later, no children and I started to grow as a person, become self sufficient, retrained in IT and suddenly out of nowhere I suppose I became a career woman.
We have reached an age where anything is possible, well almost anything. We still don’t have equal pay, neither do we have access to the Board Room as easily as we should. Research shows that women’s expectations change over their life time, and it varies hugely from country to country. Younger women expect to have a successful career and reach Board level. Women in their 50s and 60s are more likely to have accepted they won’t make it and settle for something less, and often work life balance is more important to them. Many, like me, have spent their working lives juggling with childcare issues, managing expectations in relationships and fighting to be seen at work. Often following the advice of various successful women in how to get that promotion and being encouraged to act like a man.
Mary Portas has written a great book called Work like a Woman and she has changed her whole organisation to reflect the needs of working women. It’s a great read and reflects my experience of working life. I saw her talking at the Women Mean Business conference recently and she has become one of my heroines. She really wants to change the way women work and for women to stop trying to act like men. I applaud that.
My last year of corporate life was spent in Edinburgh, where I became friends with a neighbour who lived in the ground floor flat. She was exactly twenty years older than me, I was 63 and she was 83. On the day I arrived I had a heavy suitcase to carry up two floors of a very grand staircase. I was recovering from an operation so not at my best and she had a bad wrist from a fall, but she insisted that she should help me carry the case upstairs and simply would not take no for an answer. We became friends and on a couple of evenings over a glass or two of wine, she told me her life story. She had gone to university and then got a job in the Oil Industry as an Oil Economist. She was a successful career woman, who bucked the trend. She was sent for an interview at the Oil company but refused to accept a job as a secretary and what’s more didn’t wear a hat or gloves to the interview. When she said she was looking for a role that wasn’t secretarial she was sent for a second interview. The man who employed her wanted a woman on his team, can you believe it, a forward-thinking man all those years ago, she fitted the bill. She married not long after getting the job and had two children, she juggled it all, working full time, part time, full time and she became a partner. So maybe things haven’t changed quite as much in my lifetime as I think they have.
So now my life is different again, I have managed to engage in all sorts of pursuits, as well as working on a couple of projects and setting up a new business. I feel in control of my life and know that anything is possible. I am excited about the future, I have time to think and to be and I can balance on one leg!