The number of self-employed women has been on a steady increase during the past 30 years.
Women are starting new firms at twice the rate of all other businesses. Female-owned firms number 9.1 million, or nearly 40 percent of all U.S. businesses.
Together they employ 27.5 million people and generate more than $3.6 trillion in sales, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners.
And yet…the conversation about women and our rights is heating up.
Call it the war on women. Call it women can’t have it all. Call it the mommy wars. Call it what you like. But it feels like we’ve regressed 50 years in the past six months.
I travel for work. A ton. I think I’m on my 15th week in a row of travel…with another eight to go before I spend one full week at home. And you know what I see? Men. Lots and lots of men.
I see them in the expert security lines. I see them getting on the plane first because of their status. I see them sitting in First Class. I see them at the rental car facilities. I see them everywhere. And, every once in a while, a woman stands out from the crowd. Not because she’s dressed sharp or is attractive, but because she’s one in a sea of hundreds of men.
Don’t get me wrong. I love men. But it sure would be nice to see more women on the road.
The Women Having it All Debate
Earlier this month, The Atlantic ran an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter titled Why Women Still Can’t Have it All. According to the magazine, it is the highest read article they’ve ever had. And, to no surprise, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs posts, articles, videos, and podcasts produced about the very topic, sparked by this one article.
You see, the article’s author tells the story of how she went to work for the government (after spending many years in academia) where she no longer had the flexibility to adjust her schedule based on what her family’s needs were each day.
In short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be—at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence.
We All Work on Someone Else’s Schedule
I did my professional growing up in the global PR firm world. It was expected we bill 40 hours a week and, if we wanted to get ahead, another 20 hours a week went to business development. That was fine in my 20s and even early 30s. I didn’t mind the hours and, truth be told, if I work 60 hours in a given week today, I feel like I’m on vacation.
But having it expected of us is the old way of doing things…and it’s a hard habit to break.
Before the web and virtual offices and even the economic crash, it was expected we be in the office for a certain number of hours. I remember when I started working for a Chicago-based ad agency in 2001, the receptionist clocked us in every morning…but was never there at 8 p.m. to clock us out. That used to infuriate me because I’d get docked for coming into the office at 8:45, but didn’t get credit for being on the road or entertaining clients or working with my team until well after 5:00 p.m.
And, because of these two experiences, I took that same mentality when I started my own marketing communications firm. In by 8:30, out by 5:30. Most of us eat lunch at our desks, so don’t even think about leaving the office for an hour. And, if clients request you before 8:30 or after 5:30, you’d better be on call.
And then I learned employees are much more productive when you give them goals and hold them accountable to that instead of the number of hours they work.
How Can We Have it All?
The conversation isn’t about how we have it all. It’s about how to we get our bosses to allow us to work toward results instead of number of hours. It’s about how we start businesses or freelance or become solopreneurs so we can change the conversation. It’s about getting flextime and working from home. It’s about using technology to our advantage so we can work from the kid’s soccer games or from the coffee shop or a beach.
If you don’t have goals, that are tied directly to the organization’s goals, that’s your first step. It won’t be easy and it’s going to take some time, but if you can deliver results – real results that drive business growth – asking for flextime or a couple of hours off to go to your daughter’s dance recital, to take a parent to the doctor, or to exercise at noon will become a non-issue.
Change the conversation. It’s not about not having it all. It’s about having it all by delivering results instead of hours.
A version of this first appeared on PR Daily.