In addition to seeing clients in my private practice, I speak to parent and business groups around the metro. I’ve been invited to speak this month at the CPA firm Grant Thornton as part of their Women at Grant Thornton initiative whose mission is “to enhance the recruitment, retention and advancement of women into leadership positions.” I’ll be honest. I’m nervous prepping this talk. It’s my alumni.
Prior to becoming a therapist, I was a CPA and working as an auditor at Grant Thornton was my first “real job” after college and now I’m coming back to present on women’s issues around stress in the workforce. I specialize in working with women around topics such as perfectionism and I was struggling to put together the “perfect” speech. I’d asked my contact there to send me any requests people had for areas for me to address and I think some of my angst was triggered by the overwhelm imbedded in what they requested. They are huge gender issues that I can’t begin to solve myself, in an hour. One request in particular was worded in a way that if I did have the solution, could easily be a Doctoral dissertation. So what did I do? I scrapped large parts of what I’d written and started writing from where my passion lays.
The workforce today is rapidly changing in part due to large shifts in gender roles in our society. This is stressful. Simple as that. At a time when we tell girls they can be anything, we struggle with how to do it ourselves. A quote that has stuck with me for years is from a letter to the editor in response to a magazine article on the opportunities girl have today. The college student wrote something to the effect of “We are told that we girls can do anything but we hear that we have to do everything.” And I’ll add on “do it perfectly”.
A subspecialty of mine is supporting people who have been identified or labeled as gifted, and perfectionism and fear of failure are pretty common, as is not wanting to ask for help.
A year ago in June I started hearing the same stories from different directions all pertaining to women’s issues in the workplace and I knew I needed to pay attention. The timeline started with me reading a New Yorker article about Sheryl Sandberg and women in business. Then on the way home from presenting at the Hormel Gifted Symposium where I heard a speaker talk about the high attrition rates of women in the field of engineering, a NPR interview about Dr. Karen Sibert's Op-Ed piece came on the radio. To boil it down, she thinks doctors (aka moms trying to do both) shouldn’t be allowed to work part-time (which is 40-60 hours a week for many doctors). I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and so I poked around online and found some sites addressing burn out specifically for frustrated women doctors. The same stories about the challenges women are dealing with can be found in the fields of math, law, and business. This article, Shifting Roles and Expectations for Men and Women by Morra Aarons-Mele, does a great job of summing up the frustration and stress both genders are experiencing today.
I share these stories not to depress you, but instead to motivate people to continue asking questions and pushing for change.
One way to do that is through volunteering. I read something that suggested when helping your kids find a cause to become involved with, don’t to ask what they like, but instead ask what makes them angry or frustrated and motivated to make change. That is what this topic does for me. There are many great organizations in the metro and nationwide with these goals. Women's Foundation of Minnesota, YWCA, Women's Initiative for Self-Empowerment (WISE) and Role Reboot are just a few. Check out Volunteer Match for more where you can search by interest and zip code.
Girls and boys have more opportunities today than ever but what happens when they get into the workplace and hit that ceiling? It seems that a lot of old arguments and organzational structures force a black or white choice when it comes to juggling career and family, but with more men staying home, more women with advanced degrees, and both sexes often wanting more balance, the old corporate structures aren’t working anymore. It’s sad to me to see a syphoning off of talent via attrition when instead we could just change the model. As I type this, I know I said “just”, but if enough people agree to try something new, big things can happen.