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166: Empowering Women in Leadership:
Balancing Career and Family without Compromise

Hi there, Coco here – great that you could join me today, I hope that the title Empowering Women in Leadership:
Balancing Career and Family without Compromise has inspired both men and women to listen, because today we will explore the remarkable journey of women in leadership roles and the beautiful balancing act called motherhood. Dive into the societal norms and stereotypes women face and how they can break free of those, whilst remaining an approachable, productive and inspiring leader – both at work and at home.

Discover the strategies and insights that help women balance their career ambitions with the demands of family life, from planning and communication to self-care and work-life balance. It’s a narrative of ambition, resilience, and creating a family life that leaves the space for women to succeed in their careers.

Whether you’re a woman in leadership or a supporter of one, this conversation is for you. So together, lets shape the future of female leadership. Coco’s Communication Challenge today is to share this episode with brilliant young female professionals and future fathers looking to support their partners. So as you are listening make a note of who you can share it with. Become a gender equality advocate – let’s empower women and create a world where leadership and motherhood go hand in hand.

I can get very passionate about women in leadership, not just because I am a woman and admittedly somewhat of a feminist but this bug bear is driven by my clients. I see incredible women wasting their talents and it gives me flashbacks to a professional sportsman that I was seeing when I was younger who was brilliant but never really took advantage of that because he lacked the faith in his own abilities and the determination to persist and perform. Thinking back, that probably sowed the seed of my fascination of coaching actually.

With women it’s complicated.
We are socialized to play second fiddle.
📌Don’t be too loud!
📌Be polite!
📌Be a good girl! 

And have been for generations, those culturally ingrained beliefs are stubborn to remove but necessary if we are to genuinely going to   support female leadership.
Sure women study, at least in Europe and the west and are often come out with better grades, that’s just the way that we tick, we want to be good at what we do and the good girl syndrome is very much a part of that, yet as we get older, that bite, that ambition that tends to fade.

So why is that? 

Society Influences
Anybody with a feisty daughter will know that girls certainly know how to be headstrong but society gnaws away at us, it is like some kind of invisible spell that more and more women leaders are learning to resist and turn their back on. Unless of course you have a feisty group of women influencing you at home and later in their careers. A problem in the complex, male dominated industries that I am working in.

For most women, their maternal clock starts ticking before they are in leadership positions. Earlier in 2023, I tried to reach out to women on maternity leave, to keep them thinking about their careers and planning for their return into the leadership roles that they had worked so hard to secure, often with the support of coaches, mentors and sponsors. More about that later. The problem with  that is timing. All wrong! Once women are thinking about babies, it is way too late to get their attention.

Hormones Kick In

Once pregnancy hits, the hormones turns our attention from ambition to home maker and carer. Once we are feeling maternal, there is little head space for much else. Once we are already carrying a child our attentions divert from career to family. It’s logical right, nice design there if the original big G is listening but if you don’t mind me saying, it is rather black and white isn’t it? I hope he’s making notes.

You see, a massive proportion of women return to work part time. That makes taking a female leadership role a less obvious option. Although it is totally possible to lead part time, especially if you are in a job share with another female leader. This is something that worked beautifully at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the branding team was head by two working Mums, each had set days in the office and we all knew who to contact about what. They were brilliant at what they did and their handover system was watertight and efficient. Because – newsflash, being a Mum doesn’t affect your ability to be brilliant at work. In fact, if you have a family and career to juggle, organisation skills, communication skills and patience all sky rocket.

Women and men both study for the same amount of time, yet men earn more, so of course that makes it easier for the guys – who rarely feel like Dads until the baby is born – to assume that the Mum will stay at home, it is a financial decision. Really? Let’s be honest, most men are petrified of taking care of a baby. It actually comes down to fear or ego.

Gender Pay Gap

If there wasn’t a pay gap, then the paternity versus maternity issue wouldn’t exist.  In Scandinavian countries like Finland, the trend is going more and more towards women taking the first maternity leave and men taking paternity leave for the second child. I think this makes a lot of sense, right ? If you are both taking time out of your career, then you are more supportive of each other’s career goals and parenting goals. You’re more aligned and it’s better for your relationship. too. It’s a win win situation really and even your kids benefit because they  get to see more of each of you too.

Women in leadership roles are masters of juggling, even if they are the one earning more, responsible for more and working more. As we know women take on a lot of what I called the ‘dirty work’, the stuff that you wouldn’t post on your instagram account – you know, changing those horrendously stinky nappies, cleaning the bins, doing the midnight feed in a trance.

Now the smart guys who are still listening – thank you for that are thinking well, I can’t do anything about that can I? Breastfeeding I mean  Well actually, even if your child isn’t on formula and still enjoying the home grown dream cream, then you can still do your bit. For my son’s midnight feed, my hubby was instrumental in making that a seemless and smooth sleepy transition.  Ooh sleep!

The bottom line is that babies don’t always sleep through, that affects our sleep as parents and if women and leadership are to go together then parents have to work together on this. The number of women that blindly accept the night time screaming as their responsibility is baffling – even for full time working mums. It’s as if it is a god given gift that the guys roll over and try to ignore what women as nurturing souls can not.

Choose your partner carefully

Gender equality starts way before you even get serious about a partner. The gay and lesbian couples that I know are typically a lot better at this actually. I recommend my young professional clients to think REALLY carefully about who they are dating. Sure when you are just getting to know each other, it is all about having a good time, eating out, partying, seeing the world. But what don’t you see?

You don’t see – or notice – how much they help, where the balance is in the relationship, you’re in love right? There is a lot that you don’t want to see when you are in love. Zone in on the small gestures, what do they do to make life simpler, that’s communication. That’s them telling you that they respect you and love you enough to help you or not  , that this is a team effort. The partner that expects you to cook, come to their place, make the reservations had better be doing his bit in other areas of the relationship. And visaversa of course.

Relationship – your relationship with each other is almost a taboo word at the beginning but if women in leadership positions or those that aspire to be in leadership positions don’t give this the attention that it deserves then they are jeopardising their career and their reputation. Sound dramatic?

Equality in the workplace starts with equality at home and whilst it is natural to slip into taking responsibility for certain chores because it is important for you (I can’t stand dirty toilets so I am happy to do it – needs to be done right) or easy to do (food shopping gets me out of the office), there needs to be that balance – that is the foundation because otherwise women in leadership are too exhausted to come to work as fresh as their male counterparts for leadership and decision-making. Gender diversity depends on your sleep, yes. If we are to perform then we need to be fresh – that is the same for anyone.

So if you have been earmarked as leadership potential in your last performance appraisal or from your mentor or sponsor, then you need to start making some critical decisions in your private life and more importantly you have to have some open and honest conversations before that family card is on the table (brought up in conversation).

Coaches, mentors and sponsors
They’re critical. Get yourself a coach that will help you to find out what you really need, what’s important to you. Get someone inside the company to be your mentor, to give you insights into what behaviours you need to demonstrate, who you need to be speaking to and sponsors who are going to put you forward, who are going to give you the exposure at work to get into the position that you deserve. 

Successful female leaders do this…
As female leaders are proving, it is totally possible to have the best of both worlds – family and career but it does need more attention to detail than it would if you had a non leadership role or a family with no emotional drama – tell me if you know of one.  Parenting for men is often the clean and cosy stuff, playing with the kids, picking them up from Kindergarten and having fun with them. On the other hand, women leaders often have to balance their demanding careers with pretty much everything at home – if they’re not careful! You can change that.

Emotional Labour
While it is true that some men may also take on emotional labour in their families, traditionally, society has placed the burden of this work on women. So let me tell you what emotional labour is.  Emotional labor includes tasks such as organizing doctor’s appointments, managing household chores, the emotionally draining task of mediating conflicts between family members, and providing that emotional support to children and partners. Men can do that too, but they tend not to see it as being a priority or just take the easy life route and let Mum do it. Sure it takes practice but that’s how the female partners have learned it too you know. But men are perfectly able to do that too. that’s bonding.

We can have it all.
Female leaders who want to maintain a successful career while also raising a family often have to navigate these additional responsibilities. This is where clear, continuous and careful communication comes in. They must carefully plan their schedules, be prepared to delegate tasks, and find ways to manage their own emotional well-being amidst the demands of both their professional and personal lives.

So who can you delegate to? 
Well you can delegate cleaning to a cleaner, you can delegate child care to a grandparent, if you don’t have a grandparent which I never had, you can depend to a “Tagesmutter” (childcarer working in their own home) or a nanny or a babysitter.  Babysitters are great, they want to earn some money, they want to earn some money, so give them the opportunity to come over and take your kids to judo or whatever it is.   It’s money you have to spend (invest) but it gives you some headspace and some time for yourself. Don’t underestimate that.

Fair Share at Home
It is important to note that some families have a much  more balanced distributional of domestic and family chores than others, but as a recent discussion that I had with young professionals revealed, it isn’t just the older generation that struggles with this, old stereotypes can be stubborn to readdress and that can be exhausting. Especially for example in cultures where women are still not seen to be on a par. Often they told me, it’s easier and often faster ‘just to do it themselves’ but that brings me onto my next point – expectations and perfectionism.

Women in the workplace report that they catch themselves taking over because they want – or insist on – having things done properly. But beware, each and every  time you do this, again you are communicating acceptance and defeat. If your standards are too high then your partner can easily wriggle out of things – I know this because I do this too myself. Now that doesn’t mean that you have to put up with Captain Half A Job’s sloppy efforts to do their bit. You can point out what they missed or show them how you do it or ask them to finish the job and if you can train a grown man to do this, the chances are good that you will raise sons and daughters that do their bit too. Something that  your future daughter and son in law will thank you for – in fact you can be paving the way for their financial freedom by making domestic chores the norm and an act of love.

DINKIES _ Double Income no kids
Now I don’t know about you but I grew up with a fair amount of women leaders without children and it can be tempting to think – oh they’ve got it easy, they have no family to worry about but be careful here. A – Perhaps they cannot have children and are throwing themselves into their work as a distraction or B they might have children but choose not to talk about it. Yes in 2023 that happens. The bottom line is, having a family is a beautiful and exhausting experience that you should absolutely not deny yourself of – instead let me help you as your coach to manage both with communication as your super power both at home and at work.

Don’t put off starting a family
Many women are putting off having children because it can feel impossible to find the right time to take your foot off the career accelerator, right, I know. I did the same thing. But be careful, women need to be careful not to miss that fertility window of time and whilst you can of course adopt or foster children, which is a beautiful thing to do, that is a different experience that is often even more complicated and emotionally exhausting (and rewarding) than having your own family.

Keep an eye on your fertility (Both of you)
My recommendation to you is to get a check up at your gynacologist and both of you should get regular check-ups before you want children, your time might be running out faster than you would like, but you cannot turn back that clock. Be proactive about that. If you need to, freeze some eggs, you know, do something that you can come back to later.

The bottom line is – there is never the perfect time to start a family, have your first child until you are pregnant and those hormones normally, kick in. 

The experiences and challenges faced by female leaders in managing family and career are diverse and unique to each individual and each couple   .

Ultimately, achieving a successful balance between family and career for women leaders means that you will have to invest in building your resilience. That means a healthy diet, plenty of sport, time out –    just to do what you want to do and of course sleep. Start focusing on this as soon as you can to manage the emotional pressures that come your way alongside your professional responsibilities. 

Observation about ‘being busy’
I would like to make a cultural observation. I noticed when I was in the UK this summer that there is still this ‘hustle’ or ‘busy busy’ mentality. I thought that was an 80s thing, because that is when I left London,  but I think it is just a mentality that is cultural and this  frame of mind is controlled by you. 

You only let the thoughts in that you are happy to entertain.
Only you determine which thoughts get your attention.

Mind Over Matter
Sure as a professional working mum,  you will have a lot on your plate but by slowing things down, by reframing things positively and being in control of your thoughts you can transform hustle in to calm and in control, you can shift from busy busy, to happy busy, for your own sake and that of your children. Kids are so receptive to your mood, it’s like osmosis. You just can’t fool them and if they’re acting out think about what you are doing, saying and what your behaviour is like. 

I like to change the conversation in my head by pretending that I am speaking to someone who wanted to see me fail or always made me feel inferior. You probably have people like this in your life too.  I talk to myself saying things like “yeah, I’m fairly busy but I take Fridays off and only spend three days a week teaching and coaching. I also do sport every day and take the time to prepare something that brings our family together … you see, this takes the sting out of that mind talk and you should try it. In fact I have a whole episode on this with Claire Sewell – It’s called Managing Those Mind Monkeys For Better Career Opportunities (It’s Episode 135).

Serious about your career? Act now.
So to recap, if you are serious about your career then choose your partner wisely, create clear expectations, work as a team and support each other both at home but also in your careers. Your career development is a  reflection of your relationship. Create a home life that enables you to perform as a parent, partner and professional. Let’s actively ensure that men and women have equal opportunities to provide future generations with the role models they need to see leadership as a female  totally within their grasp. 

Meetup “Back to Business Baby”
If you are interested in finding out more about female leadership then why not join my Meetup Group, at the moment it is called “Back to Business, Baby” although I’m thinking of changing the name. So please join the group and help me find a better name, a name for women who are not thinking about babies yet and who are ambitious and determined to become and remain  strong powerful leaders.  That’s the time that we need to get all of your ducks in a row – if you are to come back to a leadership role once you are a parent.

Need a new name – please help!
I’d love your ideas for names for the group, so tell me would resonate? Send me an email, catch me on Instagram or Linkedin – I’d really love to know, because I’ve got some names but none of them really grab me.

Coco's Communication Challenge - Corinne Wilhelm in formal business wear giving instructions

Coco’s Communication Challenge

If you know of a young professional woman who is just too brilliant to lose after maternity leave, which sadly is often the case, then do forward this to her and of course, the guys need to know this stuff too. So likewise if you know of a guy whose partner is pregnant and they’re looking forward to becoming a brilliant Dad then forward this episode to them because by being a wonderfully supportive partner, family life will be a lot more enjoyable 

So if you know someone who is a young dad or just about to welcome a new baby into their life and they are genuine about supporting their partners long term, to become dynamite parents, then this episode could be great for them too. 

Take care now



Corinne Wilhelm * English Speaking Experts
Communication kudos for an inspiring career

+49 30 36289155  |  +49 173 1688006

Seekorso 72, 14089 Berlin. GERMANY