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Why work/life balance is a myth


Guest written by Ellenor Cox

Do you think a man would ever be asked in a job interview when he was planning to have children or how he’s coping with his work/life balance?


The fact that these questions are still commonplace in the workplace to have our female C-Suite leaders rolling their eyes with frustration, and our aspiring female leaders shaking their heads in quiet desperation.


From an early age, young women are told that we can have it all – a successful and rewarding career and a loving partnership and family.


Often this perception is accentuated by women leaders who portray themselves as being able to achieve this balance whilst masking a reality that has them only just holding on by the tips of their fingernails and stretched far too thinly across too many expectations…expectations that are often self-imposed.


In an attempt to play like a man in a predominately male world of leadership, women often compromise on their inherent values and leadership styles in an attempt to fit in or be seen as capable.


There needs to be franker and more authentic conversations taking place by women, with women and for women on uncovering these unhelpful myths and normalising strategies that can cultivate more authentic leadership styles and more heartfelt and open discussions around the work/life balance conundrum.


In the lead up to this year’s 4th Women In Leadership Summit in Sydney, some of the keynote speakers recognised this need for authenticity and offered their thoughts ahead of time.




Claire Rogers, CEO of World Vision, was blunt in her assessment. ‘’Balance’ is an unhelpful word. It conjures up life and work as two separate things we have placed on a set of scales that we’re constantly trying to keep in equilibrium. It doesn’t work like that,” she said.


Similarly, Chelsea Bonner, Founder of Bella Management says: “This whole idea of balance makes me laugh. It’s the golden carrot hung in front of you to supposedly keep you motivated. I live in the real world and all I want is a happy productive life yet human life is a messy, crazy, happy, terrifying ride. As they say, the only constant in life is change.”


Marnie Baker, MD of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, takes it a step further.


“I was told that women could have it all, a successful and rewarding career, a loving marriage/partnership and family, and a working environment that encouraged this balance. The fact is, we can’t have it all. It is an unfair expectation that is placed on women.”


Rather than there being a universal set of foolproof strategies, what becomes apparent is the importance that these C-Suite women have all placed on being clear with both themselves and those around them; focusing on what’s important to them personally and then giving themselves the permission to dedicate their attention to these matters.


This doesn’t result in a perfect balance but if you love what you do and your career aligns with your values then as Marnie puts it, “your work becomes a very different experience and is one part of your life that connects with and supports the other parts.”


Ann Sherry, Chairperson of Carnival Australia, sums up the main gist of this conversation by succinctly stating that the “trade-offs always have to be made”.


The thing to keep in mind here is to never trade off what you value and love, as the balance you may find will be nothing more than a temporary (and hollow) victory.


Where the opportunities do lie instead are in fostering the skills around mastering honest and direct communications, embracing the vulnerability that comes with the uncertainty of initiating these challenging conversations, and ultimately, holding firm on value-related boundaries.


So let’s ditch the work-life balance question and instead be asking in interviews: How do you nourish yourself as a person and not just as a worker?


This concept and many other great topics will be explored in detail at The Women in Leadership Summit in late September. Click here for more details.