Rhodes Women: Shifting the Power of Balance

Alice Buttrick
Huff Post: Women

National Work and Family Month celebrates every person's right to choose balance, and find within that balance the same potential for both capital "S" Success and the lasting impact and importance of a well-lived personal life. The Rhodes Project's goal is to examine the intersection between gender and success, using as its first main case study the first twenty-odd years of female Rhodes Scholars.

I frequently attend seminars on female leadership due to my work with the Project. I have never been to a session, whether with young professionals or established executives, where the question of managing a family is not raised. At a recent event, where older women, already accomplished in their fields, were advising a group of women in their early 20s, all four panelists agreed that it was most important to "find a solution that works for you," and suggested "getting good help." One panelist laid out her solution in detail: "I pay a lot of money for a nanny I love." Although the crowd had college degrees and boardroom aspirations, to the young mother in her first junior position who had asked the question, this solution was probably not going to be a possibility. It is even less accessible to women trying to make ends meet in wage-earning positions, or doing unpredictable shift work. But for some reason, although we have by now accepted the right to equal opportunity in employment, as a society, we have not yet come to realize any intrinsically related right to equal opportunity for balance, or at least, for seeking a flexible solution.

All of the women on the panel recognized that balancing work and family was an almost universal issue. One panelist who did not have children discussed the flipside of the problem, unfairly having to cope with the overflow from parents who could not manage all of their responsibilities, demonstrating how even those without traditional family commitments were affected. The panelists were partners in their law firms, heads of their banks, and directors of strategy at their companies; they were decision makers. And yet not one of them talked about advocating for policies that might allow other men and women to navigate the difficulties that they themselves were so keenly aware of, and that they know plague the vast majority of their staff.

This demonstrates how the bias against balance can be a self-perpetuating cycle: if the vast majority of those who make it to the top are able to do so only using costly, tailored solutions, then our leaders will not necessarily be the best suited to understand and accommodate the needs of less economically empowered workers. Despite the fact that it affects any person with a job and a life, balance will remain relegated to the domain of the privileged.

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