Being a mother and a successful businesswoman can look like a near impossible combination. The idea that women can’t ‘have it all’ seems like an outdated concept, but is actually still as prevalent as ever – women often strive for both, but are inevitably met with substantial hurdles. Managing time and being productive at work is significantly more difficult when you have to look after your children; make breakfast for the family, get ready for work and do the school run every morning. For the upcoming generation of women, it can seem incredibly daunting; the importance of being realistic about the possibility of simultaneous professional success, and balancing family life, is crucial. It is important to note that the definition of success is inherently variable, and is shaped by infinite perceptions, attitudes and opinions. Therefore, when measuring ‘success’, it is important to create a dialogue which covers the circumstantial nature of the term.
One of the greatest obstacles to women striving to find the perfect balance is other women in similar circumstances. Women will often compare their work-life balance with their peers, specifically those with familial responsibilities. Perhaps worrying whether they are prioritising work at a high cost to their families, or neglecting their work in favour of spending more time with their children. Times are changing. Women are not expected to stick solely to the domestic sphere, and can have flourishing careers as well as be doting mothers. However, men are still assumed to continue working life as normal, whereas female business leaders will be held to a different standard. Unfortunately, there is a cultural stigma which cannot be ignored; thus, single mothers, in particular, can find this balance the most challenging. Not having the option for spousal support can make the situation difficult; and managing a business as well as domestic responsibilities can seem impossible.
Apart from day-to-day obligations, the ritual and routine of balancing a career and home life is constantly challenged by school holidays and sickness. Particularly for single mothers, if your child is sick it may be difficult to take time off to care for them. Furthermore, there are roughly 13 weeks of school holiday every year, which is a huge amount of time to be spending potentially away from the office. Although childcare can be a solution, it’s not always accessible or financially viable. Aside from organised holidays, additional events and circumstances unavoidably present themselves as a parent. The sheer amount of extraneous time devoted to looking after your children is perfectly manageable as a full-time parent; but, again, seems difficult when combined with a successful career.
Undoubtedly, the odds are stacked against women aiming for this balance. Although, nobody denies the difficulty - the two can co-exist. Many women, in fact, argue that the two complement each other. To overcome this, flexibility is key. Increasingly, women are craving a more flexible working environment, where they have more control over being a mother, whilst achieving success in their career. Due to the changing landscape and shift toward the digital economy, jobs are becoming more flexible than ever. Mobile web services, cloud computing, freelancing, and, most significantly, social media, have irrevocably changed the business environment. These advances are not only proven to aid business growth; they also improve employment growth prospects. The limitless boundaries of enterprises and the seemingly endless possibilities of expansion have entirely reshaped the nature of work – which, as a career-oriented individual as well as devoted mother, can be immeasurably beneficial. Due to these immense changes, finding a more flexible working environment is substantially easier than in the past. Choosing the hours that you work has obvious benefits, including having a level of control needed to balance responsibilities.
Many women who have recognised the benefits of flexible working have begun to take control of their situation; some have even started their own businesses. According to the Women’s Business Council, self-employment in the UK is at the highest level in 40 years – with much of the growth among women. However, Female entrepreneurship in the UK is growing; ‘women now account for nearly a third (32%) of all self-employment compared with 28 per cent of self-employment before the recession’. Furthermore, businesses and smaller firms managed by women have increased significantly. The potential of women in business is steadily increasing and the shape of the digital economy has contributed to this change. Women now have a greater opportunity to choose a flexible working lifestyle, enabling the possibility of a flourishing home and work life.
Outsourcing is another way in which business women can find balance between their work-home life as it can be used when additional help may be needed, without the need to hire full time employees. This support system can be absolutely crucial in a time crunch or during considerably stressful periods - and can help business continue to run smoothly. For women who need to get work done and have children to care for, outsourcing can be essential. Certain companies such as SmartPA offer administrative help on an ad hoc basis, offering remote support and providing assistance from a team with a professional background. Outsourcing can also be used at home in order to assist with mundane tasks such as walking the dog, shoving your driveway or picking up the kids from school. Here are some additional benefits of outsourcing.
Although many women are choosing to launch their own businesses for greater independence and flexibility, this can be a daunting task and not always a financially plausible route. The nature of running a business can be all consuming, and often presents difficulty when balancing with a busy home life. In this case, tapping into a franchise is a great idea; the practice of using a firm’s business model and brand for a prescribed amount of time is advantageous for many reasons. It allows the franchisor a way to expand without sourcing finance from investors or onboarding costly staff and gives franchisees way to launch their own business with the support of an established brand.
The independence of small business ownership is therefore within reach, but you get the benefits of a large business network. Rather than simply being a direct employee, franchising means a stake in the business itself, providing a greater incentive and bigger responsibilities to the franchisee. A franchise considerably increases your chances of business success, as you are associating with proven methods and products, you gain the recognition of a well-known brand-name and an existing customer base. According to research by the British Franchise Association, the contribution of franchising to the UK economy is now ‘reckoned to be £15.1 billion, an increase of 46% over the past 10 years and up 10% since the last survey in 2013’. Furthermore, the total number of people employed in franchising in the UK is now at 621,000, of which 321,000 are in full-time employment, which equates to a 70% increase over the past 10 years - franchisees’ satisfaction is also at an all-time high. Clearly, evidence shows that franchising is a viable, and successful route to take for a budding entrepreneur or a born leader, and also a mother. Franchising allows women to dedicate time to grow their business and be a dedicated mother. This also means that as a business you are still subject to the practices and procedures put in place by the franchisor so you are not entirely independent; nevertheless, as a mother balancing home life and the routine of work, this structure can be superior.
Having a successful career and home life, is no doubt challenging as it can present hurdles. Commonly, women are discouraged from choosing this lifestyle due to the perceived difficultly. Choosing a more flexible working environment, taking control of your career, outsourcing and launching your own business are some practical methods proven to help maintain a successful work life balance.
Sarra Bejaoui, Client Services and Operations Director of SmartPA. SmartPA is a UK-based business that provides outsourced professional administrative and business support to large corporations, SMEs and individuals. Follow on twitter: @Smart_PA