While I can’t be entirely sure about why that is, but all around us, women are being held to superhuman standards. The common assumption in our culture is that women who are successful in their careers are also great at everything else they do. Or they should be. Their homes look like Martha Stewart’s, they’ve had kids but look like Heidi Klum (who’s had 4 children and wears a size 2) and they can cook up a fantastic gourmet meal to rival chef Gordon Ramsey—and do it with a smile.
Working women today are faced with a paradox. To start, they are expected to do well in their work and be the primary caregivers at home. Fortunately a new generation of dads is sharing child-care responsibilities, but women still carry the main weight, devoting, on average, 28 hours a week to laundry and meals and homework in comparison with men’s 10.
Think about the women you know you are very successful in their careers. Do we know what the other areas of their lives look like? Being a successful woman does not mean being a woman who does it all—or necessarily does it all well. Too often, when we don’t succeed at something expected of us, we feel like absolute failures. I’m talking about real women, like you and I, strong women who work hard and strive for quality in our lives, and yet are often overwhelmed by attempting to be a relentless perfectionist. Or, you may have a tendency to become an execution machine just trying to get stuff done, fast. Unless we aspire to the Stepford model, all perfection but no soul, we need to confront these false expectations, first within ourselves and then at home and the workplace, because they make us feel inadequate and chip away at our self-esteem.
For British pop star Adele, it seemed some of her fans expected her to drop all her maternity weight before she returned to the stage, and slammed her when she didn’t. I have my own experience. A former boyfriend was at my house relaxing and browsing through a fashion magazine one evening, when he pointed to a fashion model on a page and said: “This is what your body used to look like.” Can you believe that? Mind you, he was referring to a year where I battled IBS and was on a very serious diet along with meds that made me too ill to eat. His comment didn’t seem at all hypocritical to him because like most of us, he had bought into the cultural bias that says it’s ok for men to go bald and add a gut, but women must maintain their youth and figure as they age. You could dismiss this as a sexist comment, or gain insight into the realities of our image-obsessed culture. Women are expected to look better as they get older. That is a true paradox. Just look at a photographic timeline of Meryl Streep (who we love.) But really, is that even possible?
And, sad to say, this is what people expect as you climb the ladder:
Competence is only table stakes. It's what gets you in the door. It's expected that you'll be competent, but competence alone won't move you forward. Research showed that about 55 percent of your credibility comes from how you look. How you sound accounts for an additional 38 percent. Only 7 percent of your credibility is based on what you say. If you don't look the part, you won't be recognized as a competent professional — no matter how smart or educated you are. –Excerpted from the book “Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office.”
No woman, no matter how talented or beautiful, can ever realistically hope to meet the demands and expectations placed on them. We need to begin to embrace our idiosyncrasies our perfect imperfections and focus less on what is expected of us to do or say or weigh, and more on our individual and interpersonal attributes. As I see it, there’s a new type of Alpha female to inspire us.
Can you relate to these common paradoxes – expectations??
• Dedicated mom but kick ass career woman
• Baby talk to the kids and be dazzling dinner party conversationalist
• Devoted, patient wife while pursuing your spiritual development in India
• Conservative PTA mom but “uninhibited” in the bedroom
• Impeccably groomed and always ready to go to the ER at 3 a.m.
• Great fun gal pal with a desirable social life who is devoted to her elderly parents care
• Bake award-winning cupcakes and negotiate the $1 billion merger
• Put in the overtime required to make partner and pick up the kids by 5 from daycare
• Build a business, with no start-up cash while being all smiles and fun.
• Pursue the corner office, lead your team, and serve an organic, homemade dinner by 6
Exhausted just reading it? Let’s be our real selves and embrace the imperfect and the incomplete as that’s what makes us who we are.
Beate Chelette is a respected career coach, consummate entrepreneur and founder of The Women’s Code, a unique guide to personal and career success that offers a new code of conduct for today’s business, private and digital world. Determined to build a community of women helping each other, after selling one of her companies, BeateWorks, to Bill Gates in 2006 for millions of dollars, Beate launched The Women’s Code to reach women everywhere.