It’s the elephant in the room during job interviews, the first thought when a woman puts on a wedding ring, the question women are bombarded with once they reach 30: Will you be having kids soon?
If, as a woman, you do choose to have children, it is automatically assumed your career will be over. No questions asked there. After all, how could you possibly succeed in a leadership role and be a mother?
However, women can (and do) excel in both, and the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is about to show the world how it is done.
At 37 years old, Ardern is the world’s youngest female leader–this is no small feat in itself. Currently, there are only 15 world leaders who are women, out of a total of 193 UN member states.
Ardern has taken one more step that is unheard of for a female Prime Minister. She has announced that she and her partner Clark will be expecting their first child in June.
I’ll be prime minister and a mum, and Clarke will be ‘first man of fishing’ and stay at home dad. I think it’s fair to say that this will be a wee one that a village will raise, but we couldn’t be more excited.
Taking just six weeks off from her role as Prime Minister, but staying fully contactable, Ardern will be doing what millions of women around the world do every day–juggling full-time work and motherhood.
The Truth about Professionalism and Motherhood
Research shows, despite common myths about kids being neglected, children of working mothers actually end up being more successful and well-rounded adults. Forbes has reported on a Harvard study which found that daughters of working mums grew up to “accomplish more at work, earn more money and climb higher on the corporate ladder”. While the sons “pitch in more at home, clocking almost twice as many hours on family and child care as men with stay-at-home moms.”
Additionally, women who are able to continue to progress in their careers, regardless of their family, are able to offer many benefits to organisations. For example, according to a study by Catalyst, Fortune 500 companies with more female board directors attained “significantly higher financial performance”.
Another study published in the Harvard Business Review found that women leaders were rated more highly in 12 of the 16 competencies required for outstanding leadership.
In the US, women gain 60 percent of undergraduate degrees, and 60 percent of all master’s degrees, making them, overall, more educated than men.
Unfortunately, despite this research and the ongoing women’s movement, women are still lagging in leadership roles. In America, they make up “only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.”
Leading the Way for Women
As Ardern also explains, women often feel the need to constantly prove themselves:
Whether it is placed on us or whether we carry it ourselves, there is this constant expectation that we need to be doing more in every element or aspect of our lives. To be a better sister, a better daughter, a better partner, better at our jobs, better at caregiving–just everything. I think we just carry so much expectation and guilt.
As the women’s movement continues to grow, the challenges women face in the workforce are becoming more and more prominent in the public eye; Ardern is sure to further highlight these and the benefits of women who choose both a career and family.
The pregnancy announcement has already been embraced by other politicians and New Zealanders, showing a promising first step for the Prime Minister’s journey. As the Green Party Leader, James Shaw, aptly put it:
That a woman can be the Prime Minister of New Zealand and choose to have a family while in office says a lot about the kind of country we are and that we can be–modern, progressive, inclusive, and equal.