The term “work-life balance” was originally coined to refer to the dichotomy that women are faced with when trying to be attentive to, and achieve satisfaction in, their work and family roles equally. This way, women can potentially identify, and therefore face, conflicting demands in their path towards achieving a high position in a company in order to maintain a family-oriented focus. In fact, women not only struggle with what is expected of them but what they think is expected of them, which adds more burden to their actions and to the perception of themselves.
This idea of striving to reach the ideal work-life balance is ever-present and, unfortunately, it is clearly apparent that the same is not demanded men. Luckily for them, and even more so for those that work long hours or that consciously decide to lead a career-oriented life, it is assumed that they will always strive to be the best at their work. They don’t consider the conundrum of whether they have properly balanced their work, family and other life choices.
In this way, the ambitions that women should have in life are perceived differently to those normally considered for men. Typically, men are expected to be career-driven and their role in the family (if they eventually decide to have one) is that of the provider, thus strengthening their ambition towards a higher paying job and greater leadership positions. Leadership is normatively considered a trait in men, whereas occasionally when women display leadership, it still seems unnatural. Contrarily, a woman's ambition is assumed to be more dedicated to raising children – if a woman’s working life impedes her in any way of being a “good” mother, then she should always give it up to achieve that family greatness.
In this stereotypical scenario, the personal choices that women make should always take them towards having a family, even if that means compromising their career trajectory when the clash between work and family is no longer sustainable. Even more so, women are expected to have multiple roles within their communities, families, workplaces and to invest a great amount of energy and time in all of them. Thus, they can potentially experience a role overload, which causes an increase of stress, a decrease of wellbeing and a potential strain in their relationships with their partner, their children and other people close to them.
There’s a need to look at work and life outside of work not as balance, but as integration. Finding a balance is an impossible task, especially depending on what everyone actually prefers to do. By using the word “balance”, women are forced to define the important aspects of their lives through the lens of a scale, which is reduced to two sides in order to find the perfect stabilising point. It separates women into two distinct and opposing roles. Realistically, women are much more than these discrete roles into which they are automatically prescribed. When it is a one-size-fits-all, balance takes away women’s individual wants, needs, hopes and dreams.
Passion and drive are two qualities that have long been frowned upon in women, but we are slowly shifting away from this perspective. Perhaps what we want is not balance at all, but a way of integrating work, family life and life outside these two in the most suitable way for each individual. Women have realised that men have become aware of it as well (and some have even been supporting their respective partners in fulfilling their work goals), and companies are more and more attentive to the incredible value that having women in top leadership positions means for them.