Updated: Apr 30, 2021
As working mums we always want to feel fulfilled and in charge of our careers, but from time to time we may experience odd moments that can hold us back or make us hesitate in taking steps for our professional development and progression. I will be naming and shaming 6 covert barriers that many working mums face when trying to excel in their careers.
Disclaimer: Although I’ll be using the term syndrome for some of these barriers, I am in no way a Dr and employing this word in a general sense.
An inferiority complex is a feeling that one is inferior to others in some way due to real or imagined social, physical or intellectual appearances (1). Although there are a lot of campaigns underway, many of us have spent many years growing up in a male dominated world, and may have internalised the idea that certain positions are for men only. In addition, modern day messaging may also have you believing that some roles are for childless women only.
The trouble with this is that it can lead people into believing that they are incapable of performing certain activities or stand their ground due to their “shortcomings” which of course are false. A lot of social constructs are in fact just man-made and aren’t as bullet proof as you may think.
Lack of belief
This one I can’t stress enough! Related to, but different from inferiority complex is the general lack of belief. Whist the previous explanation comes from a “stay in your place” attitude, a lack of belief centres more around confidence in your abilities. Belief is so fundamentally important as it keeps you optimistic and drives your actions towards your goals. You’ve heard the saying whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right, meaning whatever you decide believe, will come to pass. So if you genuinely and wholeheartedly believe that you CAN do something, it will come together.
Comparison is the thief of joy, and this is because when we compare ourselves to others we are almost certainly going to feel deflated, inadequate and “behind”. Somehow our smart (but illogical) brains compare our entire life spectrum (good and bad) to just the highlights that other people are choosing to share with us, or what we are choosing to focus on. And it happens so easily. I have seen this in a lot of mums, they’ll ask a general question to another mum, get a response, then have a moment of quietness contemplating whether they should have made the same decision.
The trouble with comparison is that it can mistakenly make you think that what works for one person will work for another.
Don’t get me wrong, healthy competition is great and being inspired by something is also fantastic, but if you find yourself not appreciating the already good thing that you have going on, then you are bound to find yourself falling for everything that comes your way, and eventually feeling resentful of yourself.
Fear of failure
This is a common one. Being so scared of failing that we never get started to begin with! But I get it, no one wants the pain of investing a lot of time in something for it to fail, or to experience the embarrassment of falling flat on your face, or even the disappointment of not achieving a set goal, especially because you are now a role model. But here’s the thing, even if you do fail in front of your kid so what? It’s bound to happen at some point, and guess what… your child will also fail at some point in their life as well.
Witnessing how mummy deals with disappointment and bounces back is a great opportunity for building resilience and a healthy perspective on how to tackle such challenges.
So say you do take that step and find yourself being promoted or accepted for a role that you are qualified for, but then this lingering sense of inadequacy or self-doubt starts to take heave on your mind? This feeling is what is often described as imposter syndrome, where one believes that they have somehow been winging it all along, everyone else is actually qualified for their roles, and the “unqualified” person is bound to be found out as a fraud (2). This can have an effect on your career as it takes away your sense of self-esteem. Not to mention, that always seeking external validation can obscure how you are viewed as a leader and can affect how your team work with you.
And last but not least… good old mum guilt! The doubt that you are somehow falling short on your mummy duties (3). And when it comes to your job, it can be the fear that choosing to work or work long hours may have a negative impact on your child, so much so that you turn down great opportunities. Or even the other way round, anxious that you are not performing as well as you should at work because of your little one.
I am guilty of mum-guilt (I swear I tried several variations of that sentence), and constantly have to reaffirm to myself that my daughter will be fine whilst in suitable care. I must admit, it is easier said than done, my child is evolving at the same time as my career and I worry that if I blink everything will become unrecognisable to me. Nevertheless, there are two take-home philosophies that I have come to terms with. Firstly not everyone can actually see my battles and deep down in my heart, I know that I am doing my very best with my circumstances. And secondly, realising that it’s never going to be perfect.
High childcare costs, lacking a supportive network, and long commutes are other barriers, mums face, but are usually the ones most easily identified. As a working mum it is important to identify any negative experiences you are going through and disconnect yourself from them as soon as possible. Many of the issues listed above will be experienced mildly by many, and can usually be shared with a kind ear or dissolved though a therapeutic activity such as exercising or playing an instrument. However if ofcourse the experiences seem too much to deal with alone, remember there is always help that you can seek.