Sometimes it feels like a hard slog uphill on the search for work-life balance in our lives. Some days, we might see work-life balance as a cruel myth – presenting like a dangling carrot in front of the pram (or spreadsheet) promising some form of enlightened bliss… a ‘one day’ type daydream for how we picture our life could be.

Other days, we may feel we have it sorted – kids are getting on, partner is as loving as ever and we’re winning at work – projects are running smoothly, clients are happy.

The up’s and down’s show us that we are still very much working on mastering the whole work-life balance thing. Which, some might say, is ok. We’re not perfect and we’re always learning, right? But is the rollercoaster ‘ok’ really the way to live life – where our moods or  happiness is subject to the people or dramas that surround us? Or is there more?

Well, yes there is.

But before we can take our work-life balance up a level we need to stop and appreciate how far we have come.

How far we have come

How often do we stop to appreciate exactly how far we’ve come with work-life balance?  It wasn’t that long ago (in 1966) that Australia removed the Commonwealth Public Service Act where every female officer was “deemed to have retired from the Commonwealth service upon her marriage”. No real choice in work-life balance there!

There are lots of statistics that tell us how not great we are at it. In fact, the latest one from the OECD reports that Australia ranks 29th in the world on Work-life Balance.

Though it shouldn’t be, work-life balance is inextricably linked to gender equality. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report found that Australia ranks 23rd in the World Gender Gap report of 134 countries. The three key gaps when it comes to achieving gender equality in Australia are pay equity, women’s leadership and violence against women. These are all factors that impact the work-life balance for both men and women – if the treatment of any one person is lesser than another it ultimately has a negative impact on everyone… but that’s for another article.

So we know we’ve come a long way and we know we’ve got a long way to go but how do we move forward and make gender equality a hot topic of the past and work-life balance attainable and real every day?

Taking work-life balance to the next level

Could the answer to better work-life balance be in upping our appreciation and encouragement of the best (and innate) qualities men and women bring to the workplace and home?

Taking the positive approach, traditionally women are considered more nurturing, empathetic, intuitive, compassionate, relationship builders, more verbal, delicate, understanding, long-term and global perspective taking, and are more collaborative. The positive aspects men are seen to embody are they are strong, caring, intelligent, confident, powerful, assertive, focused, physical, action oriented and direct.

What if we moved forward from our ‘ok’ness’ to focusing only on and encouraging those traits (like the above) that support and enrich our work places and homes? Remembering, that in each environment both men and women are sensitive human beings that can embody any of the above qualities, including those that are traditionally seen as being a trait represented by the opposite sex?

Could it be that we are starting to realise that what women offer innately is very much needed in the workplace – especially in leadership positions? More nurturing of self and others, compassion and collaboration and so forth. Consider how the qualities of female leadership might trickle down to every department and every person, which ultimately travels back to the family unit and our communities.

Could it be that we are realising that what men offer is very much needed in the home? Consider how the support from fathers at home – doing housework and child caring duties – has encouraged more engaged dads and afforded more women to have successful careers. Or how the opportunity to tap into the natural caring quality of men is inspiring their sons and daughters – the future working parents who will lead our workplaces and communities.

No more gender wars

Could the real shift in work-life balance ultimately come from us not linking a person’s value or potential to their gender? Could it be about moving away from assessing a person’s value solely based on what they ‘do’ or ‘whether they are male or female’ to looking at ‘what they bring as a whole person’ along with their potential.

Think mother who has been out of the workforce for 10 years raising children with all her experience in time management, event co-ordination, negotiation and so forth. Or, how a dad who has a naturally caring nature, has nourished this at home and, if given the chance, would make a compassionate and innovative leader.

The way forward is for each and every one of us to consider the whole person – whether we are a:

  • Manager relating to an employee or potential job candidate
  • Mother relating to a father who wants to be more hands on at home
  • Employer considering implementing a women in leadership program
  • Customer buying lunch at a café

Look at the other and see them as more than the job or role they are doing. Look at them as the whole person they are… and then some! For that is how we help each other reach for our ‘next X’ of potential and break down the unconscious bias and gender discrimination scattered amongst our workplaces and own vernacular (however unconscious that may be).

It’s not to say we shouldn’t tap into the innate qualities of our gender (in fact let’s encourage and celebrate these) but it’s also important to realise that this is not all that we are. Appreciating ourselves ‘just because’, is so underrated. Appreciating the natural qualities of our gender – the ones that support ourselves and others, is so underrated. Appreciating the qualities of the opposite sex is also very underrated. Yet, the more we do it, the better we feel across the board – at work, at home, within ourselves.

So, bring on gender appreciation and working together to encourage each other to tap into those qualities that encourage more harmonious workplaces and homes; where work-life balance is a given and the fight for equality is a sentiment of the past.