Working Women Guilt is a thing. It's well documented and not just limited to working mothers. Executive women the globe over, whether they are parents or not, talk about feeling guilty. A lot.
Anne Marie Slaughter (Why Women Still Can't Have it All) and Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In) have both written about guilt and women. Feeling guilty has become a way of life for many.
Things women tell me they feel guilty about:
Sleeping in and not getting a workout in before work
Not getting up at 5am to start work early
Earning more than male peers or partners (if lucky enough!)
Leaving the office before others
Not being there for kids while working
Working out, when you should be at home doing something for the kids
Asking working mothers to stay back late at the office
Making mistakes at work
Not being thin enough / well dressed enough / good enough - full stop
Eating/drinking too much
Choosing to take a significant career break whether you are a parent or not
Choosing not to take a significant career break as a parent (working mother guilt)
Not having a career strategy
Not being ambitious enough
Being too ambitious
Speaking or laughing too loudly in the office
Not cooking proper home cooked meals for the family
And the list goes on .....
It's contradictory, convoluted and complicated. Lots of examples of damned when we do, and doomed when we don't. And then you feel guilty, or possibly even stupid, for having these contradictory feelings of guilt.
The Stereotype Effect is alive and well for executive women and stronger for women than men. When reminded of our femininity we are more prone to performing to the stereotype, or feel guilty if/when we don't.
IT'S NOT ALL BAD
There are benefits in feeling guilty. Research demonstrates that guilt helps with empathy and building and maintaining relationships, with one study finding that while shame was linked to personal distress, guilt was linked to perspective taking. Is this then why "the feminine" is said to be better at emotional intelligence and relationships?
But when the burden of guilt becomes overwhelming and possibly even for contradictory issues, it runs the risk of becoming a Catch 22 and a waste of energy. It's distracting, draining and keeps us playing small.
Have you heard the expression "like water off a ducks back" - where hurts and infractions slide right off? Perhaps we need to embrace that more fully.
Next time you start to berate yourself for eating that extra Tim Tam, instead of feeling guilty, practice being like Teflon.
Remind yourself about the impact of the Stereotype Effect (stronger for women), and then simply get on with the business of being great again!