Are Women Business Leaders Still Pursuing Superwoman Status?

women business leaders as superwomanWe know that women business leaders are changing their perspectives about trying to have it all.  Are they still trying to be a Superwoman where they hold down a successful job, take care of home and family, and still have time to volunteer in community activities?  The answer from our research is a modified “yes.”

We interviewed 43 successful women business leaders to learn about how they were faring pursuing both a purposeful career and a meaningful personal life.

The results revealed several interesting patterns.  Of those that we interviewed, one third were entrepreneurs.  The other two-thirds were working in either non-profit-or for-profit organizations.

A major finding is that the informants indicated ways they were avoiding falling into the superwoman syndrome. They were finding ways to avoid feeling pressured to do it all.   For one third of these women business leaders, the entrepreneurial track was the best strategy for juggling family, career and social activities.  Others employed in non-profit and for-profit businesses, developed support systems at home and pushed for more flexible scheduling at work for their solutions.  Still, there were struggles that they experienced.

Three self-imposed barriers were identified from our research that stifled the goals the women were striving to achieve.    These women, ages 23-50+ years, were at different levels in their careers.  Yet, they all expressed interest in developing strong relationships with family and friends, or watching their children succeed, or making a difference in people’s lives.  The barriers that were hindering them were one or more of the following: (1) solving the time trap, (2) building self-confidence, and (3) curtailing the need to overprepare.

Solving the Time Trap.

Time is such a precious commodity.  The women business leaders, identified as entrepreneurs, were most concerned that they had control of their time.  As entrepreneurs, they were willing to make a trade-off for assuming more risk and making less money in order to create the work-life balance that they wanted.  As one entrepreneur stated, “My company is the avenue to get there” [raising children into happy adults].

Some of the women business leaders working in corporations and non-profits, were more likely to bring work home in order to have time with family.  As one interviewee stated, “There’s never enough time. When you are focusing at work, you’re thinking about your babies at home, your kids at school; and when you are home with your family on the weekends, you’re thinking about work.”

Solving the time trap is not easy for women.  Many voiced their belief that balancing a career and personal life for a woman is more complicated because the woman often holds many responsibilities in maintaining the household and rearing the children.  Options for solving the time trap have women choosing the entrepreneurial route (four-fifths of the entrepreneurs interviewed had first worked as an employee) and some able to secure flexible scheduling.

Two recommendations stand out.  Women need to delegate more.  The entrepreneurs often don’t want to let go of tasks, thinking they can do things better than anyone else.  Employees often don’t delegate because they want to demonstrate their competency and want to micromanage.  Regardless, women need to get into the habit of delegating by reframing the “do it all myself mindset”.  The other strong recommendation voiced by many was that women should develop a strong support network of family and friends to help with household tasks and childcare.

Building Self-confidence.

Being a superwoman isn’t easy.  We heard several women say that trying to bring home a salary commensurate with their training and handling the household is a juggling act.  They felt like they weren’t doing anything well, and yet to the outside world they looked amazing.  In reality, their self-confidence was taking a hit.  Negative head chatter sets in.  One stated, “I definitely have an  ‘am I good enough attitude,” always  wanting to be the best.  And no matter how hard I work; I’m always competing against other people in my mind.”

50% voiced that self-doubt about their abilities and competencies was a self-imposed barrier.  To remedy negative head chatter, women business leaders’ focus should be targeted on what is possible.  Think less, take action, delegate more and consider each action as an opportunity for learning.

Stop Over-preparing.

Women business leaders are tough on themselves.  In the interviews, there were discussions about feeling the “imposter syndrome” and never feeling they were good enough.  They struggle with believing they must demonstrate their high level of competence.  This was most obvious in both the 25-35 and 35-50 year groups.  As the women climbed up the corporate ladder, the need to show competency lessened as the level of self-confidence rose.  Interestingly, the entrepreneurs found that demonstrating competency switched from peer approval to client approval.

One interesting insight was offered from a woman who sits on an Angel Investing Group.  She noticed women will wait to apply for funds until they have all the things completed that need to happen before a company has started.  Yet men complete only half of them. And say they’re going to jump in and just figure things out.  She believes that women wait until they have it all figured out and then apply for funds instead of jumping in.

In an era when diversity and inclusion are such important elements in any successful business development, being sensitive to assisting women to avoid the superwoman syndrome is essential.  To remain happy and content in both the workplace and the home-front, helping women eliminate these three self-imposed barriers will pay dividends.  As one of the women business leaders stated,” Mostly it is melding our business into our lifestyle and not squeezing our lifestyle around our business.”  It’s possible for both employees and entrepreneurs.

One important remedy that we suggest organizations incorporate into their policies and procedures is a mentoring program.  Such a program is described in this blog post article.  A structured workplace mentoring program can help remove the barriers that women experience, while providing much needed assistance in their professional development.

You can learn more about how Strategic People Solutions designs leadership development strategies that are customized to specific business organization needs. We offer one-to-one coaching and masterclass opportunities. In addition, Dr. Ann can assume the role of chief learning officer for your organization, and has extensive experience designing leadership development programs that is customized for the needs of your organization. Here is an example of the kind of workshops we have produced:called  the Workplace Sphere of Excellence.


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