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Navigating Primary Breadwinner Status: How to Rock the Boardroom and the House

business-race-women-and-men-in-officeFor the first time in history, 40 percent of American families are now helmed by a primary breadwinner woman. More women than ever before are struggling to balance both financial and emotional responsibility for the wellbeing of their families.

Despite our successes, women continue to face cultural and career challenges as we rise through the corporate ranks. Equal pay remains an issue even at the highest tiers of the corporate ladder, with a recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research showing that female CEOs still earn just 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

The ongoing effects of unconscious gender bias in pay and promotion, as well as flextime and maternity leave considerations, continue to affect our career trajectories even as our numbers grow. Meanwhile, studies show we continue to do two-thirds of the housework to keep our homes running smoothly, and work/life balance is often non-existent.

The pressure on primary breadwinner women is unprecedented, and many of us feel routinely overwhelmed, exhausted and alone.

So how do we effectively rock the boardroom AND the house? In my work with primary breadwinner women worldwide, I’ve found that there are five primary strategies we need to adopt to not just survive, but thrive.

Find Community, and Cultivate It

Virtually every breadwinner woman I’ve worked with expresses, “No one gets it.” We all need a place to be seen, heard, and understood.

Community exists in many forms. Whether it’s a group of like-minded women who gather a few times a month to support and strategize or an organization committed to advancing women in the workplace, communities give us a sense of belonging and meaning that many executive women say is lacking.

Find your tribe, and you’ll find your stresses will lessen as your sense of purpose and belonging grows.

Set Boundaries Around Technology

This is a critical strategy as we seek to meet the needs of our families and ourselves, while still staying connected and advancing up the corporate ladder. It can feel impossible to disconnect from work long enough to actually connect with the people who matter most.

For an hour a day, put your devices in a drawer and disconnect from online activity while connecting with loved ones. This might be the hour you spend at the family dinner table or the hour before bed you need to feel connected to your partner.

If you’re concerned about the impact this might have on your career, communicating with colleagues that you’re out of commission between 7 and 8 p.m. is often all it takes to make this new routine a reality. After a period of time, this time of disconnection will be respected by all involved.

Negotiate on Your Own Behalf at Work

Men are nearly four times more likely than women to negotiate for what they want at work, according to Linda Babcock’s seminal book Women Don’t Ask. Many of us feel we don’t know how to ask for what we want or are afraid of career backlash. Curiously, however, we often have no problem going to bat for people on our team.

It’s critical to our financial and emotional wellbeing that we overcome this self-imposed barrier and become as good at negotiating for ourselves as we are for others.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, the equal pay gap currently amounts to a total of $30 trillion total for the 69 million working women nationwide over the course of their lifetimes. The individual impact of that amount on our families, the tax base, and the national economy as a whole is enormous. Negotiating for salary equality in particular paves the way for women coming up the ladder behind us to achieve equal pay and benefits the nation as a whole.

Outsource Whenever Possible

Meeting the demands of home and work can become impossible during the busiest times of year. There’s no shame in delegating holiday shopping, baking for our kids’ school events or household chores. I recently recommended to one executive that she hire a laundry service to free up time she’d rather spend with her kids.

We may be superwomen, but we can’t do it all. Delegation is a skill that we need to exercise for the sake of our sanity, our productivity and our family time.

Be Kind to Yourself

More than any other demographic, primary breadwinner women tend to put our own needs last. Career, children, partners and extended family all take top priority over our own needs. Many of us are suffering physically and emotionally on a routine basis, and our health is being compromised over the long haul.

Taking just five to ten minutes at the start of the day or the very end to reflect on what matters most, meditate, and/or take care of our bodies through exercise or yoga can make a world of difference in our wellbeing and our outlook.

As a primary breadwinner woman, you are already a tremendous success, breaking down barriers and achieving the impossible every day just by being you. Employing these five strategies will help to ease your stresses while still allowing you to rise to your highest potential at home, at work and in the world.

Guest Contribution by Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin

Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin is the CEO and Executive Director of 40 Percent and Rising, a new organization by and for primary breadwinner women worldwide. She is also an ex-Wall Street lawyer, Executive and Leadership Coach, and the primary breadwinner for a family of four with two children under the age of three. To learn more about Elizabeth and 40 Percent and Rising, go to their website, or connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.

Guest advice and opinions are not necessarily those of The Glass Hammer