Balancing family and career: Tall order for media women?

EMELDA Musonda.

LAST month the Gracia Machel Trust Women in Media Network held its annual meeting in Johannesburg which brought together over 33 media women from about 17 countries

across Africa.
During a session dubbed “The Self Mastery Class”, one of the issues that came out prominently was the challenges women in the newsroom go through in trying to balance family and career.
Coincidentally this was also the issue at the epicentre of discussion during the Women In News Summit, which was held alongside World News Media congress in Durban recently.
By nature, the newsroom is a very busy work environment with stringent deadline demands.
For those in the newsroom, it is a norm to work long hours into the night. And because news must be published on a daily basis, those in newsrooms are expected to work both on weekends and holidays.
Working in the newsroom also comes along with a package of travels. This naturally extends work schedule from long hours to days or weeks away regularly.
This tight and protracted work schedule unfortunately affects women much more than their male counterparts.
This is because some of these women, apart from being employees, shoulder the responsibility of being mothers and wives and caring for their families.
Despite being in a demanding career, women who work in the newsroom are expected to be super mothers and wives who attend to the numerous needs of their families.
The truth of the matter is that there is always a tug of war between career and family and the woman is that rope being pulled in both ways.
The fact that work comes with spelt out expectations and penalties for failing to meet them, people tend to lean more towards their careers at the expense of their families.
Many are compelled to lean towards their jobs for instance because of the need for an income and fear of losing it.
The pressure is much more for newsroom women in leadership positions who have to work five times harder to prove themselves in an industry that has been dominated by men for a very long time.
This compels them to focus more on career and in the process neglecting their families.
During “The Self Mastery Class”, it was saddening to hear stories of fellow female scribes who lost marriages because their spouses felt neglected.
One participant shared that she was at the crossroad of choosing between career and marriage. Her husband gave her an ultimatum to quit her job or they go separate ways.
Some participants confessed that they feel guilty that they are never there for their families and blame themselves for any deviant behaviour in their children.
However, one may ask: is it possible to have a 50-50 balance of career and family.
During the “Self Mastery Class” it was concluded that it is not possible to have a perfect balance between career and family.
The only thing women in the newsrooms and other busy work spheres could do is find a harmonisation point between the two aspects of life.
Firstly, it is important for women working in the newsrooms to help spouses and families understand the nature and demands of their jobs to be able to bargain for compromise and support.
Women in newsrooms or other busy work environments need to establish a very strong support system by incorporating available family members or employing house maids to help with child care and household chores.
While one may get covered for household chores, it is important to apportion whatever available time to bond with family by developing ritual activities i.e. eating together, praying together etc.
This also brings in the importance of managing one’s time effectively. It is important to set priorities and work smarter not harder.
It also helps to delegate where possible both at home and work. This allows one to focus on most important things such as spending quality time with family.
It was also acknowledged that the guilty feeling that one has not been there for the family is an emotional and energy drainer. Carrying this emotional burden has potential to make one ineffective in executing their responsibilities both at work and home.
It is important for one to accept their limitations while maximising on available opportunities to be with the family.
All in all, that there is no “one fit all” solution but individuals themselves are better placed to know what sacrifices and compromises they can make to attain harmony between family and career.
The author Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor, WAN-IFRA Women In News Steering Committee member and Gracia Machel Trust Women In Media Network member.

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