I was reading an article this week in ‘The Age’ titled “High Flying Women in their 30’s more at risk of mental health issues than men”. In this article, the writer claimed “women are more stressed and anxious in their 30’s and 40’s because of gender roles and the pressure to excel in their careers while raising children”. She states that women in their 30’s and 40’s are 1.5 to 3 times more stressed that their male counterparts.
This resonated with me. There was a period when my children were very young where I made myself sick with stress and exhaustion, working and travelling in a senior role and coming home every night to a ‘second shift’ with the children. I was surrounded by female colleagues who were doing the same. For myself, even with home help, the physical and mental exhaustion eventually wore me down.
I often reflect back on how I let myself get to that point. I think the answer for a lot of women is complex. We are brought up with subtle messaging that affirms our roles in service of others, that reminds us that ‘good girls’ get rewarded, that assertive girls who prioritise themselves are selfish. This combined with the importance of ‘likeability’ for the success of female professionals, and the scrutiny on how a woman looks and presents herself, sets an unachievable standard for woman.
In my experience, the 30’s and 40’s are when women feel the least ‘free’. They have often lost themselves along the way as they assumed a role, such as wife, mother, daughter, or professional, and they’ve succumbed to the associated expectations. Often they are experiencing guilt and have given away their power in the name of love or securing promotions. In my experience working with professional women, they are like swans, calm and poised on the surface, but underneath, paddling hard and trying to hold it together, impressing their boss, colleagues and team while deprioritising their own health and wellbeing in favour of others. In my view, this is a very female scenario. My observation was that most of the men I worked with seemed to have less issue finding time for leisure and fitness.
Flexible work practices are important for taking some of the pressure off but for women to feel truly free to be themselves, and in turn lower their stress levels, there needs to be less time ‘taking the edge off the day’ with wine, and more time getting clear in four important areas:
Identity – who we are and who we were before we took on the role we play in our life. A clear identity gives a woman strength.
Purpose – our unique gifts that we were born with and the reason we’re here on the planet. With a clear purpose as a beacon to follow, all decisions are anchored back and there’s less chance of straying off path. A clear purpose gives a woman confidence.
Power – knowing our worth and standing strong. Many women inadvertently give their power away by allowing others to make decisions for them. Stepping into our power is grounding.
Self care – Prioritising health and wellbeing, making time for whatever keeps us fit in mind, body and spirit. In my experience, women who ruthlessly make time for self care, and treat themselves with loving kindness, are the exception rather than the norm. Prioritising self care gives a woman resilience.
For many senior women, there often comes a point when they realise they’re tired and they start to question if it’s all worth it. This is when a lot of women self-select out of the corporate world because it all gets too hard. That’s a loss for Australian corporates, and very avoidable. The bottom line benefits of diverse management teams are well proven. The “Most Admired” companies have twice as many women in senior management. If all women could make these focus areas a priority for themselves, their stress levels would reduce, Australian corporates would retain them longer, and the next generation of girls would be well supported with strong role models for the future.
Naomi White is a leadership expert and the Founder and Managing Director of Metamorph Co, a consultancy specialising in transformational change for executives. For more information, go to www.metamorphco.com
 Han, E. (2018, March 21). High-flying women in their 30s more at risk of mental health issues than men. The Age.
 Gender Forward Pioneer Index: World’s Most Reputable Companies Have More Women in Senior Management. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.webershandwick.com/news/article/gender-forward-pioneer-index-most-reputable-companies-have-more-senior-wome