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Courtney BarnesMar 6, 2018 6:53:48 AM3 min read

Barriers to Female Leadership

Increasingly, I believe one of the biggest barriers to female leadership at work is our “leadership” responsibilities at home.  Before you outright disagree, hear me out. If promotions are based on performance, women who manage their homes are at a significant disadvantage.  The demands of a household make it harder to get into and sustain flow which is directly linked to peak performance.

First, flow is the state of feeling and performing at our best. It is a state of high cognition where we are present and intentionally focused. It’s being in the zone. We are not distracted; we are 100 percent in the moment. Research by McKinsey found that executives who can increase the amount of time they spend in flow by 15-20 percent will double their productivity.

We now know that flow is a four-stage process rather than a simple on/off state. To get into flow, we must (1) struggle, which entails a focused, intentional effort to stretch and expand our overall capacity; (2) release, which entails stepping away from the project or task and shifting our attention to a more relaxed state; (3) flow, returning to the work with time, focus, space, and the ability to think deeply; and finally, (4) recovery, which is taking quiet time to rejuvenate.

Want to be a great leader? Then you have to find your flow. The trouble is, as women, we limit our ability to get into flow by doing too much—we are the masters of our houses, we are always on, we are always wired, we are always connected, we are always in demand, and we don’t carve out time for ourselves.

For example, even with partners who are active co-parents, the bulk of family logistics is still the domain of women. Neuroscience research suggests that the “simple” responsibility of tracking all those doctor and dentist appointments, holiday plans, homework, fieldtrips, practices, lessons, who needs new soccer cleats, etc., might be truncating our ability to be our very best, to experience peak performance.  The prefrontal cortex of our brain has a finite capacity. Without systems and strategies for managing home, we have less capacity at work. Running your home life might be one of the most significant barriers to being a great leader. 

Many women lament, “I’d rather be responsible and know that it will get done.” But what if that responsibility limits our capacity to be our best? To be a thought leader? To deliver outstanding work?  It is critical that women find other ways to ensure that the house and family run smoothly. This is one aspect of hacking flow.

Without systems in place, our amazing capacity to multitask and multi-mind (to keep all the balls in our lives in the air) can actually prevent us from fully, deeply embracing struggle, the first stage of flow.  We must carve out time to struggle undistracted (link to other article) without worrying who is picking up the kids. We must give ourselves space to release, to find time for walks, yoga, friends, etc. We must have larger blocks of time where we can lose ourselves in the flow. And we must have space to truly recover and not just jump into our next job—i.e. master of the house. We cannot do it all. We must find the resources to help out at home, so we can develop our ability to get into flow, and become the leaders we are meant to be.

What is the solution?  Learn to hack your flow a work.  Building the systems and strategies to be fully focused at work, to find time to release and recover, and to experience greater productivity associated with flow.