Why does early childhood trauma help women succeed at work? - Women's Agenda

Why does early childhood trauma help women succeed at work?

For women to succeed in their career it could be that having a challenging childhood is a key element in getting them to the top.

That’s the result of research by Terrance Fitzsimmons at the University of Queensland who has spent the last two years interviewing corporate leaders. What he found out was that nearly all the women that he interviewed had one thing in common – a tough childhood where they had to take on adult responsibilities at a young age. This could have been from the loss of one parent or illness in the family.

They also nearly all came from families that ran a small business meaning that from an early age they were familiar with business concepts.

The point of Fitzsimmons research is that tough experiences make us resilient and that for women to succeed at work resilience is crucial. It contrasts with the male leaders that he interviewed, most of whom can from happy stable homes where dad worked and mum stayed at home.

I was discussing this research – featured in the Sydney Morning Herald over the weekend – with a friend of mine in the context of how much we molly-coddle children these days. Now I don’t mean that I would wish adversity on my child or on anyone else’s – I think there are other ways to build resilience – but I do think we spend a lot of time trying to smooth out challenges for them.

Earlier this year when my eldest child started school I met a mother who told me how she had engineered play dates for her daughter with her new classmates so that whens she started school she would know some of the children there. I know it seems sensible and she meant well, but to me it denied the child the simple experience of learning what to do when they enter a room where they know no-one. At some point everyone has to learn this skill – why not learn it at five?

Fitzsimmons’ research is interesting and you can read more of it here. It has great insight into why so few women make it to senior executive positions – not least his conclusion that part-time roles were the kiss of death to female careers.

To me that’s the one part of his research that we have to work hardest to change. Women take part-time roles at various times in their career to accommodate their caring duties and going part-time shouldn’t mean that they are shunted down the infamous ‘mummy track’. As opposed to women reading this research and thinking that they can’t go part-time, I think the way to combat it is to enable men to have more options to also go part time during times in their career. Because if more men do it, going part-time will be normalised.

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