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Forget work-life balance — and homemade cupcakes

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Managing and teaching collaboration is a hallmark of effective leadership. (iStockphoto)

This week, BBC Capital investigated the intricate support systems used by professional women with children to support their home and work lives.

From fine-tuned schedules to babysitters and nannies, from fathers who have scaled back their careers to government programs that support working mothers, the web of support is complex, with every strand playing an integral role.

A number of LinkedIn Influencers — many professionals and mothers themselves — have weighed in on the topic of women and work in the last several weeks. Each brings a different perspective on balance, why women earn less than men and why showing up with store-bought cupcakes instead of homemade isn’t a mothering shortfall.

A look at work and motherhood:  

Katya Andresen, President and COO at ePals, Herndon, Virginia

“Eight years ago, I found myself scraping the tops off store-bought cupcakes in my kitchen at one in the morning. I was replacing the obviously baker-applied icing with hand-applied frosting so the cupcakes would look passably homemade when I brought them to my daughter's school the next day to celebrate her birthday,” wrote Andresen in a post about her own “best” mistake.

What would possess me to do such a bizarre thing? Shame. Or, to put it more fully, it was the mistake of trying to do it all well — and the fear of facing in myself that I could not.”

Andresen recalled this episode after she sat on a panel discussing women and leadership this spring.

“Every woman alongside me publicly admitted the same fleeting fears — and the same feelings of failure and fraudulence in their lives and careers. We know we can't do it all, but that doesn't stop us from feeling bad about that fact on any given day,” she wrote, explaining that the fact that so many women now feel comfortable admitting these fears also means there’s much more discussion of how to handle the pressure of a career and motherhood.”

“In addition to calling a truce in the gender wars, we should also find a peace with ourselves,” Andresen wrote.

“I'll share my choice: to work outside the home and be a mother, however imperfectly. I try to lean in as well as to stop hiding that it's sometimes hard despite my relative fortune. So I'm ‘fessing up about those silly fake cakes and sharing what I wish I'd known in the wee hours eight years ago: We all have paths to take, whoever we are, and those ways of living all have trade-offs. We gain, not lose, power by owning that imperfect reality, living it without shame and learning from whoever else is willing to share their experience.”

Inge Geerdens, Founder and CEO CVWarehouse, Antwerp, Belgium

In her post about feeling great about being out of balance in her work and life, Geerdens wrote that she is often asked how she does it all as a mother of three and an entrepreneur.

“To be honest, I have no idea,” she wrote. “I don’t need a balance; I’m not looking for a way to balance my private life with my professional life. I’m just trying to have a great life. Ever since I started my first company in 2003, my professional life has been taking up a lot of my time. There have been successes, failures, crises, expansions, new developments and the challenges of day-to-day management. Sometimes a crisis forced me to skip a family vacation. Often I came home too late from work to tuck my children in.”

At one point, Geerdens and her husband felt they weren’t around enough for their children. That’s when they made a choice a small, but growing number of families are making: to have dad stay home while mom focuses on her career.

“My husband and I make a great team. We found a way to live the life we love, without feeling guilty. So the answer is: I never have to think about a balance. I work with the people I like, I live with the people I love and I love the job I do.”

Naomi Simson, Founder RedBalloon, Sydney Australia

Asked recently if she had an opinion on why women were paid less, Simson pondered whether it was society, women’s own behaviours around salary, or something else altogether.

“We know that graduates entering the workforce are paid almost equally. We know that even before women take parental leave there is an unconscious bias when it comes for pay equity. See my recent post: "Could your sex determine what you are paid?" The fact however remains that women are far more likely to take parental leave at some point (and put careers on hold to do so.) This could leave them with an experience deficit on their return to work, however the pay difference occurs even before women take parental leave,” she wrote.

“It is my purpose that drives me — rather than the financial rewards. I know many people who start businesses or climb the corporate ladder are probably driven by the money, ‘the deal’, the return on investment. As a result they often end up with a bigger pay packet. Quite simply they focus on it,” Simson wrote, adding that this may be one reason women don’t demand higher pay.

“I think it is how we define ourselves. Women often define themselves by the role they play. Women still want to ‘prove’ themselves, as such they will do the role for much less financial gain — and until we are paid the same then we will never be equals.”

Other thoughts

LinkedIn Influencers who have also recently weighed in on the topic of mothers, women and work:

Linda Descano, a managing director at Citigroup, considers whether women themselves are the biggest roadblock to their own career success.

Jacki Zehner, CEO of Women Moving Millions, responds to the idea that women can’t be successful traders or big money managers.

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