Why have I spent my adult life believing that multitasking was a woman’s greatest strength? Along with many other women I know and admire, I believed it was a good thing to have it all and do it all, and often joked with my husband, brother, dad and male work colleagues about their inability to spin 20 plates at once like me. However, the gender myth of multitasking has been firmly shattered for me following a recent brush with my mental health. I simply spun too many plates and spun myself out.
I now know that consistent multitasking comes with a cognitive cost – a fact that is explained brilliantly by scientist Daniel Levitin in his book, The organised mind – thinking straight in the age of information overload. As he explains, multitasking increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as the fight or flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. Multitasking actually creates a dopamine-addiction loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.
Having learnt this the hard way, I now give myself permission to focus on fewer things – both at work in my role as MD of a 30 strong team and at home with my husband, two teenage girls and dog. And most importantly, I am now educating my two teenage girls not to inherit that gender stereotype.
Breaking the habit of sexist clickbait consumption
Having made my peace with multitasking, I’ve now found another gender problem that I need to deal with. The issue in question emerged during a recent event that Aurora held in collaboration with MSD called Gender diversity: Five burning questions. During a discussion about the impact of the media on gender diversity, one delegate rightly highlighted that women need to stop consuming media content that perpetuates gender stereotypes, because sexist click-bait is part of the system and culture that needs changing.
I nodded in genuine agreement when she made this comment, but inside I was feeling guilty knowing that I click on the side bar of shame nearly every day. I don’t have women’s magazines in the house because I don’t want my two teenage girls comparing themselves to stick thin, botoxed models, yet I secretly look at the side bar of shame as a ‘treat’ with a glass of wine once they’ve gone to bed. Oh, the shame of it. And having recently read Daniel Levitin’s book, I can’t help but wonder if the 30 second switching between gossip stories has been designed to feed the gender stereotype about multitasking.
So, whether it’s breaking the myth of multitasking or banning the secret consumption of clickbait, the need for a more balanced approach to work and life has never been so important. Balance is the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day and for my part, I’m doing three things:
- Bringing greater balance to my work and home life, by breaking gender stereotypes
- Collaborating with people from different industries for open-minded debate on key gender diversity topics, as part of Aurora and MSD’s recent event: Gender diversity: Five burning questions
- Taking part in a photoshoot with acclaimed photographer Rankin (see the photo above), to highlight and celebrate International Women’s Day
Get in touch with me today to discuss how internal communications and re-organisation programmes could make your corporate culture more balanced. Our gender diversity experts and connections could help you make the changes your business needs.