Is there any kind of intersection between the person you are at home and the person you become when you are in the office? Jamie Ladge, an associate professor of management and organisational development at the Northeastern University, studies this exact phenomenon of identity. Ladge, mother of three boys, is also working on a research that tries to find the reason behind what is seen as a common struggle among working parents, i.e. portraying themselves as two people at the same time, which is being devoted professionals as well as good parents, resulting in the ‘work-family image’.
“We’re constantly trying to be all things to all people, depending on who the audience is,” said Ladge. “As professionals, we have a professional image and as parents, we have a parenting image. However, we oftentimes struggle to disentangle the two.”
Working parents, according to Ladge, usually strive to maintain a dualistic image, while still juggling a barrage of expectations from their dual lives. What’s more, these expectations and norms differ greatly between both genders. There is, for example, more pressure on women, especially if they are working mothers because then they have to project an image of a good mother, to her family as well as the mothers of other children. A man, on the other hand, also has to highlight his role as a good father by showing his lighter side to his colleagues.
“It’s usually based on this desired image of how people want to be viewed and how they think they are being viewed,” Ladge said. The usual impossible standards are difficult to live up to and it can lead to conflicts and discrepancies between working parents. They also might adopt their identities in a wrong way, or in a way they didn’t prefer. Ladge thinks that organisations and managers can ease off some of the burdens on such parents, which will help counter unrealistic expectations.
Ladge, to this date, has done a lot of research in this field. “I’ve always been interested in identity,” Ladge said when asked about the preference to this topic. Currently, she is working on a research paper focusing on a bunch of black female executives in senior-level positions in U.S. companies. Ladge feels this project to be “one of the most fascinating” ones she has ever worked on. “Finishing up that paper will probably be the highlight of my career because I’ve learned so much from that work,” she said.