Can Women Have It All?

Even in 2012, the here are some facts to consider. (Some of these were cited in a recent TED talk by Sheryl Sandberg).

  • Among the leaders in 190 nations across our planet, only 9 have women as Presidents
  • Among members of parliament or congresses from the 190 nations, only 13% are women
  • Among C-level executives who hold c-suite jobs or board positions, only 16% of them are held by women (and the number has been steadily falling)
  • In general women earn 77% as much as their male counterparts, and interestingly, according to a Women’s Media report, The more education a woman has, the greater the disparity in her wages
  • According to Grant Thornton, Four in ten businesses worldwide have no women in senior management
  • Even among non-profits (where you would imagine that women would be more active, women occupy top spots in 20% of the cases – and these numbers two are showing a declining trend.)

I don’t know if this surprises any of you.   It seems a global issue and noteworthy that these statistics hold true after decades of woman’s rights activism.  Beyond the issues related to the injustices suggested by these statistics, I want to speak today about a more subtle one, about an injustice we sometimes perpetrate on ourselves because we lack significant self-confidence or courage.

The title of this article and the preceding paragraphs paint a pretty pessimistic picture.   But if we look deeper, there is hope for all of us to find the right balance, choosing a path that leads us to fulfillment and happiness.

A colleague of mine sent me this story recently, by Anne-Marie Slaughter – Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. She was previously the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department.   The article is called Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.  To me this is an impressive essay that takes on an emotionally charged topic likely to evoke strong reactions from everyone, chauvinist through feminist.

Much has been written about this topic, and it invokes a variety of stereotypes.  Slaughter argues that women for decades have been sold a “bill of goods” suggesting that they in fact can have it all.    Some older readers may remember this 1970s commercial by the cosmetics company Enjoli.

Whether you see this commercial as insulting or not, even today many women feel that to compete, they must be smarter, harder working, thin, and beautiful to get ahead. The commercial suggests that you CAN be successful at work, a good mother, homemaker and a seductive temptress.

Slaughter describes how she for a time was on the “fast track” working at a high-profile, high pressure job in Washington, leaving behind her 12-year-old son and husband in Princeton, New Jersey where they lived.   She came to miss being a more important force in her son’s life, and this dichotomy was beginning to weigh heavily upon her.

When she told one of her trusted female colleagues about her feelings and desire to leave DC and go back to Princeton, Slaughter recalls her friend” reactions: . . . “She was horrified. ‘ You can’t do that! You, of all people.’  What she meant was that such a statement, coming from a high-profile career woman—a role model—would be a terrible signal to younger generations of women.” Slaughter took her friend’s admonishment to heart and remembers a sea change going on with in herself. She recalls, “By the end of the evening, she had talked me out of it, but for the remainder of my stint in Washington, I was increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet.

Within two years, Slaughter left government service and began to think a lot about what was going on inside her head.   While she still maintained a fulfilling career as a college professor, author and speaker.  However, she was somewhat taken aback by how others were reacting.

I routinely got reactions from other women my age or older that ranged from disappointed (‘It’s such a pity that you had to leave Washington’) to condescending (‘I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great’).  The first set of reactions, with the underlying assumption that my choice was somehow sad or unfortunate, was irksome enough. But it was the second set of reactions—those implying that my parenting and/or my commitment to my profession were somehow substandard—that triggered a blind fury. Suddenly, finally, the penny dropped. All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family.

Here is a video of Anne talking about her experiences

I don’t know if any readers can identify with this person’s experience, but what impresses me is that she made her own choices out of a strong sense of what she needed to be happy and fulfilled in her life.   The article in The Atlantic goes on to talk about  the biases structures and policies that contribute to make it harder for career-minded women to choose the right work-life balance that is right for them.  I greatly admire her courage.

I encourage our readers to comment about their own experiences.

Finally, here is a TED video you may also like to view featuring Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Talking about why we have too few woman leaders in business.



Filed under Personal Leadership

3 responses to “Can Women Have It All?

  1. Miki

    Great post, Len. I’ve been so lucky in my career – I’ve been blessed with jobs that allowed for plenty of flexibility. I was able to take 4 months off for maternity leave. I was able to drop down to part-time once I had my son and tried to go back to work full-time…which lasted about 7 months. I remained part-time until my son was almost 2 1/2 years old. When I returned full-time, I was ready to be back. I still had moments of guilt when I had to travel. I had those same feelings when I had to miss a big meeting because my son was sick. It’s always a balancing act. In the end, I learned something huge. I worked really hard for the company that provided me so much flexibility. When I became a manager, I extended that flexibility to the women – and men – on my team. They worked really hard, too. We retained talent and created a great culture of teamwork and trust.

  2. Pingback: Can Anyone Have it All? | lenbrzozowski

  3. Pingback: Making Work-Life Balance Work . . . at Work | lenbrzozowski

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