“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” – a response…

In the last few weeks the internet has been buzzing with responses to Anne-Marie Slaughters piece in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”  At last count there were 2238 comments, which has to be some kind of record.  It might also be the most read article they have ever published.  The dialogue has not only been online.  Every where I go women have been either talking about this article, “Shades of Grey,” or  “Magic Mike.” Quite the combination.  Although some have praised Slaughter for her honesty, many feminist critics have mixed reviews on the article, mainly by pointing out that Slaughter comes from a privileged background and her argument actually applies only to “white, educated, wealthy women who have high-powered jobs.” (bitchmagazine) Fair point and I run the same risk.  The vast majority of women who work, and women are the majority of people who do work, do not have the options that Ms. Slaughter or I have. So why are women so fired up about this article? Is it really saying anything we don’t already know? What nerve was hit by this article?

Clearly the title of the article makes a lot of people nuts, including me.  I too went through most of my professional life with the idea that if I did not have a great career, a big bank account, a successful husband, perfect kids, nice house, size 6 body (I am exhausted just typing this list) I was not going to be happy.  I have since let go of the concept of ‘having it all,’ or that new phrase ‘having it all but not at the same time,’ or any of those other phrases that give me a reason to beat myself up or keep me so living for the future that I forget to live in the present.  We all need to.  This negative framing that sets everyone, and I mean everyone, up for failure has just got to end.  This was not the promise of the ‘feminist movement’ and it also makes me crazy that so many seem to think it was. So can you all just say this with me?  ‘I cannot have it all and who knows what that means anyways. ”

Without that phrase what does this article become? For one it becomes the story of one woman who had a big job and who chose to leave it to spend more time with her family.  Good for her.  Hope you are happy Ms. Slaughter and glad you son is turning out ok. The other thing it becomes is a laundry list of tips on how the world has to change to enable women, and men I guess, to have a better balance between work and family.  Here she gets practical and she makes some great suggestions and reasons why it makes sense. Is any of this new? Nope not new and sadly is is unlikely that CEOs and HR professionals have since rushed to their offices to order increases in maternity leave and more flex-time options.  Will this change happen over time? Perhaps but lower your expectations when the unemployment rate is so high. People are working harder then ever, man or woman.

Here is what I hope it does not become. I hope it does not become a reason for women to say ‘see it’s not worth it.’ I am not going invest in my career because it will ultimately come at too great of a cost to my family life.  For countless women I know they are making great choices, or at least the best choices they can every single day, and that is awesome.  Men are not continually subjected to the either/or of career versus family.  It is time that we live in the world of both/and for women just as we do for men. As women we have to stop holding ourselves up to some impossible standard and ask that others, including the media, do the same.  For women who’s husbands make enough money so they do not have to work,  great if you choose to stay at home with the kids  but please do so in full knowledge that you are leaving your earning power behind should your life circumstance change.  (read The Feminine Mistake)

I also hope it does not become an excuse to not continue to focus on the real biases and barriers that still very much exist in the workplace that prevent women from moving up the corporate ladder.  Women are entering corporate America in equal, if not greater numbers then men only to find that despite their hard work and talent they do not get the same opportunities for advancement, in part because they are seen as more likely to leave and thus not worth the investment. Perhaps women will never be 50% of  Fortune 500 CEOs or C-Suite executives because they are less willing on average to work the hours required, but you cannot tell be that in the year 2012 they are only 6% and 15% respectfully  because of either a lack of ambition or their maternal calling. I would love to read an article in The Atlantic about how sexual discrimination is alive and well in the  American workplace and what we are finally going to do about it.  Where are the Ms. Slaughter’s of the world willing to come forward with those stories?

After a good hour of staring at my computer screen……

So what about his article is haunting me such that I cannot hit publish and go to bed? When I sat down to write this blog I thought I would have a lot more to say about this whole work/life thing but I find myself struggling to find the words, perhaps because my life circumstance has changed so much since I was in Ms. Slaughter’s shoes. She said much in her 7 pages and  10 years ago when I was leaving Goldman Sachs I would likley have written virtually the same article.  Now it all seems so dated. In part because it feels like it’s all been said before but I find myself searching for the new narrative and I can’t put my finger on what was missing. (Here I risk the same thing she was criticized for, talking from an extremely privileged position, but I am going there anyways.)

Although I am no longer a GS Partner working in a corporate environment as a CEO of a non-profit I continue to work my butt off and turn away from my computer every day knowing there are 100 things left undone. I left Goldman to have better balance and now I find myself working almost  as hard.   If you want  or  have or need a career, and not just a job, there will always be more you can do. For me I don’t have to work for money, but I have to work.  It is who I am and acknowledging that to myself and to my loved ones is a scary thing, especially when it is not about the money. Our culture does not judge men and fathers in the same way it judges women and mothers for working because they choose to.  Worse we judge women harshly even when they are clearly working for economic reasons, often as the primary breadwinner. When men ‘sacrifice’ family for work we honor them for it, for women the opposite. The narrative goes something like this. ‘Though Joe rarely sees his family he is so successful and works so hard to provide a great life for them. What a great guy.’  For Jane it is ‘ can you believe she works when they don’t need the money? She is so selfish. Those poor kids are going to pay the price.”  Also our culture does not blame  men in the same way when something goes wrong, nor do we blame ourselves the same. Do you ever hear this? ‘Those kids are so messed up because their dad spent too much time at that office?’ The power of our patriarchal culture is huge.  I think this is key to why women, and especially successful women with children, whom have economic security,  leave their high-powered careers.

For Ms. Slaughter  her son not doing well and her feeling that it was BECAUSE of her work led her to opt out. If only she was home more everything would be ok.  Was her leaving her high powered job the key to her son getting back on track?  Who knows but this is the story she is telling us and this is both a compelling and dangerous narrative and clearly the dominant one for women.  It is compelling because every women I know wants the best for her children and if leaving one’s job ( given you even have the choice) would  result healthy well-adjusted children, then leaving or ‘leaning back’ is the right thing to do. Family trumps work.  We have a problem that has a solution.  Women if you can, don’t work.  If you need to or want to you are just going to have to suffer the guilt for it and live with the fact that you will likely punish yourself, and the culture will blame you, when your kids do  not turn out perfect or  likewise if your marriage falls apart.

The dangerous part is who knows what really makes the difference in any one person’s situation but for women,especially high-powered women,  if we are made to feel like the problem is us working, then we will almost always opt out and the implications for society as a whole are significant. Perhaps  her working was not the problem, nor not working the solution, and had she stayed  let’s imagine she then went on to become the world’s first woman President of the United States and a darn good one. Men are much more supported by their families and by our culture to stick with it and try to be all that they can be professionally. We worship  and celebrate professionally successful men and we all too often despise and doubt that same level of success in women.

Just two weeks ago I had one of those moments of crisis.  Someone really important to me sat me down and  told me ‘I was putting my work ahead of my family’ and BECAUSE of that things in my family were not as they could or should be. Though I calmly listened to what she was saying knowing it was coming from a loving place I was dying inside. I excused myself, went to the bathroom, and could not stop crying. Could she not see how hard I was trying?  Could she not see that I think about the well being of my family constantly and try so damn hard to balance that with my own needs and potential? Could she not see that my work was making a difference in the world? How could she not know that those words were unbearably harsh?   What came with those few words was all the ifs…. if I did this, if I did that, then….. I would have the perfect kids, the perfect marriage, the perfect everything.

This is where the personal turns political.

As working women, much more so then working men ( notice how that term does not slip off your tongue in quite the same way) we both have the guilt, and are made to feel the guilt, that if something is wrong with our family it is because of us working. How the world might be different if that were not the case. It is time to ask ourselves what is right because we are working?  We need to balance this narrative, or better yet counter this narrative that Ms. Slaughter put out there that mothers working is the problem, and not-working is the solution. Of course we need to spend quality time with our children and spouses, father or mother.  Every family needs to make the right decisions for them based on their financial and non-financial needs and work hard, very hard, to find the right balance so children don’t suffer due to absent parents. Corporate America should change because it is in their long term best interest to and when the economy gets better, that will start to matter again.   But we need to give women the benefit of the doubt and support them in their choices in the same way we do men.

It is past two am in the morning and it is time to hit publish knowing that this is a far from perfect post and I am not even sure at this point if  what I wrote makes any sense to anyone but me. There is a part of me that wants to hit the erase button as it is revealing something about myself that I have never truly acknowledged to anyone, maybe even myself . But after 5 hours of sitting here I might as well go all out so here it goes……

I love my children with all my heart and I want to be a great mother to them.  I love my husband with all my heart and want to be a great wife to him.  I ALSO love to work because it fulfills a deep need I have within myself to make a difference in this world. I try my best every single day to make the right choices and my fear is that the commitment I have to my work comes at some negative cost to my family. My hope is that is does not. My hope is that because I choose to work I am teaching my children about passion and purpose and making real to them the struggle, and the joy, that comes from a complex life built around one’s choices and trying to make it all work.

My dream is that as a society we stop being so damn hard on professional women and start supporting them like we support men in our culture.  What might help is to acknowledge that the VAST  majority of women are working out of economic necessity and beating them up all the time, and encouraging them to beat themselves up, is a giant waste of energy better used elsewhere. This is a huge shift and will not happen easily. But it needs to happen.  Only then will we know what women’s leadership and participation might mean for our world. Do I think that if this happens  the corporate world in general will become more work/life friendly? Do I think we will  be collectively better off for it?  I do, but you don’t have to believe that to support the concept. What you have to believe is that loving support and accountability is better than judgement and guilt. It is time to give women a break and change the dominant narrative – ‘Women just can’t have it all.’

To read what others have written about this article clink on the links below.

An interview in The Atlantic with Anne Marie Slaughter where she responded to her critics.
Jezebel‘s take on the article.
Another article in the The Week on five reasons Slaughter missed the mark with this piece.
An interesting response from The New York Times

The Washington Post wrote a response to not having “anything close to it all.”

An article in the The Huffington Post giving her credit for the bold article.

The article in Inside Story says women can having it all, on one condition.

 

Women, Power, Money and Changing the World – Letting it rip……

I am not sure if I love when this happens or hate when this happens.   At 5:30 am  my eyes popped open because ideas, words, were flowing through my head so fast they had to be released somewhere. Not surprising really as it has been three days, three very FULL days,  of New York.  Every once in a while I used to write these blog entries called “My Diary” that were just free flowing. There were like word clouds without the cloud part.  Ideas. Bits of conversations.  Names. Places.  The description that most comes to mind is “word vomit.” (but without the smell.)  The purpose, really, is to just get it out in order to make me feel better. I become just so full and then there is a complete inability to process as there is just no space left in my brain to put anything in. There is also the additional need to empty myself as I am soon to be heading back to the “Women in the World” conference today where I am sure to be filled right back up. Usually this dumping happens on the plane back home, but I still have two more days in New York! So here it goes….

Monday RED eye bumped to first because I am flying so much YIPPEE arrive NYC sleep? no foot massage lunch with Pat Mitchell artist Linda Stein OH MY GOSH Wonder Woman Art body armor vest gender fluidity What is feminine? What is masculine? Gloria Steinem years ago talking about that very thing left Federal Reserve Bank National Council for Research on Women Panel Discussion Davos World Bank The White House Harvard The Business Case for Women STOP IT “Gender Equality is a human right – we should care about it for no other reason“Gaps Gain Stalled 17% Rich Poor Class Evidence Sustainability Ranking Global Wage Gap QUOTAs Meritocracy Women Effect Investing Impact Money Poverty In Europe it is about Bad Luck in the US it is about not working hard enough  Dinner NCRW 30th Anniversary Honoring Women Beth Brook hugs Abigail Disney hugs Anita Hill changed my life Soledad O’Brien thank you Helen LaKelly Hunt honoree Barbara Dobkin love her so much so many women I worship honored friends kisses former board member The Power of Research sleep WED am Meeting New kind of PARTNERSHIP Future Women Moving Millions brilliant women Community Meeting Markets Investment Strategy Asset Allocation Risk Buckets Expected Return Risk free rate what is that anymore with US 10 year treasures artificially held down through FED purchase programs? discounted cash flows Equity valuations How much is enough Security Cost of Living Generosity Gender Lens Investing Golden Seeds Others Mutual Respect Gold Cash The long term next Women Moving Millions team strategy session Jess Nina Amanda Joan my team LOVE Respect DESTINY PURPOSE Tuti Mission Statement Vision Values Why do we exist? Hot room Chocolate Others Repeat Got it WOO HOO Debate Why do we EXIST? What Counts Community IN Donor OUT Measurable Outcomes Advancement of Women and Girls Commitment  Millions Knowledge Sharing Movement Mobilizing Greater resources for WOMEN leave Screening “The Invisible War” RAPE The US Military Tears Injustice Suicide Chain of Command Action The Power of DOcs sleep Thursday breakfast Monique Villa The Thomson Reuters Foundation Trust Women Conference ACTION Women’s Rights “Information is a form of Aid”  Information is power International Justice Mission Sex Slaves V Day WMM Branding Messaging Time Frame Audience Purpose Community Millions Resources Power History The Dinner Party Women funding Women Unprecedented .A New Culture of Philanthropy Inclusive lunch more discussion fall event retreat FUN unexpected conversational NO PANELS Global from Campaign to Community rush to cocktails hosting WOMEN Community members Just having fun together and hanging out Connections Linda Stein with WW vest one Jacki buys it off her back Work part over “Women in the World” Line around the block  Christy Turlington Burns met lovely Tina Brown Giving Voice Like that Forced Marriage: Are Women to BLAME? Are you kidding me How about “Using our Power Tools: Investment Dollars as Drivers of Positive Change”  Madeline Albright Amazing “Special Place in Hell for Women who Don’t Help other Women”  War How many deaths are enough? Complicated Angelina Jolie  disappointed wanted Her to speak about HER work over dinner starving amazing women at the table motherhood marriage divorce The BODY SHOP Success Child Care Centers “When we provided the child care, women had the babies and came back to work after 3 months instead of 12. Productivity was huge as our women were happy and close to their babies” Serving on Boards Liability Need more women CEOS Lack of access to capital equals Capital Punishment leave GIRL TALK until 1 am Finish International Women’s Day BLOG entry …sleep 1:30 am.  Eyes open 5:30 am. Head spinning Dream Meeting Robert Redford and his son Jamie outside his restaurant Zoom in Park City and they both had bad teeth…. Strange….

I feel so much better. I just needed to get it out.

I truly believe that there is something very exciting going on as it relates to the advancement of women and girls.  As I wrote below in the last blog entry after what I believe has been a lost decade with respect to any really progress we are at the verge of accelerating.    We are going to get unstuck and the catalyzing agents are these three things: money, economic consequences  and social media. First money.  if you go to the RESOURCE/FACT part of my web-site under economic clout and wealth you will see amazing statistics.  Women have so much economic power and we are going to start using it. Let this sink in ladies ( and feminist men) – we have UNPRECEDENTED financial and economic power. This power relates to our giving, our investment dollars, and our consumer purchasing power.  Combine that with the power of social media and POP.  Think about what has happened this year. ( I should have included it in the blog about women’s history)  Women have been using social media to organize and to act.  The defunding of Planned Parenthood by The Susan G Komen Foundation was halted and new money flowed in to the organization because the news went viral. Rush Limbaugh lost financial sponsors BECAUSE of the outrage around his comments.  Note not because he said those things, but because of the outrage that was brought to light because of social media.  Though in these two examples we were not specifically using our pocketbooks our collective actions drove economic CONSEQUENCES.  These forces together are SO POWERFUL it makes me giddy with possibility. Let me say it again – WOMEN’S ECONOMIC and FINANCIAL CLOUT PLUS SOCIAL MEDIA is the ACCELERATOR for POSITIVE SOCIAL CHANGE. (BIG TIME)

Running off to day two “Women in the World” – I have been tweeting up a storm.

 

The Canvas Tote

I have never posted one of my short stories on this blog but last week I recieved a late Christmas present, a beautiful canvas tote, and it made my think of this story I wrote in 2007 that is still sitting in my computer.  Hope you like it…

The Canvas Tote Bag

I sat there staring at the white circular clock with large black numbers hanging half way up the ceiling in the dingy brown meeting room at the church that was the location of our monthly nursery school board meeting.  This was the third of eight monthly meetings that would run through the school year. As a working mom I had successfully evaded board duty while our first child was attending pre-school, but I felt I could not say no this time around as I had since left my Wall Street career to do philantrhopic work which offered me a lot more flexibility.  The “she is not a good mother because she does not spend enough time with the school” looks from some of the deeply committed and involved mothers finally wore me down as did the constant asks by the school’s lovely director.  “We need you”, she would say in the hallways. The guilt of saying no was just too much to bear. With great reluctance I agreed to serve, as with my daughter in her second and final year at the school, it would only be for one year rather then the usual two.

The meetings were scheduled to last two hours and the mother who headed the ‘social committee’ was generally responsible for bringing in coffee and the much preferred home baked snacks.  Store bought treats would generally be accompanied by an apology often related to a child being ill or having delivered a meal the night before to a family whose mom had just had a baby.   There were eight ladies whom composed the board as well as the school director.  As I rejoined the meeting the ladies were still talking feverishly about whether we should add canvas tote bags to the list of embossed items for these years merchandise sale fund-raiser.  Or not.

My attention turned to Mary, a mother of a child in the threes class, and former JP Morgan investment banker, now head of the fund-raising committee, “I’ve reviewed the items and sales from last year and feel we have to diversify. I have attached a spreadsheet that analyzes sales for the past 3 years and you can see that t-shirts are good sellers, but sweatshirts are not.  The adult size ones did not do well when added last year, so I recommend that we drop them.  In their place I am putting forth canvas tote bags.  We can retail them for $20, at a cost of $10, with a 50% bigger margin then we have on t-shirts.”

Damn, I thought, she must have been killer in front of the board when she was selling K-MART to SEARS 3 years ago.  I had heard of Mary well before I met her as I had headed up a lateral hire initiative for my own firm a few years earlier where we searched out the top women on Wall Street.  Mary was known for her financial prowess and her ability to determine the right sale price for the most complicated of companies. Our head of the investment banking division tried unsuccessfully to hire her, at a high seven figure salary. I remember reading about her departure a year later citing the usual ‘work life balance’ type reasons after she gave birth to her second child.   Someone inside told me she tried to make a run for the head job and got black listed by the good ole boys network and was so fed up she walked away with a big package in return for not suing. Though I did not know her well, she seemed a full fledged at home mom now and damn proud of it.  I was hoping we would have an immediate bond due to our similar career paths, but she seemed to want no part of her past as a working woman in favor of her new status as a wonder mommy.

As my eyes yet again glanced up to the overly large clock on the wall, Janet, an experienced board member with her third child now in the fours program and a one time McKenzie consultant, piped in. “Well, I think those bags would be very handy and be a good seller.  We need merchandise that appeals to the adults and those bags could be used as library book bags, to carry snacks to soccer games, to hold coloring books and other games for restaurant entertainment.  I took the liberty of reviewing prior sales as well, and I agreed, there was a lot of potential there.  I attended an event at the neighboring school and they had many more products then we did.  They were raking it in.”

“I agree,” said Diane a mother of 4 and a former advertising executive now head of the schools PR. “You can never have enough tote bags. I keep one of those in every vehicle full of snacks, first aid items, playing cards, flashlight. I have an idea, why don’t we write about the multiple uses for tote bags in the monthly newsletter and offer a volume discount?  How about 3 bags for $80?”

“What a great idea” chimed in another mom who was new to the school but enthusiastically signed up for the board and every other activity going on at the school.  “I had not thought having a separate bag for each of our cars.  I usually take a bag from car to car with all that stuff but to have one in every vehicle is really practical. I would definitely buy more then one.”

I looked back at the clock and watched the minutes pass by while the woman spoke enthusiastically about all the items that could be included in a car tote bag to make sure there was never a moment when we weren’t prepared to be perfect mothers. While smiling and nodding and pretending to take notes my mind drifted back to my last corporate committee meeting as a senior executive at a global investment bank just a few months earlier.   We had just completed an extensive review of all our diversity practices, globally, and were discussing the next steps to help make the firm a more inclusive workplace.  Around a very large table were the heads of the firm and the respective business units and I was one of a small number of women who had a seat at the table.  They looked to me for insight and guidance on what policies and practices would work at our firm and now I was one of many that were deciding what color a three year-old’s school t-shirt would be and at what price we’d sell it for.  As the conversation on the tote bags turned in to a discussion on the best games to play with a three year-old while waiting for the food to come at a restaurant my mind continued to wander.

On my notepad I wrote down everyone’s name and from what I knew of these women’s backgrounds added the salary they likely commanded when they chose to leave work. I then calculated the cumulative annual salary that we would be earning if they were still working and quickly came to the conclusion that one paid hour of all our time in our working lives would be a multiple of what we are hoping to make in this entire merchandise sale fundraiser. Heck Mary’s hourly rate alone would almost cover it. My heart sank and my frustration was mounting.   I wanted to scream out to these woman, “Let’s just all go back to work! If we do it together, then we won’t all feel guilty about it.”

I desperately began to scan the faces of each and every woman hoping to meet eyes with someone who was thinking what I was thinking.   My eyes grabbed on to Jennifer, a mother of three who was working part-time at IBM, who seemed to be searching the room with the same sense of controlled yet evident frustration. Our daughters were in the same class and had become good friends.  Having left the prior board meeting together we were quick to complain about how painfully long and ridiculous the meetings were to us. We swore we would try to come up with an excuse not to attend the next one, and yet, there we were again, suckers for punishment. I think Jen even brought home baked scones.

I knew that after the meeting I would show my notes to Jennifer, and we would have a laugh about the obscenity of it all. Maybe if we knew the other women better we could ask them if they felt the same way and then together we could do things differently.  But unfortunately we didn’t, and after all, it was only a few more meetings and we would be out of there.  In a town were 95% of the mothers were ‘at home’ we were the outsiders who ‘worked.’

My attention was called back to the meeting, as it was time for a vote, “all those in favor of adding the canvas tote bags, and eliminating the adult sweatshirts say I.”  Needless to say it was unanimous.  You can never have enough tote bags.

Walking back to our cars after the meeting I showed my notes to Jen and as expected, we had a good half-laugh about it.  We decided that she was going to talk to the board chair about making the meetings shorter and more productive as her punishment for caving in and making home baked scones. If that failed after the next painful board meeting we would together rise up, let go of the guilt and just say,  ‘My time is worth more then how I am spending it right now.  I work, I’m a great mother, and I am out of here.  The check is in the mail.”

This story is a little more fiction than fact and of course I am incredibly grateful to the countless mothers who dedicate so much time to volunteering at theirs ( and ours) childrens schools.  At the same time I felt working mothers were somewhat looked down upon and judged, and vice versa.  My hope is that we accept one anothers choices, learn to be comfortable in our own, and offer support and encouragement to each other, always.