I have been working on this post for a couple weeks…it’s so complex and so wrought with emotion for me, I’ve had a hard time getting this into any kind of thoughtfully articulated observation. So, bear with me as I just rant….
My husband handed me an insert, a special report section out of his WSJ over the weekend. It’s title? Women In The Economy. The Journal report headline is this:
A Blueprint for Change: At a Wall Street Journal conference, business and government leaders examined what’s holding women back in the workplace – and set out an action plan for creating new opportunities.
This may seem an oddly bitter reaction to a seemingly well intentioned conference, but bear with me for a moment. In one month’s time my husband and I are traveling to London to participate in our business school’s TEN year reunion. Why this is significant is that while I was at the school, I was the founder of a “little” club known as Women In Business. I say “little” because it’s become a big part of the school, which I am very proud of. In our first year of existence as a club, we held a Women In Business conference (now held annually) called “Breaking the Mould”, and it was all about, in so many words, and I quote from above, “what’s holding women back in the workplace.”
Arguably, 10 years in the history of our country’s economic history is nothing more than a drop in the bucket. I could even go back 9 years from that, when I began college, and this topic was covered in women’s studies and business classes alike. So, 10-20 years? Maybe it’s nothing…but it just seems like more would have changed in that time. How life-long activists do it, I am now wondering. 10-20 years in and I already don’t want to hear about this any more. Or I should say, I would at least like to hear something different. Sometimes I wonder, what does it say about things in “the workplace” when the founder of the Women In Business club dropped out of !?
OK, not entirely true, as I gently come ‘back in’ by starting a small marketing consulting firm. This fits what I’ve often read – that women are often working part-time or under the radar. I can certainly appreciate that the reasons for this are being looked at – I just feel like that this is all that must have been happening over the last 10 years – looking. Corporates (not meant to be derogatory, I was one for a long time!) want to keep studying the issue, but where is the change – the real change? There was nothing promising in this ‘report’. Mentors and company supporters…yes, yes…we’ve heard it all before. The numbers do not indicate that it’s working.
As a founder of a Women In Business club AND as a woman/mother who dropped out of corporate America, it seems kind of simple – corporate life as we know it is not particularly conducive or appealing to women who are juggling family and home responsibilities as well. Women are still paid less, on average, than men (someone else who shares my sentiment, Another Equal Pay Day? Really?), so the economics of the family unit usually lean towards men working, women staying at home or taking another career path. Given all of the demands, I think many professional women choose not to work because they CAN (like said founder of WIB club). I say all of this both a) acknowledging that I come from a privileged class of highly educated, professional women so I GET that this choice is actually a luxury, and b) greatly hesitating to project my tattered career path choices onto other women who may be perfectly happy with the choices available and the ones they have made. But from what I have seen, many if not most women I know would like to be working to some capacity, but when the choice is current corporate world plus most family responsibilities OR just family responsibilities, the stressful life of a full-time working mother often just is not a very attractive option. For the record, I have friends who are making all kinds of choices – from staying home for the first years of their child’s (childrens) lives to those to working full time. Clearly, different things make different moms happy. I don’t mean to insinuate that all full-time working mothers are miserable, but I do know that whether it’s full or part-time, what most moms are looking for is a great deal of flexibility.
Isn’t this really what it comes down to? Flexibility? And is it so much to ask? Perhaps this issue is still being addressed – that there are not a representative number of women in powerful positions – because the systems (both political and business) don’t allow for much flexibility and still attaining these powerful positions? There is a company that I have found through my own search for flexible working, called Mom Corps (www.momcorps.com). It’s gnawing at the edge of this huge mountain of hope called, “flexibility”. My experience with the site, however, is that the part-time opportunities are few and far between. There is even a video on their website that suggests that it probably is better to look for full-time work that has a lot of flexibility vs. limiting oneself with the availability of part-time positions. At the end of the day, it’s still easier for a company to hire one person to do one job. And ultimately, there are enough people available to work full time. Otherwise this would change. So, I hate to admit it, but I do not feel optimistic about things changing any time soon. I imagine this “talk”, this “analysis” to continue for my lifetime.
My one beacon of hope in all of this? We just had a woman, a mom, almost run for president…so perhaps strides have been made. I will believe this when it becomes a trend. I also can see that what is positive is that my generation has choices that other generations did not – that working or not working is a choice, even if I am not fully satisfied with the range of choices. Perhaps I am just spoiled. But it’s really not just me – because what I, or presumably the Wall street Journal folks are not satisfied with are the numbers of women running this country. Or the numbers of women not running this country. What will it take to change? I am really looking for answers here – please comment.