In celebration of Mother’s Day on May 13th, TheLadders released a new survey today revealing that working mothers care more about having flexible hours than any other benefit an employer can offer. The infographic is below, and I think nicely shows what working mothers want, how they are regarded by co-workers and their biggest challenge: Work/Life Balance. It would have been interesting though to get an idea of working moms in leadership roles, and whether they feel the same as all working moms. I would be willing to bet that the question about how co-workers perceive working mothers in leadership positions would have different results than those in the infographic below.
I am a member of the Work It Mom Community. I subscribe to the blog and as I have time read entries. Some of them are relevant to me, some are not. Some of them are interesting, some are not. Some of them are in my opinion intelligent, some are not. You get the point. Recently Nataly, the founder of Work It Mom had to defend a post titled 10 Reasons Working Moms Should Feel Great About Themselves (Reason number one: Working women are happier). The author of the article is also the author of a book that has been controversial as it pits working moms against stay at home moms (or so the controversy goes). I don’t know the book. I quickly read through the article. What I don’t understand is why there is so much venom between women and their choice as mothers?
A few months back I was feature in an article on USA Today called Mommy Wars. You may have seen my post about it here on Mommy CEO. I felt that the worst comments, the most venom I received was from other mothers. Those mothers who have chosen to stay at home with their children felt the need to say some really ugly, really mean things to me about my choice to work. Let me be clear. In the article I DID NOT claim that I thought working mom’s were happier (Leslie Bennetts does claim that in her article). I simply said I was happy, and I thought i had made the right choice for me, and for my family. So why the venom? Can I not have my choice? Can I not have my opinion? Does the nature of me working offend other mom’s so much that they feel the need to get defensive and attack? I thought that as women we were all working together to make life better for ourselves, and our children.
While I can see why Ms. Bennetts’ article may not sit well with some people. It is not LAW or FACT. It is simply an opinion – hers. And I do have to say that I do believe it is better for every person to be in a position to be self reliant and take care of their children on their own should that terrible situation present itself. So here is a little story I think is appropriate here:
I have a friend, who is helping a very close friend of hers through an very ugly divorce. This couple (I don’t know them) apparently had the dream marriage. Let’s call them Mom and Dad. They lived happily ever after in a mid west city with their 2 young children. Dad was an executive make very good money, Mom was a very happy stay-at-home mom. Before they got married Dad made it very clear to Mom that he had grown up with a mother at home and that is what he wanted for his children. Mom agreed. She gave up her career (although she has a great college degree and had good career opportunities) while she was 5 months pregnant with her first child. Five years later she is in a terrible divorce as Dad has left her for his assistant (seriously). Dad has now told Mom that he is not going to let her “sit around on her butt doing nothing all day” and that he expects her to go out and find a job. He has wiped out all money from their bank account and she is having trouble paying the bills. She has not been employed for over 5 years and she has no day care options for her 2 very young children. Dad is not letting her get any money right now. Sure the courts are not going to let him get away with this – when they finally get there. Sure he sounds like a class A jerk. Sure, we all know that won’t happen to us. But of course that is what Mom said. And now I can’t help but think that she might be regretting giving everything up and staying at home. Maybe not. But there is a little part of me that wants all women to be able to be able to be self sufficient. NOT that I think staying at home is the wrong choice, or a bad choice. I just worry that it can dis-empower a woman and put her at the mercy of someone else. And that is what I don’t like.
What is the solution? I don’t know. I am not saying everyone should work. I am not saying that working mom’s are happier. I think every woman has a right to decide what works for them and their families. But I do know this – not letting people have an opinion is not the answer. Getting angry and aggressive because someone is saying something you do not agree with is not the answer. I think this is a very complicated situation and one that has not “right” answer. But it does bother me at my core that Ms. Bennett has to feel the ugliness I felt when the USA today article came out. Can’t we all just get along?
On Wednesday I had the privilege of going over to the university and talking to some computer science majors about “Having a Life and a High Tech Career.” Unfortunately due to some other class conflicts there were no women in attendance at my talk, but I did have a room of students. As I went through my history, and how I ended up in high tech, despite the fact that I studied history and eduction, the students had some interesting questions. It was fun to be able to put myself back in their shoes, back at a time when your “career” is just a foggy idea in your head, and you are more concerned about how many more papers and projects you have to get done that week before you can go out and party.
I wanted to really hit on the idea that there is no PERFECT path, and that each student needs to think about what really makes them happy as they choose a career post college. I discussed some of the choices I had made which ultimately brought me to Palo Alto Software, and Eugene, Oregon, and why those choices had been perfect for me, and my situation.
As I talked, and answered questions, one student seemed bothered, or anxious, about my path. He wanted to know how I dealt with the fact that being a woman might mean that other companies didn’t want to do business with me. When he first asked the question, I stood there for a few moments – probably with a perplexed look on my face. I just didn’t quite know what an appropriate answer was (probably telling him to get off his high horse and stop discriminating against women… was not the way to go! ). I also knew that he wasn’t trying to be insulting — that he was simply perplexed.
I regained my composure and just told him that I was fully aware that as a woman I faced challenge. But I told him that because I had confidence in myself, because I am well educated in my field, because I work hard, I don’t feel like my company or my career has suffered because of my gender. I am well aware that discrimination exists – and I definitely understand that going to a business meeting dressed dark ultra conservative and professional does much more for me then dressing in “girl” colors and wearing girly business clothes. But at the end of the day my company does well because it puts out high quality products, markets them well, and is (if I do say so myself) run well. If we had crappy products, or bad customer service, or a shoddy marketing strategy – then perhaps I might try and blame our failure on discrimination.
At the end of the day though – if I am a good business person, running a successful business, people will want to do deals with me because its good for their business — and a good business person won’t care of I am a girl, or a purple monster.
The October 15th issue of Newsweek features 11 “Women in Power.” While its great to see women on the cover of a serious magazine, I wish that it didn’t always seem that to be really successful in business you should stick to a “women friendly” industry like, food, music, acting. Its a good article, and its always interesting to me to see the perspective of a woman in a leadership role. But can’t they find a more balanced list?
I actually prefer the the Fortune article about the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business. It has a greater variety of industries and features women leaders in some very large traditional companies. The Fortune article just makes me feel like women really have broken through the male business world.
Read both and let me know what you think!
**** Addition to my post****
This weekend I spoke at a conference on the topic of The “5 most ridiculous myths about working women.” One of the myths was:
You can’t be cute and smart
I just read a great post on the Huffingtonpost.com by Marie Wilson about “Valuing Female Brains as Highly as Female Beauty” that discusses how today females in the workplace still trade on their beauty. I strongly agree with Marie, and wish all working women would read her post.
While I understand that many women (particularly younger ones) will use their beauty to help get ahead in their career (and I am sure it works) I strongly believe that as women we are better off doing the opposite. Dressing more professional, and less “sexy” so that the men around us judge us for our business skills and talent, and not for what we look like. What we as woman should strive for is to break through the barrier that prevents women from joining the business “boys club.” The more that we can prove our business savvy through pure talent, intelligence, and hard work, the less we will ever need to rely on our looks to get us by.
Lisa Johnson writes a great blog at Reach Group Consulting. She specializes in marketing to Women and has some really interesting advice and information. She wrote a blog post a few days ago Marketing to Women2.0: Her Longer List which talks about the idea that women expect more out of products and services than men. It is fascinating to read, and I am not sure if I buy into the idea 100%. I think there are cases in which I believe it is true, but there are cases where I don’t agree.
Lisa uses the Flat Screen TV example to explain the woman’s longer 10 item list vs. a man’s 5 item list. Maybe I am just weird or different (I have been told that!) but that was just not the case for me. I found myself in a Best Buy just recently with my husband, looking at flat screen TVs. I personally just don’t have a longer list than my husband. He is a tech gadget geek (in a good way) and had done hours of research before we went to look. He knew what models, how much they should be, what features he wanted, and really just wanted to have me see it before he bought it. The bottom line is I trust him. He does good research. I don’t really care what the sales person says to me, whether the music is loud, or anything else.
Now maybe its different when we are buying a car? I am not sure. I am trying to think about his list vs. my list and figure out whether mine is longer? I tend to think, at least in the case of my marriage, my husband is less forgiving about products and services than I am, and if you sell him you will most likely sell me. Again maybe I am just weird.
I think the bigger picture here is that there is no “one size fits all” for any one large demographic. Are you reaching young women or older women? Are you reaching single women? Mom’s? Grandmothers? I am sure of course that Lisa Johnson will agree with me. One of my big pet peeves as a marketer is when people make broad generalizations about the market they are reaching, rather than focusing in on the specifics about the people who really need/want their product or service. You most likely are not EVER marketing to all women, or all men, or all Hispanics, etc unless of course you are an enormous brand like Walmart or Mc’Donalds. And even they know that they won’t corner the entire market of people in the US. I for instance don’t ever go to fast food places, and have been in Walmart less than 5 times. There are many reasons why – and hopefully those companies understand those reasons and realize I do not want or need their products or services.
I just read an interesting Post on Work It MOM blog about a VC’s reaction to a woman’s pink nails. The woman and her partnered presented a company to the VC, and apparently did a great job with the presentation. But one of the VC’s could not get beyond the fact she had bright pink nails. Apparently the rest of her outfit was VERY professional — but somehow the nails offended this VC.
Obviously this is wrong – and blatant discrimination. The woman was not dressed inappropriately, she did a great job at the task at hand and her only offense was a personal choice about her grooming. Unfortunately in this world women still have to deal with this type of judgment in the workplace. Somehow because she had pink nails – her intelligence was questioned, and this VC found her whole being to be inappropriate.
The lesson here – dress as you like, groom yourself as you like, but remember the world s NOT fair. Think about where you will be and who you will be working with and what image you want to present. When I know that I am going to be in a high level meeting with top executives, most of whom are male, I dress even more serious, with darker colors, erring on the side of too conservative. Should I have to do this? NO. Shouldn’t my work and my participation be what I am judged on? Yes. But unfortunately this is not the world that we live in. So for the time being – I figure I might as well do everything I can so that I am judged purely on what skills and talent I bring to the table.