I’m getting tired of hearing from executive and former executive women with grown children who have suddenly come to the realization that having a fulfilling career and a family is hard. Recently these women have talked down to today’s working mothers, letting us know once and for all that we can’t “have it all”, that we shouldn’t strive for “perfection”, and that they wouldn’t recommend their daughters follow the same path.
Thanks for the tips.
Let me put fears to rest. Today’s working mothers are under no illusions. We know that it’s hard because we live it every day, and because many of us have studied the data and know what we’re up against. The last thing we need is the women who should be our mentors, who should offer practical advice and support, telling us that our ambitions are unrealistic. Of course, this is untrue. Just ask any of the women who have been writing: they are a former Director of Policy for the US State Department, the President of Barnard, and the former editor of Good Housekeeping, among others.
The alternative would be to offer real, usable advice. Write a piece that gives actual, from the trenches advice about navigating a corporate career track while having kids. Be honest about hiring help and enlisting spousal and family support. Look back at the amazing successes, and acknowledge that no one can know whether your career ambitions harmed or helped your family. Plenty of stay at home parents have trouble with their kids, and lots of working parents have paragons of achievement. And vice versa.
Even more to the point, many of these women are in positions to actually enact change at least in their own companies, if not more broadly. They could be testing innovative policies and exploring new solutions. They could be writing about that. Fascinating indeed that the only company I’ve heard publicly exploring these issues and publishing data is Google, run by mostly men.
But writing substantively about these issues doesn’t sell magazines or drive traffic. It doesn’t foment the same kind of conflict and culture wars. Leaving me to surmise that there is a coterie of women at a certain level who are positioning themselves to write books or become talking heads at the expense of my generation of women. They know that their perspectives are controversial, and that’s why they take them.
What is most troubling about these puff pieces on women’s abilities is that the women writing are indeed benefiting greatly from their high-level positions. It’s easy to tell women not to be the best and brightest once you’re already at the top, making a handsome salary with lots of opportunities ahead of you as a writer and speaker, even after you’ve left your current job. Who are these women to tell middle and senior level managers that they should stay put, forgoing the same opportunities?
I don’t doubt that those who came before us have plenty of knowledge to share — I’ve been the beneficiary of a lot of it from a lot of wonderful mentors. But these articles aren’t that. Where are the mentors when we really need them?