why educated women are suffering in corporate america
One of my LinkedIn contacts posted an article a few days ago that resonated so strongly with me that I keep reposting it and talking about it to anyone I run into, and just can't get it out of my head. I think I’m so obsessed with it because for the first time, it makes sense (from a research and data perspective) of what the hell is going on in today's workplace and home vis a vis male and female roles. You can read the full New York Times article here: Women Did Everything Right. Then Work Got “Greedy.” A few excerpts can be found below, but I highly recommending spending the 10 minutes or so it will take to read the entire article all the way through.
American women of working age are the most educated ever. Yet it’s the most educated women who face the biggest gender gaps in seniority and pay… There are many causes of the gap, like discrimination and a lack of family-friendly policies. But recently, mounting evidence has led economists and sociologists to converge on a major driver — one that ostensibly has nothing to do with gender.
The returns to working long, inflexible hours have greatly increased. This is particularly true in managerial jobs and what social scientists call the greedy professions, like finance, law and consulting — an unintentional side effect of the nation’s embrace of a winner-take-all economy. It’s so powerful, researchers say, that it has canceled the effect of women’s educational gains.
Just as more women earned degrees, the jobs that require those degrees started paying disproportionately more to people with round-the-clock availability. At the same time, more highly educated women began to marry men with similar educations, and to have children. But parents can be on call at work only if someone is on call at home. Usually, that person is the mother. Women don’t step back from work because they have rich husbands… They have rich husbands because they step back from work.
My clients frequently ask me, is it really possible for both men and women to succeed in tandem? Can both parents have equally satisfying, successful careers without being miserable and screwing up their kids? The answer depends on what your definition of success is.
Usually after having kids, “success” takes on a different meaning than it did before, especially for my female clients. Using myself as an example, I didn’t even know that I wanted kids until I was in my early 30s, and I never in a thousand years would have thought I would one day want to leave a “successful” corporate career so I could spend more time with them. But things change, and it’s critical to reevaluate your priorities. In my case, I was suffering in so many different aspects of my life: my health (who has time to exercise when you work full time, have a long commute, a house to take care of and little children at home?!), my relationship (my husband and I were like ships passing in the night, and even though we commuted together sometimes, we chose to sit in the “quiet car” on the train because it was the only time of day that we could actually relax), my kids (my younger child wouldn’t kiss or hug me or tell me he loved me until he was 3 because I hardly saw him because of my demanding work hours), friends (who has time for friends? I didn’t even know anyone in my town except my immediate neighbors) anyway, you get the idea.
I worked with an amazing coach who helped me realize that it was my JOB that was the source problem to all of my grievances. In defining my priorities, values and definition of success, it became clear that I was leading my life according to my pre-motherhood idea of what I wanted from life. We had a new house and needed to save for college, but did I have to stay in my high stress, upper management position when I was this miserable? It took me a lot of soul searching to realize that I was no longer that hard charger wanting to climb the corporate ladder and show everyone that I could do it all. It looked great on paper, but it just wasn’t working at all. Once I got over the ego piece and figured out a plan for how we could afford me leaving my job, everything started to come together.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I needed a big change. It took me a year to discover my new calling, to coach other people who were in a similar situation as mine, and I took a new job in the meantime that would allow me to do the coach training while still work in advertising and save money. All in all my transition from corporate mom to “mompreneur” took about 2 1/2 years. Which brings me back to this article…
What I loved about it was the sociology behind what myself and many other women (and men) are doing to keep their sanity and family lives in tact and allow them to thrive. In stepping back from my corporate job, it allowed my husband to focus more on his career and be available to his job in a way that he hadn’t been able to before, when we were sharing all of the home responsibilities. The family life we wanted just was not possible without a change. Until corporate America starts to value contribution over working insanely long hours and being accessible 24/7, it is going to continue to be a struggle. But if you are willing to put in the time to come up with a creative solution that will work for you and your family, it is entirely possible to have a satisfying career and also a happy home life. It doesn’t mean you need to leave corporate entirely, like I did. That was just what worked for me. Every day I help people find more flexible situations that allow them the freedom to do what is most important to them. Just because most people you know are in the same situation as you doesn’t mean that solutions are not possible.