Don’t Leave Before You Leave
A few days ago I wrote a post about Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg. I shared a link to her TED speech where she addresses the reasons why there are so few women at the top of their fields and gives advice to women reaching for success. One of her tips is “Don’t leave before you leave”. Sandberg talks about how women take their foot off the gas pedal, contemplating how to manage married lives and families they do not yet have, to the detriment of career advancement. She is right. While at least 50% of University grads are women, there is still a marked absence of women on corporate boards, as CEOs and in the political arena. At some point after graduating, women are leaning back.
Kiss My Tiara
Nine years ago, I read a book which I credit with teaching me my first important lessons in negotiating. ‘Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a Smartmouth Goddess” by Susan Jane Gilman is an extremely irreverent book, and one that some might find offensive. Looking back, I think Ms. Gilman shaped more than just my negotiating skills. The Introduction is titled “Forget Rules for Catching a Husband. How ’bout Rules for Catching a Life?”.
“Too often, women are confronted with the social equivalent of Sophie’s choice. Which “children” are we willing to sacrifice: our hearts or our minds? our independence or the prospect of intimacy? our careers or our families?”. These are words echoed by Gilman in Part 1 of the book, titled “Mistress of Our Domain”. As a 37 year old woman who has never been married and never been pregnant, I can relate to having to make that choice. Not overtly, just subtly, little by little every day. While I can’t claim that I have driven my career hard, stayed at the table and kept my hand up 100% of the time, my professional pursuits have been a priority for me. I have always looked for opportunities to grow. And while I have been thrown a few career curve balls, I have been fortunate enough to do that. Younger women are often shocked to hear that I have always wanted to have a family. They assume that successful professional women make a cold-hearted decision to close the door on domestic possibilities.
It really isn’t fair that, generally speaking, babies need to come within a specified time frame. Reproductive years are limited. The biological clock is not a figment of women’s imaginations. It also isn’t fair that, as Sheryl Sandberg notes, likeability and success are negatively correlated for women, but positively correlated for men. What that means is that as men become more successful, both men and women like them more. However as women reach the top at work, the opposite occurs – both men and women find them less likeable. So what do you think that means for dating prospects? Successful women need love too, but let’s face it, it will be harder for them to find. This is why a woman who holds having a family in high priority may be lead to believe she has to take her foot off the gas pedal just to find a mate.
So who’s right? Gilman or Sandberg? Gilman is successful and single. With her book, she made lots of money encouraging women to be self-sufficient, while sneering at the fantasy most women have about going down the aisle in a frothy white gown. Sandberg on the other hand, is poised to become one of the wealthiest self-made women in the world, and is the twice married mother of two young children. She got to the top making day care runs and changing diapers. The difference is that (at least on her second try) she chose a partner who could be a partner, providing 50/50 support as she pursued her career goals too.
Women Can Have It All
In my opinion, and with the benefit of hindsight, Susan Gilman’s position is wrong. I drank her Kool-Aid almost ten years ago. I went through my late twenties and thirties believing that having a successful career meant “putting off” or even giving up on finding a mate and starting a family. Sandberg, as one of the most successful corporate executives on earth, knows that you can have it all. But you have to choose it. Whether you want a family, or a successful career, or both — and I suspect most women would choose both if they knew it was a real option — you will need to decide what you’re going after. As with anything else in life, you will then need to actively DO the things that will move you in the direction of your dreams. Sophie’s choice only exists if you let it. Don’t limit yourself to either/or. Choose wisely.