One of the earliest pieces of advice I got when I started getting paid to write was to not write about women. So I have spent a good part of my career trying to figure out how much of myself to put in the picture.
My first monthly column was in Business 2.0 magazine, and every time I wrote about women my editor deleted the section. When I insisted on writing about what it’s like to be pregnant he fired me and suggested that I try to write for Yahoo’s women section.
I didn’t, of course. I wrote for their finance section, because that’s where you get paid the most. And they fired me because the stuff I wrote geared toward women was off-topic.
When I negotiated my first book deal, I had to present a ton of metrics to show that my audience was half men.
And when I was just writing for myself on my own blog, and I could write about whatever I want, I realized that if I wrote about women and sex, men would stick with me through the women stuff. (Here’s a link to women and sex for men who are about to give up on this post.)
This is all to say that today’s post is death to professional writing. The more I write about women the more career trouble I have. But people send me tons of great research about women and work, and it piles up, because I get scared to write too many posts about women.
Here’s the best from my pile:
1. Women make the best fighters. I have documented this on a small scale with my bickering at work and at home. However now it’s clear that this goes beyond psychic war: Women are more ruthless in life-or-death battle than men are as well. This research comes from the Council on Foreign Relations. In an interview with a retired Colombian colonel about his experiences fighting female members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), he said that any sensible soldier would shoot the women first. The women had a “Kamakaze-like mentality” that made them the most deadly opponents.
2. Women keep other women from getting ahead. I know you know this intuitively, but here’s research to back your intuition: Young human resource employees have a bias against interviewing pretty young women. Bradley Ruffle, economist at Ben-Gurion University, attributes this tendency to our evolutionary goal of competing against other women.
Also, women enjoy being the only woman in their arena, according to research from Michelle Duguid, professor of organizational behavior at Washington University, (via The Economist). Women see their solo stature as special (a perception which is likely valid) and women are likely to balk at adding another woman when they are the token woman.
3. US women would rather clean than take care of kids. It turns out that social pressure in the US to work full time is as bad as social pressure to be thin.
It’s true that women are leaving the workforce in droves to take care of their kids. But polls show they’d rather work part-time. In case you thought some women were born to stay home and take care of kids, most find it difficult but they do it anyway. How do we know? Economist Daniel Kahneman writes, in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, that it’s more pleasant for women to mop the floor than take care of kids.
Which is why I bought a $300 vacuum cleaner. Because there is something really pleasing about being able to turn on the vacuum and clean things up. Whereas the efforts I put into my kids at any given moment often turn out to be useless.
4. Dutch women work part-time and don’t care that they have no power. Seventy-five percent of women who work in the US work full-time. And they say they don’t want to, according to Pew Research. Their instinct is right that they will feel better. We know this because Dutch women work part-time and they are happier, according to a piece by Jessica Olien, in Salon. Very few Dutch women work full-time and very few say they want to.
It turns out that the real barrier to women being happy with their choices is women feeling okay with a sub-par career. Which is not surprising. Women like being high achievers. Look at school: women are outscoring men to the point that it’s easier to get into college if you’re male. Women graduate college at a higher rate than men and women earn more than men in their 20s. It’s crushing for women to get accolades their whole life and then give it up.
5. Canadian women feel pressure to leave work for one year for each new child. Can you imagine the US workforce if our culture said taking leave from work is what successful women do? The woman who’s the director of development for my reality TV show is from Canada, and she just came back from a year-long maternity leave. When I commented about what a big deal that is, she said that in Canada maternity leave is state funded, so people wonder what’s wrong with you if you don’t take it.
When we talk about what cultural pressures women have, I think the biggest one is to perform at a high level in the workplace. But the workplace for high achievers is absolutely not set up for people with children.
6. US Moms who launch startups have rich husbands. The hardest part of a startup is the long hours coupled with insane instability. Which means that most women have no interest in startups.
However, a startup is the perfect way to have control over your work life and still have interesting work if you can fund the startup yourself. The New York Times has an article about this that is full of good examples of moms who are using a startup this way.
The average age for a first-time entrepreneur is 39. Women who do this and have kids are women who have rich husbands. Why? Because women would not do a risky venture like a startup if they were risking money they needed to put a house over their kids’ heads. Women would not do a startup if they couldn’t afford full-time child care. And women would not have a career big enough to fund a startup themselves if they also had young kids.
What if you don’t have a rich husband? Have kids early, wait until they are grown up, and then do a startup.
7. Most women don’t care about being right. They want to be liked. The majority of women have an F in their Myers Briggs score, which means they care more about feelings than ideas. I am not burdened with this F trait. In fact, like most entrepreneurs, I care more about being right than earning money. Which is why I can throw caution to the wind and continue writing about women. And maybe it’s okay that I keep losing gigs because I write about women, because earning a lot of money makes you mean, and that’s true for men as well as women.