To the women of the graduating class of 2004

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Most of you have not witnessed extreme gender inequality during college, and most of you do not think of yourselves as activists. But I have news for you: The corporate world does not offer equal opportunity, and most of you will need to become activists to create lives which include children and work.

But you probably spent your school years hearing that you can be anything you want and that having kids is not something to worry about now. Both of these ideas are misleading.

Most likely, you cannot be anything you want if you expect to have kids; you cannot be a mom who goes to weekly tap dance lessons or weekly baseball games and a mom who runs a Fortune 500 company or leads the United Nations team to Rwanda. You have to give up one of those dreams because kids are not compatible with the amount of work required to move up through the management ranks. You need to consider this when planning your life.

“Sexism at the top remains strong,” says Barrons Business Daily in an article touting the successes of women in the workplace. Men may always outnumber women at the top because women are not willing to make the “sacrifice of friendships and family life that the jobs normally require,” it states. The New York Times magazine chimed in with a cover article highlighting how more women with business degrees from top schools are leaving the work force to stay home with children.

Here are some facts to consider:

Sixty percent of male managers have kids at home as compared with 40% of women managers. Corporate life was set up so that one person in a couple works and one stays home with the kids. For all the effort men and women have given to changing this system, it remains relatively unchanged for senior executives.

These facts come from a recent study commissioned by Congress, which shows that men and women climb the corporate ladder together, and then women with children begin to lag, earning lower salaries. Meanwhile, childless women managers remain on par with the men.

Those women with children who continue to climb are more likely to get divorced than the men with kids who continue climbing, says Barrons magazine.

The congressional study tells us that women struggle with career issues that don't affect men. Women, not men, typically must choose between a high-powered career and raising kids. And so far, we have not found an answer. Each woman who gives up something — a career, a kid, time at the office or at home — will tell you the decision was tough. And the jury is out as to what works. The next generation of women will have to try new ways to juggle family and work.

Some schools, bless them, are helping women prepare for future balancing acts. At one top medical school, a panel of surgeons fielded questions from students ready to select a specialty. The discussion turned to a surgeon's notoriously long and unpredictable hours. A student asked the panel members if they would choose surgery again. The four men on the panel each praised their wives at home for supporting them and said they would choose this specialty again. The lone woman on the panel said she would not choose the specialty because surgeons have so little flexibility and she has had to sacrifice family time to succeed.

At this particular school, women choose their specialty with care: Ophthalmology has become popular because it allows for a family life.

Consider these issues when you select your field. If you want a family, find and build a career that is compatible with having a family. If you decide on a family-unfriendly career, find a spouse who will take care of the family (a common solution for women at the top).

Graduation speakers nationwide are touting opportunity, equality, and ambition. I wish I didn't have to be a wet blanket , but someone's gotta do it: Girls, get ready for a corporate world built by men, not women. Think of the workplace as a constant test of your ability to create the life you want. Think of yourself as a trailblazer.

8 replies
  1. TJ
    TJ says:

    Great post! I’m eagerly anticipating the day when both women and men are able to have more flexible schedules that help them balance career & family responsibilities.

  2. AC
    AC says:

    I’m disappointed in how swooping the claims are in this article. Perhaps my circle includes the rare and few “balancing acts,” but I know multiple families where both husband and wife were high earners (including wife as higher earner) with talented kids and adequate family time.

    I think the real problem here is the failure to enact a paradigm shift in thinking. Women can be both high-powered execs and great moms, if they want to be and if they recognize that having their child on an after-school soccer team isn’t really the end-all-be-all of parenting (and instill those values in their children). I should know, my mother WAS that mom, and she was a single parent too! I turned out just fine.

    Bottom line, if men and women want mom’s to take on corporate jobs, they have to make it work together. Women have to marry men who WANT them to thrive in their careers. And if a woman’s single and wants to be a corporate mom, she can make it work too. Nothing is impossible.

  3. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    @ac-yes, this work/home life balance can be
    made if you are highly organized and overachieving.
    But it’s a terribly high goal you set for yourself.
    For some women, not an attractve goal at all.
    Furthermore, men are seen the majority of the
    time as accepted in the role of work-aholic
    absentee parent. Some women would and do
    prefer that role as opposed to having to
    be a family woman.

  4. matchmaker
    matchmaker says:

    Thanks for posting this! I've seen the raspberry PlateScapers in a food-service environment, but I've never seen them in the store. I would have been wary of the vanilla, which so often tastes artificial. I doubt that vanilla would look very appealing on our white plates, anyway!

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