“Eighty percent of success is showing up.” -- Woody Allen
Earlier this week an NPR “Hidden Brain” story about women in the workplace caught my attention after a friend tagged her daughter in the Facebook comment string. I added a comment to the “conversation” and since one person “Liked” it, I feel compelled to expand on the topic here. (Yeah, it doesn’t take much to encourage me ;) But before I start, let me be very clear; these comments are targeted at people who want to help women achieve parity in the workplace and people who may also think that a scarcity of women in STEM fields is a Tech Frustration. If you don’t share these concerns, stop reading right now. (Further reading will not only be a complete waste of your time, it might even make you angry.)
For the last two and a half months I have not worked outside the home. In fact, I've hardly worked inside the home. My kids are adults, and my husband is super helpful. So I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands. Time for fun, time to think, and time to do some really fascinating stuff like clean the piano keys. It’s made me realize that working is hard. Raising kids is hard too. And working while raising kids is even harder. Was it harder than staying home and raising kids? I have no idea. That wasn’t my experience, so I can't comment.
But that NPR story got me thinking. That and the realization that we (in the US) might have a woman president for the first time. These things have me thinking about women in the workforce and women in leadership positions. Since I was one woman in one workplace (at a time) for over 30 years, I can share one perspective.
I didn’t think much about being a woman in the workplace for the first 25 years of my career. There were too many other things to think about at work like providing value to customers, profitability, and deadlines. Plus I got my degree in computer science at a time in the 1980s when women were flocking to the field. When I was in high school, nobody told me that women weren’t supposed to be good at math. (I think I learned that somewhere between calculus and differential equations.) I spent the first 25 years of my career intensely focused on meeting customer needs and giving very little thought to how my gender might be determining my opportunities and/or pay. It wasn’t until I got involved in some volunteer work trying to attract and retain women to STEM careers about five years ago that I thought much about women in the workplace. And now, since leaving my job recently, I’ve had lots more time to think about it … and everything else :)
I worked in high tech. There were women, but not a ton depending on the functional area (e.g. marketing, R&D, operations, finance, support). One subtle obstacle faced mostly by younger women is that their commitment to the work is often questioned … either consciously or unconsciously. And rightfully so since women opt out of the workforce at much higher rates than men in the early years of their careers. An important component of helping women achieve parity in the workplace should involve encouraging them to participate in the workforce. As long as women drop out of the workforce at higher rates than men, their commitment to the work will be questioned more often. That’s basic statistics. This reality can lead to fewer opportunities for and fewer investments in women. Shouldn’t we raise our daughters with the same expectations we have for our sons when it comes to working? Shouldn’t we teach them to work through work frustrations instead of avoiding them? Why is it OK for a woman to opt out? Are women better off in the long run when they leave the workforce? (These aren’t rhetorical questions, I really want to hear what you think.)
One thing I do know is that when women drop out of the workforce at higher rates than men it causes the women who stay in the workforce to have to work harder to convince “the system” that they’re in it for the long haul. The burden of proving that women deserve the same opportunities as men, is borne by the remaining women. (Sheryl Sandberg does a great job of addressing this issue in her very successful book Lean In which I highly recommend.)
So … let’s start instilling the same stamina expectations in our daughters that we instill in our sons when it comes to work. This may create a whole ‘nuther problem; not enough jobs to go around. I know one smart guy who thinks that we already have more workers than we need. But that’s a topic for a whole ‘nuther blog.
What do you think? Is there anything wrong with raising expectations of our daughters? Or maybe we should change our expectations for both our sons and our daughters when they become parents? Times are changing. What are your suggestions?
Do you have any Tech Frustrations? If so, tell us about them on the Tech Frustrations web site.
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