You can't avoid it if you want to. The issue of women in the workplace is everywhere.
First there was Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's announcement that she is calling an end to telecommuting. In the memo that changed it all, she wrote:
"To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together. Beginning in June, we're asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices." (Memo found here).
I'd venture to guess that this new policy will most predominantly affect women - mothers in particular. Ms. Mayer, a mother herself and a notorious workaholic, doesn't seem to mind. In fact, she took her position at Yahoo when she was five months pregnant, and after having her first child, she was quickly back at work after a two week maternity leave. (Yes, you read that right - A TWO WEEK MATERNITY LEAVE). I suppose its not a surprise that her value system is being thrust upon the entire Yahoo workforce, but I, for one, am glad I don't work there. (And so is Richard Branson, by the way).
Then there's Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and mother of two, who is all over the news for her new book, Leaning In, where she argues that women are their own worst enemies - that we need to be more ambitious, more aggressive, more assertive. That, in essence, we need to be more like men. She's wants to start a movement, and perhaps she is the perfect person to do so - in a world where 96% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are men, Ms. Sandberg has done pretty well for herself.
In an interview last night with 60 Minutes, she stated that in the business world women "start leaning back. They say, 'Oh, I'm busy. I want to have a child one day. I couldn't possibly, you know, take on anymore.' . . . . I've never had a man say that stuff to me." She has a point, I suppose. Neither have I. But is there something inherently wrong with that? I did want children. I didn't want to take on anymore. I wanted some semblance of a work-life balance. What does that make me? A failure? A thorn in the side of this new feminist movement?
I have struggled a lot to articulate my thoughts on these subjects (this is my third blog post about it, the first two of which I have scrapped). I don't want to sound whiny. I made my decision to leave my biglaw job to be at home, and I am at peace with that. These women don't owe me anything.
But when I hear them speak out - whether through an employee memo, or a soon to be best selling book, it makes me feel alone. Alone because these women seem to have reached these amazing pinnacles of success without facing the issues I faced - or at least, not being bothered by them.
What is it like to go back to work full time, by choice, when your child is two weeks old? What is it like to rise the ranks of corporate success, and have children, without having the urge to take on a bit less at work? Did you yearn for more time? Did you struggle to make it work? Do you wish things could be different? Surely the work-life balance must be hard, but it's not what these women prominently speak about - about the emotions and the struggle and the hard choices - maybe to do so is a bit too sappy, or feminine.
Instead, these women are setting a precedent that we women have to be just like men - perhaps even a bit more intense - to make it in the corporate world. We don't need family friendly policies or generous maternity leaves - we just need to suck it up and work harder. Show up at the office. Lean in.
When I was at a law firm, one of the hardest things was the fact that I had no female role models. There were a handful of women partners, but to be honest, I didn't want to be like them. Some didn't have any children. Others did but spent most of their evenings in the office while their nannies put their children to bed. I found most to be bitter and unsympathetic to my struggles and concerns. And why wouldn't they be? They had it just as hard as I did, if not harder. They made, and continued to make, hard sacrifices. But I yearned for someone I could aspire to be like - someone's footsteps to follow in. I never found anyone.
I'm beginning to think there just aren't that many out there.
The only prominent woman I have found to really address these issues - to really delve into them - is Anne Marie Slaughter, in her article in the Atlantic. Ms. Slaughter, the former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department who left her job to spend more time with her family, argues that women in this day and age simply can't have it all- that either a career or a family has to be sacrificed. The male based corporate world simply doesn't accommodate a balance: "[W]e have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and ideal," she wrote. "We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too."
The solution, she wrote, lies with women themselves: "The best hope for improving the lot of all women . . . is to ensure that women are equally represented in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders. Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone."
But what happens when those women who wield that power aren't paving the way?
It isn't their responsibility to do so. But it would sure be nice if they did.