Though women are better educated these days, they’re still underrepresented in the upper echelons of entertainment, government and finance. Why? Is it the biology of the whole thing, meaning having kids just wears most women out? Recently, Sheryl Sandberg, one of the few top female execs in Silicon Valley – she’s the woman who made Facebook profitable – spoke at TED to address this. She cites stay-at-home mom-ism as a prime reason, and asks that women be more assertive both with their partners and at work.
It’s true that most married women do the bulk of the housework – two-thirds – and the childcare – three-quarters, whether they work or not. So I agree there is room for push back there. As women, we are conditioned and expected to do this stuff. A friend was ecstatically happy recently because her husband had washed the dishes – twice! I tried to be supportive, but it didn’t seem like a great record for an eight-year marriage.
Sandberg, who was Larry Summers’ protégé and Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard – not exactly the average Jane – also states that women opt out of their careers when they have kids and fail to come back because they weren’t aggressive enough initially in going after the career they wanted. In other words, they didn’t have good jobs in the first place so they are less motivated to go back.
Going back, however, isn’t that easy, especially after a woman takes time off. A year or more off is like kryptonite to employers – and they don’t really care if you were raising your kids or doing time at Folsom. And the truth is, you are behind. I had a couple interviews after my kids were born and I felt flummoxed about how to explain the gaps on my resume; or I tried to pretend there were none, which left me feeling deceptive and guilty. Not very impressive to my interviewer, and I didn’t get either job.
Jobs for both men and women, however, suck for a lot of people. In our society, men are the traditional breadwinners, so arguably they are taken into consideration first. For example, I worked at a startup that ended up going under. When the firings came, the married man with a kid was the last to go. I heard the top brass saying it was because he had to support his family. A noble idea, yes, and one deeply ingrained in our society. But unfortunately, this attitude is what keeps things status quo.
Women still make only 70 cents for every dollar a man makes at the same job. And that’s if you have a job. Job losses over the last three years, for both men and women, rival the Great Depression. Moreover, though the economy is said to be recovering despite the rise in unemployment to 9.2%, in the last year far more men than women have gotten jobs, even in areas like education and retail which are traditionally female dominated. This must be at least partially due to employers’, both men and women, bias.
The problem is that if men are consistently beating out women for jobs, women are left with few options. Well, other than sleeping with men for stock tips (Chiesi), having illegitimate children with them (Maria Baena), or cleaning house and fronting a Swiss bank account for illegal profits from insider trading (Manju Das). Yes, women should be more assertive, but surely there’s room for improvement all around: women and men need to be more open minded about changing social norms; corporate culture more forgiving (if not valuing) parenting; more equitable division of labor in the home. Looking at this stuff feels like, contrary to Virginia Slims, you haven’t come a long way, baby.