Take a few minutes to watch Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk about why we have too few women leaders. Ms. Sandberg serves as the COO for Facebook and focuses on three key reasons women make up 50 percent of the population but only a fraction of that number of the top executives and office holders:
- Women don’t “sit at the table.” Women remain less likely to negotiate or advocate for themselves and attribute their success to outside factors rather than to their own talents. Even worse, society views powerful, successful women negatively while viewing men who demonstrate the same traits positively.
- Women continue to do more housework and childcare than do their partners, leaving less time to focus on their careers.
- Women “leave before they leave,” making both conscious and unconscious career decisions based on the possibility of future family commitments.
This talk dovetails nicely with my current book, Big Girls Don’t Cry, an analysis of the 2008 election by Rebecca Traister. Though I’m not finished yet, the theme of the hardworking woman usurped by the young, attractive man shines through loud and clear. When it comes to the negative connotations associated with powerful women, think of Barack Obama damning Hillary Clinton with the faint praise of being, “likable enough.”
Near the end of her talk, Sandberg states that our generation of women will not equalize leadership positions between genders. The numbers just don’t hold out any hope, and, in fact, are currently in decline. Instead, we pass on that challenge to our daughters.
In thinking about the example I set for my own teenage daughters, I can’t help but think about the ways in which I do and do not fall in line with Sandberg’s characterizations. I hold a job that falls into the upper echelon in my chosen field, and my goal involves ending my career in the superintendent’s chair. That said, I think I too am likeable enough, and I value the connections I make with people who work for and with me. On the flip side, I am secure in my own opinions and confident in my abilities, particularly my academic abilities–traits that, according to Sandberg, read more male than female.
Adventure Guy and I also part ways with the norm in our household and childcare arrangements. On the cleaning front, we both vastly prefer delegating the heavy lifting to others. When our budget hasn’t allowed for that, Adventure Guy took on an equal amount of the load, demonstrating his often vastly superior skills. The proof? Upon receiving one of those toy vacuums with the popping balls inside for Christmas, two-year-old DD1 exclaimed, “Now I can vacuum, just like Daddy!” He also took on equal childcare duties right from the start, providing all the morning care for DD1 once I returned to work. He got used to dressing, feeding, and dropping off our new little girl at daycare, and I got used to resisting the urge to criticize his efforts, particularly in the baby wardrobe arena. Our childcare arrangements evolved over time, but, even now, we balance carpooling and extracurricular support duties between the two of us.
So, two out of three stereotypes avoided. But then there’s number three. An honest assessment of my career decisions demonstrate some distinct “leaving before I left” behavior. After meeting Adventure guy, I chose the traditionally female-dominated teaching field over the career in law I planned growing up. Law school would have meant delaying marriage for three years since Adventure Guy’s then job involved frequent moves. And, as plenty of people told me, I could teach anywhere. I also considered the relative flexibility teaching provides as compared to the demands placed on law firm associates, knowing that I planned to have children sooner rather than later.
That’s where the stereotype gets all mixed up. I chose to continue my education after all, entering a masters program in school administration just before learning of my first pregnancy. I didn’t pass up the opportunity to move out of the classroom and into an instructional coaching position when DD1 was around two. I took my first job in administration with a 1-year-old Soccer Boy, 4-year-old DD2, and 6-year-old DD1 in tow. But I also waited thirteen years to begin a doctoral program–the key to that piece of paper that unlocks the next rung of the ladder in my field–because I couldn’t figure out how to make that happen while raising small kids and wrangling 2200 high school kids on a day-to-day basis.
I will likely fail to become the master of my domain as quickly as my male counterparts. I suppose I could spend more time worrying about that. Instead, I plan to stay the course, all while taking every opportunity to enjoy the family I’ve built alongside my career. Because my guess is work will be around long after I have three empty spaces at the most important table–the one my family gathers around for dinner.