What are we Teaching our Daughters about Work?
Last week I was at a conference of nearly 1,000 women presidents & entrepreneurs.
The women in that hall were collectively responsible for 30,000 jobs and billions of dollars in the economy. I am inspired to know that my team and I are part of that, and that we’re making a difference in our economy, to our country, to our families and to each other.
I’m also the mother of two teenage daughters.
I’m no Mother Earth, believe me, and I’ve often accused myself of being in business to avoid a role that I honestly found stifling. I totally respect the stay-at-home parent. That is a job I’m ill-suited for and am pretty crap at.
Fortunately, I am supported by my husband and daughters alike in weaving the narrative we like to call ‘setting a good example for the girls.’ Do I sound like I feel guilty yet?
At age 46, in 2015, I know I’m very lucky.
Standing on the shoulders of giants, I have had a trail blazed for me and I have benefitted personally and greatly.
I’ve certainly had to overcome and/or suffer through some nonsense: customers making comments about how what they pay me goes directly to my family (nope, I’ve got to make payroll just like you do) or asking my male employee if he approves of my business plan, or being told “that’s what you get when you choose work over family” when I had to rearrange a commitment due to a family emergency.
But the fact is that I didn’t believe that sexism existed until I was about 25 and was told to send flowers to my male boss’ wife… after writing, delivering and winning his pitch for him, while he took all the credit.
We’re making progress.
We hear about the need for more girls to go into STEM careers and initiatives like Girls Who Code are helping guide us there. Strong cultural figures, like Sheryl Sandberg and Arianna Huffington, are giving us examples of what it means to be in business, to care for our families, and to support each other as teams, as families, and as capitalists. This is progress and this is good.
Last night I asked my 16-year-old what she thought of all of this.
She wants to be an architect. She’s the only girl in her engineering class. She is fortunate enough to get to study computer science (but it’s an elective and doesn’t count toward graduation) and she was very happy to share her opinion.
She’s never consciously experienced sexism, she said.
I surmise it’s because she thinks sexism is something obvious and sinister, and something that happens to other people.
Here’s what she said:
“When I started in my engineering class no one really talked to me, I think because I was the only girl. But now they see I can do it and they talk to me. Now I’m just one of the guys. It’s the same as anything else. You just have to stick with it and you’re accepted.”
In other words, there’s no sexism. That’s great.
Then she added quietly, not meeting my eye,
“It’s just that boys are told they can’t quit. Girls are told they can.”
She continued, “You get a lot of options to quit, so you can’t do that. I don’t know why girls do.”
She thinks the problem is that too many girls are quitting. And she blames the girls! Recognize this? Anyone?
Then she wanted to talk about the messages in school and statistics we’ve all seen.
She continued in a much more upbeat manner, “You know how they say that about, like, you ask girls in 6th grade about STEM careers and they are half or whatever? And then when you graduate it’s only like 3% or whatever that actually do it? That’s because…” (and this is where it took a strange turn for me), “… that’s because in junior high they’re all, like, learn how to do your own taxes and then you can make, like, you know, make and sell cute pillows on Etsy or whatever.”
Okay, so this is kind of wonderful and kind of terrible and it brings up a really foundational point.
- Family-friendly business models are becoming more viable thanks to things like Etsy. That’s good.
- Girls are relegated to family-friendly business models right away. That’s not good. That’s sexism. But at least they are taught how to do their own taxes.
Which brings me back to the first point about quitting.
My daughter found fault in the quitters, her female peers.
I pointed out that if we turn the tables, you find that not only are boys told they can’t quit (they have families to support) girls and women are encouraged to quit constantly, overtly and covertly.
They have to fight ever-rising odds as they progress through the ranks, from pay gaps to family commitments to female guilt (it’s a thing), to just plain boredom and exhaustion.
And then being a CEO?
Male or female – you can’t ever believe that quitting is an option. Ask any CEO. This is hard work. Quitting is a fantasy we all indulge from time to time, but it usually involves buying an island or something.
If you throw a viable option in there, like chucking it all in to make cute pillows and do your own taxes, you can’t really wonder at why women are being siphoned off as the career ladder continues.
A man would have to be very strong to start a home-based business and take care of kids. He would be lauded, though. A woman would be patronized, and some of her sisters would judge her very harshly. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
More women than men have the option to “quit”, or not to “Lean In”.
Sheryl Sandberg is pointing out to us that we can’t do that, and that we’re in this together, men and women.
We’ve shown over and over that world economies are stronger and better when women play an equal part. Teams are better, companies are stronger, and capitalism thrives.
The sexism tide is turning, and it has been for a long time.
This is great and we’re making progress. But I wonder if there’s any real answer outside of retraining our children? Work harder, work smarter, work differently, be an example, be a servant leader, lean in. My mantra comes from my childhood: “keep on keepin’ on.”
Hopefully when I have this conversation with a granddaughter in a decade or two she’ll tell me how she learned how to hire an accountant in junior high.
About the Author: Tanya Korpi Macleod is the founder of Minneapolis-based Macleod & Co. After more than 25 years of marketing and advertising experience in the U.S. and Europe, Tanya noticed that chasm that often exists between an organization’s theoretical marketing “plan” and its realistic ability to execute it. This led her to pioneer in the concept of “holistic marketing,” which redefines marketing as the complete process of bringing a product, service or company from inception to maximum ongoing profitability. Her mission is to show organizational leaders that a holistic mindset not only promotes a healthier culture, but a more profitable business.