For women in my mom’s era, they forged the path into high-level professional positions by showing that they could do it all – they could balance executive responsibilities with demands at home, seamlessly.
And, while many women, somewhat miraculously, managed this, it came at a cost. The cost of constant stress and busyness. A go-go-go 24-7 mindset that’s now amplified by technology and the unrelenting connectivity it creates.
For today’s female entrepreneurs and business leaders – which I’m happy to count myself among the ranks – I’m observing that the challenge of our generation is to re-write that narrative. To remind ourselves, and those around us, that we don’t have to do it all. We don’t have to be perfect. And we still deserve to be treated with respected and given opportunities.
Gender discrimination is rarely a clear cut issue. It’s more of an icky feeling that you get when you suspect that unconscious bias is likely playing a role in the situation; that you probably would not be treated this way if you were a man.
And it’s hard. It’s hard to know how to call someone out on this, or even bring it up for discussion. And it’s hard because I often find myself second guessing, wondering whether or not it’s all in my head.
The fact of the matter is that sometimes it probably is in my head.
But research shows that gender discrimination and unconscious bias is alive and well, which means women – myself included – bump up against it. All. The. Time.
Women get paid less than men, and that pay gap increases substantially when women become mothers.
A New York Times article puts it this way:
Yet much of the pay gap seems to arise from old-fashioned notions about parenthood. “Employers read fathers as more stable and committed to their work; they have a family to provide for, they’re less likely to be flaky,” Ms. Budig said. “That is the opposite of how parenthood by women is interpreted by employers. The conventional story is they work less and they’re more distractible when on the job.”
Additionally, Venture Capital firms overwhelming invest in male-led businesses, in part because they have an image in their mind that success equals Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, and want people who look like them to walk through their door. (MergeLane has a great resource library on this topic.)
So, how do we – individually and as a society – sort it all out? How do we make sense of this murky subject that’s only lately being talked about?
I’m finding that as I become more aware of the challenges I and other women are up against, it becomes more and more obvious when something is off. What I would have once brushed off as a “difficult personality” is now more clearly someone interrupting me because I’m female and don’t deserve to be heard out.
It’s infuriating, all the more so because I’m raising my own daughter.
Not only does this whole being a mom thing make me prone to being grouped into the realm of small potatoes “momprenurs” making money by selling used clothes on Ebay – which, to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with, it’s just not who I’m striving to be professionally – it also makes me take stock of the challenges my daughter might someday face.
Why should my bright, energetic, resilient and creative kid be given fewer opportunities than the male counterparts in her class?
And why shouldn’t I get angry about that?
As odd as it sounds (or maybe not odd at all), I only recently realized that it’s OK for me to feel angry from time to time. As a friend put it: “Men can feel sad and women can feel angry.”
The great irony of this article is that I’m writing it in the wee hours of the morning, because my daughter is at home for spring break, and I find it hard to write when there’s the threat of constant interruptions.
So maybe I am still trying to do it all. Let’s just call it a work in progress. After all, we don’t have to be perfect ... and we still deserve respect and opportunities.
P.S. A huge shout out to my own mom, Nancy Schenck, who was a pioneer in her profession. When she retired I went to an event in her honor. Hundreds of people filled the room – a great many of their lives were changed substantially for the better because of my mom’s dedication to her professional work.