By MIA FREEDMAN
By the time I found myself unexpectedly (but happily) pregnant at 25, I was in the only job I’d ever wanted: editor. It’s almost like my ovaries or the universe or whatever collectively exhaled because literally a couple of months after starting the job, I was knocked up.
In some ways, it was a massive relief because I had no decisions to make about ‘is this the right time?’ and ‘what will be the effect on my career?’
I knew that I wanted to keep working and I knew that I wasn’t about to be fired for being pregnant (some women do not have the luxury of knowing this, especially if they are working for arseholes).
It was in my – and my employer’s – interests to make it work. And we did.
Had I given much thought to how I would combine work and family when I started my career in magazines? Not at all. Hadn’t crossed my mind. I knew my mother worked and it had never occurred to me that she struggled. The words ‘balance’ and ‘juggle’ weren’t used much in the 70s and 80s.
So when I heard Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg say that women’s lack of commitment to their careers even before they become mothers is the reason so few make it to the top, I was a bit hostile to the idea.
I kept listening.
She was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week and her speech related to the main argument in her upcoming book: ‘Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead’.
“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in,” Sandberg writes, according to a preview in the New York Times. “We internalise the negative messages we get throughout our lives, the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve.”
She is specifically referring to the idea of women choosing their careers and career paths based on the idea of wanting balance one day when they have children – even if that day is a decade or more away.
“Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, ‘I’ll take a slightly less interesting speciality because I’m going to want more balance one day,’” she has said.
“Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, ‘I’m not even sure I should go for partner[ship at the firm], because I know I’m going to want kids eventually.’
These women don’t even have relationships, and already they’re finding balance, balance for responsibilities they don’t yet have. And from that moment, they start quietly leaning back [from their careers].