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].
The problem is, often they don’t even realise it.”
Sandberg has held this view for some time.
“Do not leave before you leave,” she told students graduating from New York’s Barnard College for women back in 2011. “Do not lean back; lean in. Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision. That’s the only way, when that day comes, you’ll even have a decision to make.”
And according to Business Insider:
Sandberg will be listened to: she is a woman who walks her talk. The first female on Facebook’s board, her $30million-plus (£19m) pay packet in 2011 made her the social media giant’s best-paid executive – not to mention her share options, which run into millions of dollars. This follows senior roles as chief of staff for the US Treasury Department (1996-2001) and at Google (2001-2008).
Family life – she is a mother of two – is important to her. She famously leaves the office – although it is not necessarily the end of her working day – at 5.30pm. Her husband, Dave Goldberg, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, leaves work at the same time and has commented wryly that “nobody asks me about it”.
Having thought about this idea of women ‘leaning back’ from their careers (assuming they want to have one – this is not designed to be a call to work for those who aren’t interested), I’m now on the fence.
I have consciously leaned-back from pursuing certain jobs because for me, they weren’t compatible with family life – not the kind of family life I wanted for myself or my family (no judgement!).
I’m also aware that’s an very individual thing.
But I’m fortunate in that my industry – journalism – allows for some flexibility. If I were a banker or a lawyer or a surgeon or a CEO the kind of lifestyle I want with my children would simply not be possible.
One of my friends is a doctor – a GP. Her husband – who she met at uni – is a haemotologist. The area of medicine she’s in allows her to work part-time and be almost completely in control of her hours. Her husband works long hours and travels overseas a dozen times a year.
All the female doctors at the practice I go to are mothers and all work part time. Being a GP – while not nearly as lucrative as a specialist branch of medicine – is very family-friendly.
So doesn’t it make sense to think about the lifestyle you want in the future before you hop on a career path that will take you in the opposite direction? Or, as Sheryl Sandberg argues, are we selling ourselves short by not just GOING FOR IT and being confident that we can make it work in the future?
She’s a good example. She is valuable enough to her employers that she’s been able to negotiate the kind of hours she wants to work – like leaving at 5pm.
And hey – who knows what life will bring? Is it smart to plan for a family life you may not have or even end up wanting?
What do you think? What kinds of factors influenced your work/family choices?
This is a TED Talk Sheryl Sandberg did a couple of years ago. The topic? Why we have so few women leaders.