The cultural struggle of working moms

Rana Foroohar, the assistant managing editor of Time who focuses on business and economics, sometimes writes about the status of women. Her May 2011 article “The 100% Solution: Women still earn less than men. But equal pay will make us all richer” is striking.

Foroohar points to the traditional belief that working mothers must be less committed to work because they focus on their children — and are typically paid less than women who are not mothers. She refutes that notion by contending, “working moms are actually at the vanguard of a smarter way to work.”

An anecdote about Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors (and a working mom), illustrates this point. Early in her tenure, Barra ended an executive staff meeting in time to pick up one of her children for an event. A male colleague expressed his gratitude, stating that now he would be able to attend an appointment with his wife.

Still committed, still human

Foroohar’s article and the story about Barra doesn’t suggest that the growing ranks of female executives, including those in male-dominated industries — women now lead two of the Big Four accounting firms, the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund, Lockheed Martin, Duke Energy and GM — are less committed to their companies.

Indeed, in these and other management roles, it is likely that everyone knows that the responsibility is “24/7” and that separating their work from their “life” is not possible at that level. But can we allow ourselves, and our employees, to be human — for the betterment of our companies and our communities?

Focusing on true leadership

Our society continues to struggle with tradition. That putting in long hours or face time at the office is critical for a leader. That having a family, whether children or elderly parents needing care, is counter to productivity and achievement — for women, that is. That ending meetings to address family matters is “soft.”

Instead, let us, men and women together, focus on achievement in our work and within our families by focusing on what leadership really is: Overcoming stereotypes and notions, freeing women and men to compete and to work together equally.

Kathleen Schafer of Leadership Connection said, “Leadership is not about men in suits. It is a way of life for those who know who they are and are willing to be their best to create the life they want to live.”

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s statement about societal expectations for women is also instructive: “The gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophecies. Most leadership positions are held by men, so women don’t expect to achieve them, and that becomes one of the reasons they don’t.”

Leadership is not about being “manly,” or about “feminism.” It’s not about one gender’s power over another, or about displacing one gender with another in leadership roles.

It’s about a shared vision, shared responsibility and the power to change society — together.

 

Rana Foroohar will be WELD’s Keynote speaker on March 31, 2016, in Columbus.