Thursday, April 29, 2010

Are we surprised?

It's a story we've heard or read over and over again. Women either can't or don't break that glass ceiling. And if we do, we are grossly underpaid compared to men in equal positions.

Forbes reported that Women account for only 3% of CEO's at the head of the 500 biggest companies, and you guessed it, most are making a fraction of their male counterparts. I've read some of the resulting tweets and comments of women wondering why this is so, and I have to ask: Are we really surprised? Not that it's okay.. but are we really surprised?

I have worked in my industry for almost 10 years now and I have only doubled my starting salary out of college. My husband has increased his times five. This both does, and does not, bother me because of decisions that have been put in front of us in the last 10 years. We reason that my solid job has provided the leeway for him to make risky jumps that have thankfully paid off, but once he's jumped to solid ground, why didn't I do the same? I toss around benefits like, great 401k, a pension and work-life balance, but am I hiding behind those excuses?

I see my brother, who's in finance, on a fast "executive track". I see how early he leaves for work, how late he stays at the office, how often he checks his smart phone and even at home he is working into the wee hours of the night. I personally know how much he discusses work at the dinner table or dominates the conversation during the little time he's off and I know in my heart that I don't want to be consumed like that. My motto has always been, "I work to live, not live to work". There are trade offs.

Does that mean I perform my job at less than 100%? No. Does my attitude ultimately hurt the generation behind me? I say no. If we allow abuse, then it will continue.

Citing an Economist article, Female Power from December 09, There is not all bad news for us gals... "A generation ago working women performed menial jobs and were routinely subjected to casual sexism".  The article goes on to say that for today's standards, women make up 50% of the American workforce and earn 60% of the university degrees (in America and Europe). This is not necessarily silver lining, because we are not there in equal pay yet. Then there is something bigger, more ethereal than money to consider women's professional rank... parenthood.

     "... the biggest reason why women remain frustrated is more profound: many women are forced to choose between motherhood and careers. Childless women in corporate America earn almost as much as men. Mothers with partners earn less and single mothers much less."
This quote particularly impacted me because, as of Friday, I am officially on (my first) maternity leave.  And even though, we want to shout that it shouldn't matter, it does. The fact remains that men cannot have babies. Oh how I've daydreamed this could be true in these past nine months! But it's just not possible and the reality is, parenthood makes a deeper scar on women than men, from our bodies to our careers, but it's one of those scars that you brag about on the playground, or so I've observed.

I am optimistic for wider acceptance and equal pay in the future, especially because of how technology has transformed the way we do our day to day jobs, even for men, but I think women have a chance to benefit the most!

As I wrapped some things up last week at work, a (male) colleague told to me relax and really enjoy parenthood. He said he doesn't regret, not once, leaving work early for any of his son's baseball games. He went on to reason that when we are 90 years old, we are not going to reflect back on our life and say "Gee, I really wish I'd cranked out one more power point presentation".

That said, I can't help but wonder, how will parenthood impact the future of my career? What choices will I face and how will I act on them? Does home working have to necessarily equal less pay... and even if it does, is that okay so that I can find balance my life? As I ask these questions, that so many women are faced with, and statistics show the results of, and again I say, are we really surprised at the answers?

This I'm sure of, we are closing the gap and that's a good thing.

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