I am constantly reminded that my experiences and, most importantly, struggles about work-life balance, motherhood and marriage are not unique. These struggles include feeling guilty when I leave work at 5:30 p.m. so that dinner is ready before my 3-year-old comes home from daycare, spending serious brain power to find an opening in my calendar to squeeze in a half-hour workout, and constantly trying to find a good nanny that I can trust with my child (and one that my child doesn’t object to by kicking and screaming “mommy” as I am leaving) so that my husband and I can have a much needed date night.
Is it that women all think about these issues but don’t talk about them? Or do we feel powerless to make a change? Are we afraid of being labeled a “whiner” so we do not see the need to bring up these issues? Do our husbands and significant others, as well as our male colleagues, think about these issues and worry about them as much as we do? Do they even know that these things exist?
I was ambivalent to these issues until I had my son, and then my you-can-do-it-all-girl world was shattered. Now my personal experiences, combined with what I read about these issues—both other women’s anecdotal experiences as well as academic research on gender wage inequality—convinced me that women can’t do it all alone. We can’t climb the corporate ladder as fast as our male counterparts, be home for the children to dress them up for school in the morning, not miss dinner and bed time, and have a happy and satisfied marriage. It is just way too complicated and tiring for one person to handle on her own.
So what is it going to take it to get women on an equal footing? Everyone seems to have a lot of ideas: flexible work hours, mentorship, “leaning in” a la Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.Before even getting there, however, I think that we have a bigger hurdle to cross, which is to acknowledge the physiological difference between women and men and how that affects their careers unequally. Let’s first agree that child-bearing is a hit to a women’s career, both in terms of missed opportunities and reduced income. As a society we have to make a decision about what bearing children means to us. If we think women do a “job” for the good of society by bearing children to sustain the future of our society, then they should be compensated for it monetarily, through paid maternity leave, and professionally, by eliminating the stigma that fuels unnecessary hours at work, particularly if it can be handled in a more flexible way.
Starting a family is not a woman’s choice. There is a man involved in this decision as well, and it should not burden the working woman disproportionately. Women need to speak up, and men need to listen and participate in the conversation.
Thinking about the various solutions might seem to be a great place to start, but to me, it seems like that we haven’t even acknowledged the problem yet.