Are We Selling Career Porn to Women?

ROSIETHERIVETER

Is Time’s recent Sheryl Sandberg cover selling career porn to women?

I have always had a lot of respect for Sheryl Sandberg, not just because we share a name and she actually spells it right, but because of what she represents to me as a women in the tech industry. To me her trajectory to the top of one of the world’s tech giants represents a key step to change perception of women in the work force to strong, powerful leaders who can make great decisions and lead technical teams and companies to success.

This afternoon I read an article by Penelope Trunk, an ex-tech exec herself who was questioning the message of Sheryl’s new book Lean In. Penelope raised concerns about the price women have to pay to play at Sheryl’s level and the sacrifices to their children and families and whether or not it is irresponsible or even realistic to be telling young girls and women that they can achieve Sheryl’s success.

As a mother in the tech industry my first reaction was to relate to Penelope’s points. I ran a development team and three SasS products with a 1 year old baby and my second child growing fast in my belly.  To say it wasn’t exhausting would be a lie. To say I wasn’t jealous of the men I worked with who had stay-at-home wives, didn’t have to drop off and pick up a child before and after work  and could go to networking  events or happy hours with nary a concern, would also be a lie. To say I was on the top of my game during that time would just be plain silly. I began to doubt that I could have it all so much that it became true…painfully true.

It was the doubt in myself that found a way to creep into my mind somewhere between the countless sleepless nights and the constant swishes of a breast pump that ultimately led me to take an extended maternity leave. Just like that I handed the career I had fought hard to build over a five year period and the keys to my office overlooking Mt. Hood to a person we had just hired to three months earlier.  I just didn’t believe I could handle two children and run a core practice of a business responsibly. I also thought it was what good mothers were supposed to do, they take care of their babies at home, right?  I mean why did I have kids only to pay someone else to spend time with them?

It was less than three months later that I began to regret my decision, that I felt something missing in me and that once again I began to doubt my own judgement. Why had I had been so quick to dismiss my own strength and resilience? Why couldn’t I have done both? This time the doubt crept in between more sleepless nights, a near-miss dance with death through infant meningitis and again that damn swishing of the breast pump.

Don’t get me wrong,  I am forever grateful that I was able to stay home for that year and a half with my babies. The memories of that time will not soon be replaced by any amount of happy hours or networking, but what I learned in that time, is that innovation and socialization are a part of me and core that I  need to learn and do with technology, they are what drive me and what make me sane and ultimately make me a better more balanced mother.

I, unlike some amazing women I know, was not cut out to be at home all day with my babies. By 10 am we would have already gone to a park, done 50 puzzels, 20 art projects, read 10 books and I was already out of ideas to keep them happy for the rest of the day. Between morning and afternoon naps and the Portland rain trapping me inside, I felt completely overwhelmed and isolated. By the time my husband came home I was so frazzled and tired and sad that I wanted to cry.  I am not a crier. This frazzling was unlike any work-related stress I had ever felt. Work stress challenges me and drives me to find solutions. This stress made me want to retreat.  Never did I feel so inadequate in a role. I was mis-cast as a stay-at-home mom and because of that I began to think I was mis-cast as a mother altogether.

Of course this wasn’t true, I was a good mom, but it took me another 15 months to realize that being a stay-at-home mom or a working mom does not define you as a good mother. For me going back to work was the best thing I have ever done for my kids. Having work in my life is the balance that allows me to cherish all the crazy moments with my boys and makes it so that I don’t feel frazzled when I am with them and instead feel the joy and appreciation I am supposed to feel.

The point in this article about sacrifice and never seeing your kids raises real issues for women at the top. In no world would I want to be that someone who only see my kids on weekends like Jacqueline Reses who Penelope also mentions in her article, but I do know that I can stand to miss my kids and they me here and there for business trips or conferences without them thinking I don’t love them. The bottom line is each women’s recipe for work family balance is their own, and finding the intersection of what makes you happy is yours to decide. You may not always agree with women like Sheryl, Jacqueline Reses and Marissa Meyer but they are at least trying to make a difference by setting an example of women in the work force, not just standing on the sidelines yelling “It is not fair.”

Despite Sheryl’s setup and sacrifices not being for all women, I believe women in powerful positions in the tech industry today serve an important role of which the impact won’t likely see for another 15 to 20 years.  This is not a short game. Right now, Sheryl Sandberg is the minority in tech industry but she will be a key player in tech history.  She is one of many women that have begun the sea change to shift the perception of women in business sectors normally dominated by men.  Sheryl will no doubt influence young girls into seeking technical degrees and roles at companies they may not have otherwise shot for. So what if it is unrealistic right now for them to be her tomorrow? The more girls that flood the industry the better chance there is  to one day have true gender balance in the industry.  In twenty years we could be looking back on her rise to the top as one of key factors that shifted norms about women in the technology field and the sacrifices and choices for women may not have to be so great anymore.

Sheryl is not only changing the way women and girls perceive their career choices, but she is also influencing a generation of young men who will grow up seeing a women in a top office at a company. She will hopefully instill in them that smart women at the top should be a norm in business and this will hopefully lead to a greater respect between genders as they grow into the workforce. This respect between the genders themselves, could prove to be the most powerful way to get companies to finally “Lean In” as well.   So go ahead and keep selling us that career porn Sheryl, I am buying it and women that understand the long game hopefully will be too.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted March 11, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    This is such a good/tough topic for mothers, especially those (like you) who truly do love their line of work. It seems like women, more so than men, are faced with the difficult either/or decision: either stay at home with kids, or return to the workforce.

    My sister tried to stay at home the first year of her daughter’s life, and grappled with the same feelings and internal struggle you had. She was pregnant with her second child three months after giving birth to her first, earning her PhD full-time, and watching her infant all at the same time. While she doesn’t resent that time at home, it did confirm to her that her career was important to her, and that this recognition didn’t make her a “less than” mother. She later went back to work a few months after her second baby was born.

    It’s too bad that women face this judgement (whether it’s a personal/internal one or perceived by those around them), and men do not (or if they do I haven’t heard about it). I agree with you that women need to take part in key leadership positions for their voice to be heard, and that removing women from the workforce can be a HUGE detriment long-term to having a woman’s voice expressed within industries and companies. Keep up the good work, Sheryl — you’re a gem in the tech space, and we’re lucky you’re so passionate about it.

    Miss seeing you around town and at Happy Hour! 🙂

    • Appatomy
      Posted March 11, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Thanks Mary! I miss working alongside you and the happy hours too! I may just have to show up in Hawaii on a business trip!