My husband is often in earshot when people probe, “I don’t know how you do it all with your family and your career.” In asking the question there is doubt, of course, that it’s possible. My husband is never the recipient of the same question regardless of the facts: we both have intense, high-demanding careers in medicine as physician leaders. Reality is, there may be little different in our level of responsibility, time commitments, and our opportunity to improve pediatric health care while there is no difference in our passion and commitment to raising our boys. So the calculus around the questioning doesn’t equate — nobody ever asks him about his balance with work and family.
My grudge with this disparity wavers in intensity. I bring this up now because of Matt Lauer’s controversial conversation with General Motors CEO, Mary Barra. He wondered if she could be a good mom and run GM on national TV. He said,
“You’re a mom, I mentioned, two kids, you said in an interview not long ago that your kids said they’re going to hold you accountable for one job, and that is being a mom,” he said. “Given the pressure at General Motors, can you do both well?”
It’s not only his egregious comment that aggravates, we’ve all gotten used to similar questions for women who work. What sets the interview on fire is his deflection of bias and responsibility. With this episode in the never ending media series on women and work-life balance we learn again that there is quite a bit of:
- Ongoing persistent cultural bias against women in leadership roles: we constantly wedge women and their success into the construct of balance with work and home when we rarely project men against the same backdrop.
- Ongoing anxiety about this bias coupled with a desire to eradicate it. Culturally, most of us don’t want to think about men and women’s responsibilities in the work place and home differently. We like to mature past our current realities when it comes to equity and sharing responsibilities for child-rearing and work.
Can we acknowledge the ongoing, profound cultural bias against women leaders and control that doesn’t exist in similar ways for men?
Working Family Numbers:
Numbers from The 2014 White House Summit On Working Families
- In almost 3 out of every 5 US families with children, both parents work
- Women make up nearly 1/2 (47%) of the US workforce
- Women bring home 44% of their families income
- Women obtain more than 1/2 (59%) of all higher education degrees
Matt Lauer defended his questions to Barra. Instead of acknowledging the reality that women leaders are held to different cultural standards USA Today reported that Matt Lauer said, “if a man in a high-level job had publicly discussed the issue [as Mary Barra had been asked to do in Forbes] he’d have ‘asked him exactly the same thing.'”
This public blunder isn’t new and yet the challenge of how we support parents raising families is gaining national import. This spring, for example, The White House launched and has hosted a series of summits on working American families. It is clear that the division of responsibility for child rearing is changing as is our support of men and women with families who go to work.
When women are not paid fairly not only do they suffer but so do their families — The White House in their Guide To Women’s Equal Pay Rights
I’d say the same is true when it comes to perception, bias, and culture around women’s role at work and at home: When women are treated differently in the workplace from men (in regards to their joint responsibility raising children and having a career) not only do they suffer, but so do their families.
Can we admit we have a perception problem when it comes to women at work? Perhaps if we do, we’ll get farther, faster.
Quick, somebody please go through Matt Lauer’s extensive list of interviews with Fortune 500 CEO’s and find a similar question to a male CEO about his success at home and at work — and then watch this clever advertisement about what girls may hear when we say “You’re so pretty.”
Let’s start by acknowledging current state instead of only defending ideal state — perhaps women will stop suffocating in the conversation about “doing it all.”