Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why Women Opt-Out of Their Careers?

This month, The Savvy Reader Book Club, is discussing Debora L. Spar’s book Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. In an earlier post, I revealed a perfume commercial from the 70's was responsible for shaping my life’s vision. Last week, we had an interesting discussion on whether greater sexual freedom meant a loss of power for women

Today I am sharing the reasons Spar feels career women continue to crash in to ceilings.

Spar begins by siting Management Women and the New Facts of Life, an article Felice Schwartz wrote for the Harvard Business Review in 1989:
The article argued that if corporations wanted to hire their best and brightest female employees, they needed to create a more flexible and family friendly workforce, one that offered young mothers a variety of ways to structure their working hours and their careers. High potential career women, Schwartz suggested fell naturally into two camps. In the first were “career primary women,” women who essentially behaved like men at work and were willing to undertake the same set of trade-offs. These women were almost certain to remain single or at least childless, Schwartz predicted, and to demand only that their employers “recognize them early, accept them, and clear artificial barriers from their path to the top.” In the second camp were career and family women,” women who wanted children and a career, and who, unlike both men and “career primary women,” were willing to trade some of the demands of promotion for the freedom to spend more time with their children. (Pg. 182)
Schwartz’s piece went viral and the term mommy-track was coined. Unfortunately, the mommy-track did not work out in practice:
Few organizations have found ways to carve their most important positions into anything other than full-time chunks. Today for example, more than twenty years after Schwartz published her article, there are still only eight scientists working part time at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Only 13 percent of women lawyers work part time, as do 2 percent of the female financial managers. It doesn’t seem that the human resource departments of any of these organizations are consciously choosing against part-time positions. But when it comes to putting actual bodies in actual jobs, full-timers simply tend to dominate. As a result, while the number of women who work part time is statistically quite high (roughly a quarter of all female workers), the vast majority of these part-timers are clustered at the lower end of the economic spectrum, working as cashiers, waitresses and sales assistants. (Pg. 183)
I found this to be interesting, since just last week I asked our CFO if I could hire a part-time person for our department. His answer – I would prefer everyone work a few hours of overtime each week rather than add an additional staff person.

I was also reminded of the seminar I had attended on hiring discrimination. The seminar was given by the HR Director of a major corporation in my area. I learned many managers continue to “profile” and discriminate when making hiring decisions. They prefer not to hire married women for IT consulting positions that involve travel – she recommended ladies take off their wedding rings before going on those types of interviews. Also, they tend not to hire or promote women who are in their child bearing years.

Then there are the women who opt-out. I have several friends and co-workers whose experiences mirrored the following:
Many women who have left the full-time workforce, of course, predict that their hiatuses will be brief. As Sylvia Ann Hewlett found in a 2005 study, most women who pull blithely into a career “off-ramp” find the road back far more treacherous than they anticipated. Positions disappear; salaries plummet; professional relationships grow stale. And at the end of the day, only 40 percent of women who try to return to full-time professional jobs actually manage to do so. The rest settle into early retirement or slower paced, lower-ranked jobs. (Pg. 183)
Women simply jump first:

When the choice is between compromising a job and compromising a family, women seem more inclined to focus on the family, men to stick with the job that pays the bills.

Opting-out is particularly high for women who didn’t like their careers that much to begin with or entered them haphazardly:
This mismatch between jobs and desires seems to vary not only with time and gender, but across industries as well. Specifically, there are some fields from which women seem to flee in droves: law, consulting, banking. And some fields in which they stay: medicine, academia, entrepreneurial ventures. Typically, the reasons cited to explain these patterns are the obvious ones – fields like consulting and corporate law, for example, are frequently described as being too demanding on young mothers time and too “male” in their knee-jerk behavior patterns. Commodity trading floors are still rough-edged, often raunchy, places. Would-be partners at major corporate law firms work insanely long hours. (Pg. 187)
Her advice:
Don’t go into a field without first understanding the rules of the game and considering deeply whether you want to play them.

I have mentioned many times before about the number of hours accountants are required to work. When I returned to college to major in accounting I was fully aware of this requirement. It never occurred to me while in my twenties this hour requirement would eventually become cumbersome and if I were to have had children impossible. At the time, my only focus was to enter a career where I’d earn a decent salary.

What rules do you wish you would have known about your chosen career prior to entering it?

Femme Frugality

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Has greater sexual freedom meant a loss of power for women?

This month, The Savvy Reader Book Club, is reading Debora L. Spar’s book Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. In last week's discussion, I revealed a perfume commercial from the 70's was responsible for shaping my life’s vision. Today I’d like to discuss chapter 3 – sex and the social contract.

Spar begins by explaining that the courting/dating culture that was common prior to the sexual revolution no longer exists. Today’s young men no longer ask women out on dates or to go steady. Instead they “hook up” - a boy meets a girl at a party and takes her home for sex. In one recent survey of college students, 75 percent of the male respondents and 84 percent of the females reported having hooked up at least once during their college years. (Pg. 68)

Spar feels this greater sexual freedom has resulted in a loss of power for women:
There’s something about hooking up that seems to reflect a diminution of women’s choices rather an expansion, a decrease in women’s power rather than a rise.

Ultimately the crux of the matter is whether women truly enjoy the freedom that comes from uncommitted sex. And it’s not clear that they do. Instead, as Stepp reports in Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both, many of the women who embrace the hookup culture for some period of time (usually their freshman year of college) later come to regret it. Rather than feeling empowered by their conquests, they feel abandoned by the men they thought might be their boyfriends. Rather than whisking blithely from one affair to the next, they are waiting by the phone (now, at least conveniently in their pocket) for last night’s encounter to call them back. Because the hookup is so clearly not about commitment, though, he rarely does. And the women are left, longing for something they swore they didn’t want. (Pg. 70)
Then there is the money proponent:
Sex has long been connected to some underlying notion of exchange; to some sense, in other words, that each of the parties in a sexual relationship was getting something- be it property or pleasure or a lifetime of protection – out of it. Hooking up challenges this historical relationship. Echoing the anthem of the sexual revolution, it presumes that men and women are free to have sex whenever they want, with whomever they want, and with no commitment implied by the act. 

The question, though, is whether women truly get equal value from a relationship based on “free” sex. Are they equally content to give-and get-sex for nothing, or have they perhaps given men what they want (easy, cheap sex) without getting much in return? (Pg. 72)
While reading this chapter, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a young woman who lived in my dormitory my freshman year of college. I distinctly remember the afternoon a group of us were sitting around discussing our Saturday night plans when this girl announced she hoped to get lucky. If a guy could have a one-night stand without anyone thinking twice about it, she could too. Later that year, I would find her crying in the restroom because a boy was no longer interested in hooking up with her. A year or two later I would run into her again, she would confide she had just had an abortion. She hadn’t even liked her baby’s father yet terminating her pregnancy was one of the hardest decisions of her life.

Eventually, she would marry and have two daughters.

I would meet her for drinks a few years ago when she was visiting in my area. Her former hook-up lifestyle came up in conversation. This was not the life she wanted for her daughters.

As to the loss of power, I wouldn’t want to go back to the era where women were treated as possessions or a man felt he had to marry a women who became pregnant (then would abuse her), but I do think something can be said for waiting a bit before having sex. People tend to appreciate something they have to work for a little bit more.

This quote from Terry Tempest William’s book When Women Were Birds is a good example of why the hook-up experience is different for a woman than a man:
Because what every woman knows each month when she bleeds is, I am not pregnant. Because what every woman understands each time she makes love is, Life could be in the making now. Which is why when a woman allows a man to enter her, it is not just a physical act, but an act of surrendering to the possibility that her life may no longer be hers alone. Because until she bleeds, she will check her womb every day for the stirrings of life. Because until she bleeds, she wonders if her life will be one or two or three. Because until she bleeds, she imagines every possibility from pleasure to pain to birth to death and how she will do what she needs to do, and until she bleeds, she will worry endlessly, until she bleeds.
Today’s question again comes from The Reading Group Guides discussion questions for Wonder Women:

Compared to women who courted and married before the sexual revolution, do unmarried women today do a better or worse job managing love, money, and sex in the context of their relationships? Do you agree with Spar that greater sexual freedom has meant a loss of power for women? Have men lost anything?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Why I Mute TV Commercials

This month, The Savvy Reader Book Club, is reading Debora L. Spar’s book Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. Today is the first in a series of posts I will write throughout the month inspired by this book.

One of the first points Spar, who is roughly the same age as me, makes in Wonder Women is how the perfume commercials we grew up with in the 70’s shaped the visions of our future adult life. She writes:
They stuck somehow in the public consciousness, or at least in the minds of schoolgirls like me, who simply presumed that life in the grown-up world would be just like the ad for Charlie. We'd have careers to skip to, kids to adore us, and men waiting to douse us with perfume the moment we waltzed through the door. Money and great shoes only sweetened the package.
This wasn't of course, the life that our mothers were living. In 1970, only 43 percent of women worked outside the home. In upper-middle-class white families like my own, the number was slightly higher, hovering by 1974 at around 46 percent. Most of these women worked in "traditional" fields such as teaching or nursing, and they rarely wore stilettos to the job. Yet somehow, girls growing up in that era believed - thought, presumed, knew - that they would be different. That instead of replicating their mothers' suburban idylls of parent-teacher conferences and three-tiered Jell-I molds, they-we-would go the way of Charlie, enjoying children and jobs, our husbands' money and our own. And through it all, we would be smiling and singing, gracefully enjoying the combined pleasures of life. (Pg. 16)
I was astonished. I can't believe my entire life's vision had evolved from a commercial. I vividly remember watching the following Enjoli ad on TV and thinking this is the life I am going to have. I even told my friends quoting the famous line: "I can bring home the bacon. Fry it up in a pan. And never forget you're a man. Cause I'm a woman.
This wasn't the first time entire generations of women were influenced by advertisements.  In Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique, Betty writes how middle-class white women in the 50's and 60's abandoned their careers so they could buy the latest carpet sweeper and cleaning cleanser. A lifestyle perpetuated by magazine editors who restricted the topics and advertisements portrayed in their magazines. Friedman had studied women’s magazines for decades and found the editorial decisions were made by men who enforced “occupation housewife.” Articles and advertisements only portrayed women as housewives. They didn’t want them to have any other ambitions than to be housewives.

Which brings me to The Reading Group Guides discussion questions for Wonder Women.  The very first question asks:
Do contemporary print and electronic publications (advertising, magazines, blogs) persist in creating impossible ideals of beauty, success, and motherhood in the name of commerce, or has this approach been tempered somewhat through the use of more realistic images and languages?
Umm... I  have to say yes.   Even ads like the following Special K commercial which urges women to shut down the fat talk leaves me feeling embarrassed about my weight:

Fortunately, I don't watch a lot of TV and when I do I either fast forward through the commercials or mute them.
What do you think:
Do contemporary print and electronic publications (advertising, magazines, blogs) persist in creating impossible ideals of beauty, success, and motherhood in the name of commerce, or has this approach been tempered somewhat through the use of more realistic images and languages? Can you site examples?

Sunday, January 05, 2014

You Don’t Seem Happy Anymore

It was December 23rd and I was exhausted from both work and holiday preparations when my husband asked if I’d like to have a glass of wine by the fire.  I half-heartedly said, “Sure” and grabbed the book I’ve been reading - Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life. I wanted to read (I am an introvert and need down time when confronted with a lot of social activity) while my husband was looking forward to a nostalgic conversation about the Christmas’s of our past.  His sister is moving to a new home this January and we would be celebrating the holidays in her old home for the last time. No one in the family was interested in having this conversation including myself.  After several failed conversation attempts he finally said:

"You don’t seem happy anymore.  You don’t laugh or joke or want to have fun.  All you do is work and when you are home you are either reading or working on the computer.  When you do engage in conversation you are usually negative. You never used to be this way.  When I met you, you were happy, laughed easily and had a carefree positive attitude. What can I do to help you change back to the person you used to be? 

This was somewhat of a wake-up call. He is right and the reasons are numerous. Since my bunion surgery last summer, I’ve gained back all of the weight I lost two years ago and still am not back to my normal workout routine.  I feel lethargic and remain continuously behind both at work and at home and from time to time I feel mildly depressed. I don’t take enough time off – nine of my earned vacation days went unused in 2013 - the most vacation I’ve lost ever. In addition, I’m feeling old and trapped in my current life and job.  

My reading of Gretchen’s book Happier at Home suddenly took on new meaning, “How can I be happier at home in 2014.”  One thing I know for sure is my husband can’t do anything to change me.  If I want to change my life I have to do it myself. Here are my goals for 2014:

Interior Design:
I am re-committing to keeping a gratitude journal:
I’ve kept journals in the past and they’ve been helpful especially when going through a rough time.  This year, in addition to writing what I am grateful for, my focus is going to be on writing about the positive aspects of my day and if it includes working with someone who is difficult or annoying I need to write something positive about that person. Also as a way to know myself better, I am going to pay attention to what I envy and what I lie about.  I found it interesting that I was envious of a friend when others commented on how efficient she is. 

Control over possessions and time

Make to-do lists:
I’ve never been a big list maker.  I like to keep things in my head and only write down an important deadline or two on my calendar. Last fall I attended a seminar called “Getting Things Done” based on a book of the same title written by David Allen. At the seminar we were required to do a “Mind Sweep” a process where we were required to write everything we needed to get done both at work and at home on a piece of paper. The idea is to get these tasks out of our minds. I used this list during the month of December and it helped tremendously.  One of my biggest sources of unhappiness is missing appointments or remembering a deadline when it is too late.   

Implement a new filing system both at work and at home.
This was also covered in the “Getting Things Done” seminar. Lost and misplaced items are a huge source of unhappiness for me.  I’ve previously written about my messy desk at work and my files at home are currently packed so tight I couldn’t possibly place another piece of paper in them let alone find anything.  After having difficulty finding financial papers at the end of the year, I began implementing a new filing system both at home and at work.

Suffer for 15 minutes:
I’ve started taking a dreaded task from my above to-do list and spending 15 minutes a day on it.  This is so much better than tackling the entire list on a Saturday.  Setting up a credit-card payment or renewing our DOT fleet license at work are never fun tasks, but ones that can easily be accomplished in 15 minutes or less. It is also much better than waiting ‘til the due date and then frantically searching for passwords.

Teach and delegate:
When asked a question at work I need to teach others where to find the information or how to do the work themselves or delegate it. Taking on too much at work is one of my major sources of inefficiency.

Buy what I need and get rid of what I don’t:
I tend to be an under-buyer and a slight hoarder. This basically means I have a lot of stuff people have given me, I’ve gotten for free, are obsolete, I no longer need and not what I do need.  I find myself scrambling when I run out of printer ink or don’t have warm clothes that fit adequately when the temperatures go below zero. 

Stop eating sugar:
I am an abstainer. I’ve known this since reading Gretchen's previous book The Happiness Project. She describes an abstainer as someone who finds it easier to abstain from something than to indulge moderately.  Abstainers aren’t tempted by things that are off limits, but once started have trouble stopping.

Moderators, by contrast do better when they act with moderation, because they feel trapped and rebellious at the thought of never “getting” or doing something. Occasional indulgence heightens their pleasure and strengthens their resolve. (Pg. 122)  

I’ve given up sugar in the past and find that completely abstaining is the only way I can keep from binging. Effective immediately I am no longer going to eat any sugary treats.

Seek out a workout that works for me:
I’m still searching for a workout that I enjoy that isn’t too strenuous.   I plan to try a Barre class in the coming weeks and will continue to look for new workouts after my foot heals completely.  I would like to meet with a fitness consultant to help map a workout routine that is tailored to my fitness needs and abilities.

Finding my Calcutta:
One of my major sources of unhappiness comes from my life not “being” about anything.  I feel as if life is passing me by as I sit in my office fixing accounting entries all day. I had a conversation with another male co-worker who feels similar.  He is the manager of one of our company stores and feels he makes a difference in about 30 people’s lives, but that is it.  He thinks the items his store sells are no longer made well and are a huge headache to sell and service. After he retires in a few years he hopes to do something more meaningful with his life.

In 2014, I need to stop being so hard on myself.  Perhaps I too can wait until I retire and have more free time to make my life be about something.  I still have this blog which I am attempting to turn into a mentoring club for women.  I started The Savvy Reader Book Club last year and try to write regular posts that hopefully help women.  One of my friends suggests I work on this blog only when I have they time and not to feel guilty when I don't have time. Family and work come first.

Give gold stars:
For me, this means paying more attention to my husband.  Closing my book when he wants to have a conversation or moving away from the computer for a few minutes to actively listen when he tells me about his day.  Acknowledge and thank him for doing something that makes my life easier or better – for having an incredible meal ready when I get home from work on New Year’s Eve or helping with the cleaning when I have to work on Saturdays during January. Or just going outside and spending time with him and our dogs in the back yard instead of checking my twitter feed for the umpteenth time.  

Have you made any resolutions to be happier at home in 2014? 

This post was inspired by Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin where she runs a nine month experiment to create happier surroundings. Join From Left to Write on January 6 we discuss Happier at Home. You can also chat live with Gretchen Rubin on January 7 on Facebook! As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Savvy Reader Book Club Selections for January 2014

The Savvy Reader Book Club is an online nonfiction book club created for the serious reader. At the beginning of each month I select one or two books; then host discussion posts covering the books throughout the month.  

Last night while watching the "30 Greatest Women in Music" countdown on ABC-TV*, I kept thinking how did we get here? How did we move from the women musicians of my youth - Cher, Karen Carpenter and Pat Benatar to the stars of today Taylor Swift, Rihanna and Katy Perry? It seems like I missed something along the way.  Am I beginning to show my age and - gasp - become irrelevant?

Speaking of missing something along the way the books I am selecting for my January book club help fill in those gaps.  I was born in 1962 and am roughly the same age as Debora L. Spar the author of the book Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection.  In her book Spar explores how women's lives evolved since the 70's (remember that Enjoli commercial where the heroine struts home from work in a tight skirt singing, "I can bring home the bacon. Fry it up in a pan. And never forget you're a man. Cause I'm a woman. Enjoli") to where they are today - spinning in an endless quest for perfection.  This book is guaranteed to lead to some interesting conversations.


My next selection is George Packer's The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.  I mentioned in a previous post I've been reading this book and continue to be amazed how the lives of American citizens have changed over the past three decades.  I'm still not completely sure I've gotten my arms around the message of this book or how I want to write about it, but I feel it is an important book to read.  Here is a blurb from inside the book's cover:
The Unwinding portrays a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, its elites no longer elite, its institutions no longer working, its ordinary people left to improvise their own schemes for success and salvation. 

* You can find the complete list of "30 Greatest Women in Music" here. 
Have you read any of these books? If so, what were your thoughts? Do you have any recommendations to help better understand how the world has changed over the past 40 years?