Josie Sustaire, Resident Blogger (’14, University of Oregon School of Law)
I was raised by my stay-at-home mom. She told me on numerous occasions that I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up. I believed her. I grew up adoring Punky Brewster, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna. These were girls who refused to fit a mold. However, I mostly clung to these role models to avoid the other predominant role models I saw on television shows: the moms. Family Ties, Growing Pains, Roseanne. I was inundated with images of the stay-at-home mom. I knew early on, however, that I did not want to be a stay-at-home mom and I disliked the idea that the yardstick against which I would be measured was the at-home mom model. I know I’m not the only girl to have been raised by parents who told her she could be anything she wanted to be nor am I the first girl to not want to be a stay-at-home mom. So if this is true, then why are there so few women in leadership roles? Well, I don’t have the answer, but I have a hunch.
Two of my classmates recently sent me two different news stories addressing this very issue. The first was an article about Marissa Mayer, who recently made a command decision at Yahoo! to put an end to telecommuting. This decision has sparked fierce debates (seriously, just Google Marissa Mayer and telecommuting). This article makes it clear from its title “Marissa Mayer is killing telecommuting, and that’s a good thing,” that Marissa Mayer’s decision was the right one.
For starters, I fundamentally disagree with this approach. As a woman, I despise when women (the author is a woman) tell other women the “right” and “wrong” way to either parent or run a company because, of course, you can’t do both. Intelligent, successful women should be fully aware of the fact that what works for one doesn’t work for all. What I found most troubling is that the author completely ignores the fact that Mayer, despite having axed telecommuting, just had a private nursery built next to her office, an option not available to the other women in her building. So, as much as I can appreciate the focus on actual interpersonal communication and face-to-face interactions among staff, I find it difficult to look up to a woman who sets two separate standards, one for her and one for all other women below her.
The second article sent to me was a story about Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Sandberg, in her 60 Minutes interview points the finger at women. She believes that women are their own worst enemies and that women have put up their own barriers to success. Now, I’ll agree that there are undoubtedly women who make certain decisions that aren’t the pursuit of reaching the top rung of the ladder but I won’t stand with Sandberg and point the finger at one group. We are ALL to blame for this. The lack of female leaders isn’t attributable to just some women making some choices, I would wager that it is much more likely to be attributed to a society that still measures a women’s success in a 1950’s framework.
I have a number of titles, at school and at home. Wife, mommy, part-time chef, partly-part-time housekeeper, student, group leader, mentor, friend. I wear each of them proudly and at times I am slow to switch gears and I make mistakes. I’m not perfect. But I manage and I would like to think I manage fairly well. I want to succeed just as much as I want my husband, marriage, and my children to succeed. I don’t feel compelled to choose one title over another. In fact, when the media, movies, or Momsters make me feel as if I do, I get angry. I asked a Federal court judge recently who raised five children how to combat the sneers and snide comments from the PTA moms (aka Momsters). She leaned in and whispered, “You don’t need to worry about them because you know. You know about you and your family and they don’t.” At first, I thought, “what the hell kind of advice is that?” But now I know what she meant. I am the only one who truly knows what works for me, not the Momsters, or my classmates, professors, advisors, the media, movies, or even powerful female executives.