Women, marriages, and the rat-race
There were two articles in the Economist a couple of issues ago which involved women. First, there was an article about marriage rates, saying they’re down all across the world, and showing this graph:
As an explanation, the Economist suggests some possibilities:
First, women are often marrying later as their professional opportunities improve. Second, thanks to increased longevity, bereaved spouses are outliving their partners for longer than the widows and widowers of yesteryear. And third, changing social attitudes in many countries mean that the payoffs of marriage—financial security, sexual relations, a stable relationship—can now often be found outside the nuptial bed.
Let’s call that last possibility the “payoff” reason for not getting married, and rephrase it like this: women are saying, I’d rather not, thanks.
The second Economist article talks about why women don’t rise to the top of companies. It gives us some numbers:
America’s biggest companies hire women to fill just over half of entry-level professional jobs. But those women fail to advance proportionally: they occupy only 28% of senior managerial posts, 14% of seats on executive committees and just 3% of chief-executive roles, according to McKinsey & Company, a consultancy.
Again, as explanation, the Economist suggests some possibilities:
Several factors hold women back at work. Too few study science, engineering, computing or maths. Too few push hard for promotion. Some old-fashioned sexism persists, even in hip, liberal industries. But the biggest obstacle (at least in most rich countries) is children.
Do you know what I’m not seeing? I’m not seeing the payoff reason listed. I’m not seeing the possibility that women decide I’d rather not, thanks.
Considering what we know about internal culture at places like McKinsey & Company and other consultancies, or finance firms, or technology firms, etc., I’m wondering why that wasn’t listed.
Remember, these are educated, smart women being hired at these companies. They have lots of options in general, so I’m not willing to to assume they are all just going home to take care of their kids once they leave their corporation. More likely, they’re leaving because they decide it’s just not going to be their best option.
And yeah, it is hard to have kids and work, but that’s not the only reason to leave a large corporation. Take for example the heroine of the article, Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo! (emphasis mine):
Ms Mayer of Yahoo! is an inspiration to many, but a hard act to follow. She boasts of putting in 90-hour weeks at Google. She believes that “burn-out” is for wimps. She says that she will take two weeks’ maternity leave and work throughout it. If she can turn around the internet’s biggest basket case while dandling a newborn on her knee it will be the greatest triumph for working women since winning the right to wear trousers to the office (which did not happen until 1994 in California).
WTF?! She’s an inspiration to who, HR at her company? Who does that? She’s gotta be psychotic – but wait, that’s what’s selected for. I’d like to see another article come out where the Economist asks the question, Why are smart men willing to spend their lives in the quest of leading these companies, considering how awful the conditions are?
In any case, I personally would like to go on record saying Marissa Mayer is not a role model for me.
You know who is, though? This woman I met when she was 80, who had just learned to be a professional potter, and had had various totally fascinating careers before that, including as a ship-builder. She had five kids. She ran away with her current husband at 40. Since I met her she became a writer. My god, this woman is amazing.
Women, and some men, have the power to re-invent themselves, to become more and more interesting and creative as they grow older. That is, to me, inspiring. They are my role models. Keep learning! Keep exploring!
I’m not asking you to agree with me on what is inspiring, but I am asking the Economist to be consistent. If we can manage to believe that not all women see the point in getting married, then can’t we stretch ourselves, just a bit, and imagine that not all women can see the point in staying inside a corporate machine for their entire lives, slowly losing their identity and their ambition in the petty internal rat-races of the idiosyncratic culture of whatever firm they happen to belong to, just so, at the end, they can have too much money and not enough time? Sheesh.