There are a lot of people talking about the "cannots" and "do nots" of women in the workplace. Many say that balancing work and family is impossible—why so much negativity?
The Economist recently purported to explain why more women don't rise to the top of companies. A few months ago, AnnMarie Slaughter at The Atlantic broke records with her popular article entitled, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All."
Both contribute to an important public conversation about women balancing work and family today. But for me, there's altogether too many "cannots" in this conversation.
The Economist's article "The mommy track" paints an unapologetically dismal picture of the situation for women (especially mothers) in the workplace:
Several factors hold women back at work. Too few study science, engineering, computing, or maths. Too few push hard for promotion. Some oldfashioned sexism persists, even in hip, liberal industries. But the biggest obstacle (at least in most rich countries) is children.
The article references research findings that show that the few women who do make it to the executive level are disproportionately childless and/or unmarried. The author points to new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer as the one bright spot for working women today, concluding that "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 . . . ."
I'm eagerly cheering for Marissa Mayer, but she's just one woman trying to make life work. It's not fair or accurate to paint her as the only hope for an entire generation of women who are looking to gracefully strike some balance between career ambition and family life.
Do we have an ideal situation for working women today? Maybe not. But it's not hopeless either. We don't have to be mere victims of some set-in-stone corporate culture, waiting for the Marissa Mayers of the world to set us free. We can spend our time lamenting the challenges we face, or we can take charge and start making changes.
Let's begins with the very basics: Where do you choose to work? As much as you can, choose a company with a more progressive, family-friendly corporate culture. Employers who find themselves losing out on the talent found in women with families will eventually be forced to reassess what they're offering.
Diane Paddison is a business professional and founder of 4wordwomen.org, local groups of professional working women committed to faith, family, work, and each other.