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The Opting out section is the one that rings for me. I went to business school at a top 20 college in the mid 1980s. Just checked the women from my class as our 25th college reunion came up, only three still in business arena in any sort of capacity that might eventually head towards a C-level type career. The pressure is always on the female to take the step back, to be the "better mom" perhaps because the standard for "great dad" is fairly low. (Be nice to the kids. Dont hit them, show up at a school event or two. Double points if you read them a bed time story- do all of these things and you are a society-deemed "Great Dad")while the standard for great mom is impossibly high ("did you make a homemade meal? were the ingredients organic? was the meal nutritionally balanced" how 'bout that laundry detergent- are you polluting the enviroment? Were your kids contribution to the bake sale homemade and organic and did they factor in every possible childhood allergy that could be manifested by any child in the school or did you -you slacker- go and buy something at the bakery? Bad Mommy!) So we tell ourselves to go "run that non profit" and change the world, or work reduced hours when the kids are growing up and then if you're in the corporate world at 50 you look around and everyone's gone. I'm in my late forties and work in financial services and the view isnt pretty from here. I do believe men are more ambitious because their "main job" according to society is to go out and provide, so their goals are clearer from childhood on...I mentor at my alma mater and the female business students who are 20-30 in the BBA and MBA programs still believe they will be able to create balance and/or take time off for kids and move back in at a similar level to where they left.
As a 44 year old professional banker, I'm afraid I fall firmly in Welch's camp feeling that he is telling the truth, just one most of us don't want to hear or believe. I also think there's a whole social conditioning of women (in addition to the biological time clock) that tells us to "help people/do some good" etc that side-tracks us from grabbing the brass ring. My sister, who is 6 years younger and I discuss this fairly often. I contend that the funnel narrows a great deal at the top and for many women, stepping out/sideways/off is a way to always say "I could have been a contender" but never actually have to be in the often ugly free for all to see if you make it to the top...I see too many women who say " I worked at a top law firm/company/in medicine but stopped after a year or two to really take care of my family." It lets you stay in "coulda been" without ever knowing if that's how it would have turned out. My sister contends that women see the top, think it isnt "all that much" and opt out. I mentor MBA's at a top 10 business school and more than a few of the 25-30 year olds are quite sure they'll be equals, maintaining they are treated that way in class. Then I gently point out to them they they did all the "work" in the group project and let the guys present when the the hiring folks (like myself) are present at the case competition. I used to think it was just that "our" generation was sort of caught between the 50's housewife and the early women's lib set and that it would be just us that would be challenged. Now I'm not so sure. And they're simply arent enough of us staying in the ugly fight to get to the top to be able to change the outcome for future generations. It's a tough choice for everyone, if we all had a crystal ball and knew our families would come out alright, marriages intact etc we might make one set of choices...but what about when we guess wrong? Stacy, as always I love your articles!