In the hectic world of an OverAchiever Working Mother, so many priorities compete for our attention: we want to be the best mother we can, and we want to do well in our career. And while many of us put kids before work — and try to maintain that precarious dance where we create a patchwork of part-time flex jobs in order to attend all those games and recitals and school field trips — we have that aching feeling in the pit of our stomach that we had better fight to keep pushing up our career a few notches because it will some day take center stage again when the kids have gone to college.
So as many of you would be, I am of course dismayed when I read a study saying that it could be 100 more years until women reach the top echelon of corporate America in the same numbers as men. I’m even more disappointed to learn that the Lean In organization is the one framing the statistics. The report has an ominous scare-tactic, cautionary-tale approach: If we don’t do something now, ladies, this is your abysmal future! To me, messages like that can be self-fulfilling prophecies. And I don’t buy that prediction; I don’t care what accurate statistics were used to determine it. Women’s destiny is in control of women, and we are scratching our way up every day; we’re just climbing the latter a little differently than men because of our strong desire to not let go of a large chunk of our parenting.
I was happy to see the report offered suggestions to women to achieve greater success in rising up the corporate ranks. One recommendation that jumped out to me was to network more with men — even going so far as to hint that we should be joining the good ole boys on the golf course and the shooting range, just to find some common ground with the boss and his cronies. So if we jump on board with that idea, are we selling out? Not at all. The study clearly states that women have a tendency to network with other women, and if none of the women are at the top levels of the organization, than the networking that may help us emotionally will not do much to increase our pay or our power in the workplace.
Does it mean we have to be disingenuous in our pursuit of enjoyment? I don’t think so, and here’s why: I think most people — both genders — would find life more exhilarating and interesting if they got out of their comfort zone more often. So if sports isn’t your thing, but you go watch the Monday Night game with a bunch of male bosses and colleagues after work, you might have more fun than you thought. And you’ll probably realize it’s not really about the game; it’s more about socializing and everyone throwing in their two cents on the action. In the end, that’s not much different than shopping, when women are gabbing and hanging out and sharing their opinions on what’s fashionable and what’s not.
This one suggestion — to meet men more than halfway by invading their turf in a gesture to make some new friends and develop loyal colleagues and discover some new adventures along the way — can help bridge that huge divide that the Lean In organization brashly (and I believe wrongly) predicts will take a century to cross.
The whole concept reminds me of a feature story I wrote for a newspaper years ago entitled “Where The Boys Go,” which caused quite a stir in the newsroom where I worked. The article was about how to meet guys, and it was targeted to young, single women. At the time, I was a young, single woman, and I was looking to meet guys. And I noticed when I went to places where guys liked to hang out — sporting events and rock concerts, for instance — that it seemed easier to meet men because there were fewer women. It seemed like common sense to me, so I thought I would share this in a fun story revealing all of the usual haunts where guys greatly outnumbered gals.
The backlash I endured after the story was printed shocked me; a long list of women in the newsroom created and signed a petition saying how the article was full of stereotypes (insinuating that all men like sports and women don’t but should go along anyway) and how the article insulted women (by suggesting women engage in activities they don’t like just to meet men rather than convincing men to attend more cultural events like the opera) and how the article was written far too informally full of dreaded “slang” (using long-hair as a noun rather than specifying a long-haired person). They presented this petition to the managing editor with a recommendation that I NOT be allowed to write a feature story again. (I had been relegated for years to writing stories about celebrities in the Sunday TV section, so I was thrilled to break out of my usual mold and inject some personality in my writing — and distraught to think the opportunity would be taken away!)
To her credit, my features editor stood by me — even hinting that the older women of the newsroom whose names filled the petition were so uptight (after fighting so long for their place at the journalism table alongside men) that they couldn’t see the value in playfully ribbing women for not breaking out of gender roles in pursuit of a relationship. They seemed most upset by the main crux of the article: If you’re single and wish you could meet an eligible bachelor, go check out something you wouldn’t normally want to do in order to be in a situation where men outnumber women, and you might actually enjoy it!
My sentiment was heartfelt — since I myself enjoyed watching sports and going to loud rock concerts — and I ended up hanging out with guys at these events. Though I didn’t grow up a tomboy, I tended to like rowdy, boisterous activities more than I liked shopping or going out for lunch and definitely more than going to the opera! And it always astounded me when women complained they couldn’t meet a man and then spent all their time hanging out in places with other women or at home with their cats! I actually thought more women would have fun at the kinds of events I liked, if only they gave them a try. I thought I was doing them a favor by creating an article pointing out my recommendation to stretch out of their comfort zone a bit to meet a man.
Thankfully, with my editor’s support, the managing editor laughed off the petition and even applauded me on pitching, crafting and writing a clever, unique feature that was obviously getting a lot of attention. I continued to get opportunities to write more features. And I continued to hang out in places where “nice” girls weren’t supposed to — late night clubs, casinos, bowling alleys, sports bars, etc.
To this day, I maintain as many friendships with men I’ve known since childhood or college years as I do with women I grew up with. I think sometimes those friendships help me understand my husband and my son a little better. And I like to get another dad’s perspective on parenting as much as another mom’s perspective; just this week, I called one of my best friends, who happens to be a father, to ask his advice about talking with my teenage son about high school issues.
As I look back on my article, and realize how many more women attend sporting events and rock concerts now than when I was in college, I am convinced we do not need to wait a century until half the Fortune 500 companies are run by women. And we don’t need to have a nanny raise our kids either. We just need to make a few changes — jump out of our comfort zone and skip lunch with the girls in the cubicles in favor of hitting the gym with the guys who have the corner offices. It just might lead to the OverAchiever Mom becoming enough of an OverAchiever Career Woman to make flex time as common as the office football pool.