Wonder Women: Chapter 8

March 31, 2014 | NeW

Many decades have passed since the feminist movement and women are still underrepresented in top professional careers such as law, medicine, and finance.  Women, unlike men have a different set of options to weigh when deciding which career to pursue and how many hours to work each week.  Men are primarily concerned with paying the bills, while women take into account time required to nurture the children. Spar explains the “16% Delusion” citing that only 21 Fortune 500 companies are headed by women; only 16% of these companies’ board members are female; women comprise only 16% of partners at the United States’ top law firms and only 19% of U.S. surgeons.  She questions why women remain stuck at 16% if they are receiving more education and have more opportunities today.  Spar draws this conclusion,

“They are deciding…that they need to stay at home, or work part time, or step away from the fast track.  Individually, each of these women’s moves may make great sense.  Together, though, they have created a landscape where women are still scarce, and where the clashing visions between what is and what was expected to be makes them feel scarcer still.” (181)

Felice Schwartz’s 1989 article, “Management Women and New Facts of Life” featured the idea that corporations hoping to retain female employees needed to accommodate to female’s family schedules by providing flexible hours and a family–friendly working environment.  Schwartz classified women into two groups:

  • Career Primary Women: those who exhibit similar behavioral patterns to males; often remain single and childless
  • Career-and-Family Women: those who desire a career and family; willing to sacrifice time at work for time at home with the children

The “mommy track” was defined as the path women seeking career and family would explore; the track in which both mothers and employers could accommodate each other’s needs.  However, the track proved to be a dead end.  Most high ranked companies and organizations prefer to hire female employees willing to work full time schedules.  As a result, many mothers choose to retire early or work fewer hours at lower ranked jobs. When faced with the decision between a career or family, many women choose family life.

“No, they go because the kids are weary and the dinners are rushed and the job, after ten or twenty years of working, has ceased to deliver the thrill it once did.  If a job is truly satisfying to a woman, or if she needs the income it provides, she will strive to stay in the workforce.  But if she doesn’t need the income, and she doesn’t love the job, it becomes tougher and tougher for a working mother to undertake all the juggling that comes with her role.” (187)

Additionally, Spar evaluates how marriage affects women’s choice to opt of out the workforce.  She explains women with high income earning husbands often choose not to work even if they themselves could be making a sizable salary too.  They also opt out of work if they are not doing something they enjoy. Male and female professionals also operate differently within the workforce.  Prior to the feminist movement, women argued men had instituted structural and oppressive stereotypes regarding female professional capabilities.  Spar recognizes that men and women’s techniques within a work environment are different.  She cites a few researchers: Deborah Tannen recognized that men and women communicate differently; men prefer to focus on status, while women attempt to gain intimacy and share power within a professional setting.  John Coates and Joe Herbert evaluated the relationship between testosterone and risk taking; they concluded that greater amounts of testosterone yielded more profitable financial trades.  Lastly, Muriel Niederle and Lise Vesterlund concluded organizations dominated by females are less likely to take risks and more likely to use caution than those run by males. Spar concludes that women can enjoy both careers and the joys of family life.  However, she advises young women to balance both their desires and expectations.

“Specifically, young women need to be realistic about the careers they desire and the tradeoffs they will inevitably have to face.” (200)

Discussion Questions:

1) What is your opinion of women sacrificing their careers to take care of their children?  Should men assume greater responsibility for nurturing children? 2) Spar provides some research about differences between men and women within the workforce.  What are some additional differences between the sexes that you have noticed within professional settings? 3)  Do you aspire to be a “career primary” or “career –and- family” woman in the future?  Have you realistically weighed your options, desires, and expectations?

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