I have always had a fierce drive for financial independence. When I was a girl child in the 1950s and 1960s, I remember reflecting on my mother’s traditional suburban life as a homemaker and being horrified by her lack of independence. Although she was living a life that met society’s expectations, she often told me stories about dreams she had abandoned to be a wife and mother.
I am surprised by the findings of a recent study showing that single millennial women who are MBA candidates in an elite program feel they must downplay their professional ambitions when in public in order to attract a marriageable male mate. I realize I should not be surprised, given the support for traditional heterosexual relationships reported by voters for Donald Trump in the recent presidential election. Joan C. Williams, writing for the Harvard Business Review, describes the strong feelings about traditional gender roles that still exist in large segments of our society. She explains, “Trump promises a world free of political correctness and a return to an earlier era, when men were men and women knew their place.” With these attitudes still deeply embedded in our society, it is no wonder that many young women feel they have to minimize their goals in public settings.
Being Equal Doesn’t Mean Being the Same: Why Behaving Like a Girl Can Change Your Life and Grow Your Business by Joanna L Krotz: A Book Review
I recommend this book on entrepreneurship for women by Joanna Krotz to any woman thinking of starting a business. Why is entrepreneurship an important topic for women? Krotz explains that because women still don’t have pay parity and are subject to what Kolb and Porter describe as “second-generation bias,” they are leaving male-run organizations to launch and grow their own businesses in record numbers. For example, women leave technology companies at a rate of 52 percent, twice the rate of men. Krotz notes that in 2015, there were 10 million women-owned businesses (WOBs) in the United States, which generated $1.6 trillion in sales and employed 9 million people. Women of color owned one-third of these WOBs. Krotz describes many unique characteristics and strengths that women bring to running a business that are especially relevant to today’s world, and she offers specific female-friendly tools to help leverage those strengths.
I grew up in a family business started by my grandparents and continued by my father, his six siblings, and their spouses. The business was a chain of clothing stores in small towns in the Midwest. While each sibling owned their own store or two, a number were jointly owned by all the family members, and these were run by my father as the corporate CEO. I began working in the business, as did most of my siblings and cousins, around the age of eight. Because I was the oldest of my three siblings and showed interest and business acumen, I understood from an early age that I was being groomed to take over for my father some day to run both our individual store and the jointly owned businesses. I was exposed to and mentored in every aspect of the business, and the fact that I was female never came up as an issue with anyone in the extended family. It was a great disappointment to all when I discovered during college that my path in life lay elsewhere and I declared that I would not be joining the business after college—but that is a story for another day.
A recent Harvard Business Review study of 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates, spanning three generations (baby boomers, generation Xers, and millennials) sheds light on some myths and gaps in expectations about women’s careers that persist across generations. Because this study focuses on Harvard Business School graduates, who are a highly educated and ambitious group of women and men, I think the findings are particularly eye-opening for the rest of us in that they provide a window into how entrenched attitudes about gender roles are in our society.
Recent research reported in the Harvard Business Review dispels several commonly held myths about the lack of equity in advancement for women and why so few women are in senior management. Here are three of the myths:
Myth #1: Women fail to achieve equality because they take themselves off the career track to have children.
Myth #2: Women value careers less than men.
Myth #3: Having children makes employees less reliable, less driven, and less creative.
In their study of 25,000 MBAs over three generations (baby boomers, generation Xers, and millennials) of graduates from the Harvard Business School, the authors found the following:
I always thought that, because of Mao’s Communist Revolution in 1949, women in China did not face the same challenges as women in the United States and elsewhere. After all, Mao made a big deal out of elevating and equalizing the role of women in Chinese society and used the slogan “women hold up half the sky” to describe the equal place of women.
In her new book, The Confidence Myth: Why Women Undervalue Their Skills and How to Get Over It, author Helene Lerner acknowledges both the external prejudices and the internal factors that create challenges for women, many of which I have discussed in previous articles. Lerner also debunks some long-held myths about confidence that are important for us to consider:
Myth #1: Being confident means you are fearless. Lerner points out that, actually, most people who are successful sometimes feel fear, nervousness, or doubt. In fact, feeling nervous can keep us sharp and alert so that we are poised to do our best at important moments.