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Women, Work, War: A Guide to Toppling “The Company Man” Model26 Mar 2013 08:27 am

img_athena.jpgA while back I tweeted this to my nearly 20,000 followers on Twitter and I got an avalanche of responses and retweets:

#1 issue facing women in the workforce today: How we topple the 1950s-company-man sustained model, where women have no say.

Why did it get so much attention? Because women are sick and tired of trying to fit their lives into an out-dated workplace model that no longer fits for today’s realities. Women are juggling children and careers, caring for aging family members, and all the while penalized for it with less pay and little to no representation the nation’s leadership ranks, in everything from Corporate America to the halls of Congress.

That’s why I’m calling for a working-woman revolution. And I don’t mean only waging war against the male-dominated management model, but battling our own fears and baggage when it comes to fighting for what we want and need. Working gals are finally poised to launch an offensive because we are at “the tipping point” of a female revolution. Women now make up the majority of the workforce in America, and many working gals are starting to think the out-dated career template based on the 1950s “Company Man” needs an overhaul.

For too long women have had to accept token work-life changes bestowed by male-dominated workplaces. And moms have become too obsessed with battling the mommy wars, working moms against stay-at-home moms. But now women are realizing they need the keys to the executive bathrooms, not just the lactations rooms; and all that mommy infighting has meant women took their eyes off the prize – a workplace, a world, with women leaders who truly understand family responsibilities.

Family and love trumps egos!

Christine Lagarde, the first woman to head the powerful International Monetary Fund, gets the realities of life.

lagarde.jpgShe understands the global economy and what needs to be done, but her most moving words come when she discusses the egos she confronts in her job, mainly the egos of men who control money and power around the globe.

“When my father passed away and then when later on I gave birth, those are sort of ground-breaking experiences that put everything else into perspective. You know, when I sit in meetings and things are very tense and people take things extremely seriously and they invest a lot of their ego, I sometimes think to myself, ‘Come on, you know, there’s life and there’s death and there is love.’ And all of that ego business is nonsense compared to that.”

Only women can carry this torch.

We need to focus on what we women can bring to the table, and what we need to do, and what many working women pioneers are already doing, to make the nation’s offices, factories, congressional halls, etc., work for us. It’s not shoehorning your way into the existing anti-family, anti-woman workplace structure. It’s about how to go about changing the workplace to better fit the lives of today’s woman.

It’s about the two co-engineers at Ford who share a job so they can spend more time raising their kids, and even so, they’re credited with being the brains behind the success of the auto giant’s Explorer SUV. It’s about the lawyer who left a high-powered law firm for academia because she wanted flexibility for her family, and is now the head of a renowned women’s leadership institute. It’s about the applications engineer at Intel who went part time when her kids were young, and is now a high level manager at the computer chip giant. It’s about a Congresswoman from Illinois who missed votes on the House because she wanted to attend her daughter’s concert and is serving her third term.

A growing number of working women are defining success on their own terms, and while they’re career trajectory seems atypical and they’ve made job decisions based on their family — something which would have doomed most corporate climbers in the past — it works for them.

Almost every story about working mothers lately has focused on how they just haven’t been able to accomplish as much as their male counterparts in the workplace. “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, makes a lot of sense: we desperately need more women leaders and we as women have to stop being afraid to stand up and speak up.

But I don’t think the lives women live today are that dire, especially when women go after what they want, just like Sandberg has done. Women who know what they want and go after it don’t feel like they’re getting the shaft.

That’s the biggest lesson women need to learn. Being bossy and demanding what you want isn’t bad gals, as Sandberg points out. My own daughter Circe was given a book by a good female friend of mine when she was around 2 years old titled “Little Miss Bossy.” Hopefully Circe will some day be proud of that!

Indeed, there are many proud and happy working women out there. A survey by Kenexa Research Institute looked at whether women thought their futures looked promising, and 62 percent said: “I can meet my career goals and still devote sufficient attention to my family/personal life.” That compares to 59 percent among men who feel that way.

For women, said Brenda Kowske, a former research manager and at Kenexa, “having a fulfilled or satisfied personal life is an aspect of achieving a promising future at an organization for women in the U.S.”

Women are in a keen position to reshape the linear ladder upward. For the first time, women represent 51 percent of the total U.S. workforce; and the number of working moms as sole family breadwinners hit a record high last year. Many women are realizing they just can’t shoe horn their family lives into an arcane work model.

But one big question remains: “Are we being pioneers, or simply giving in?” asked Pamela Stone, associate professor of sociology at Hunter College and author of “Opting Out: Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home.”

If women are just changing their idea of success because they’ve given up fighting a society that deprives working moms of opportunities to advance, then it’s not a good thing, said Stone. But, if working moms are essentially transforming the work dynamic to meet their needs, then it’s a great thing.

The growing power of working moms may alter the landscape once and for all. “When you get a critical mass of women in any professions you do get changes,” said William Doherty, professor 
and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program in the Department of Family Social Science, College of Education and Human Development, at the University of Minnesota.

“Women are reshaping the workforce, and I think a cultural change is underway,” he continued, pointed to the healthcare industry. “You have 50 percent or more of the young doctors today are women and as a result there is much more part time work available. You don’t have the expectation of 90-hour weeks anymore.”

Rewriting the rules, however, has not been easy because so much of meshing child rearing and career rearing is unknown.

“We have no clue what it’s going to be like when we become a working mother,” stressed Susan Wenner Jackson, one of the founders of the website, Working Moms Against Guilt, because few women do any preplanning. “It completely blows your mind and you have to put the pieces back together.”

We need to build a template for how many working women were able to put the pieces back together and climb their definition of the ladder of success. It would be like a “Fast Food Nation” for working women everywhere. No more being force-fed the metaphorical career chicken McNuggets by “Da Corporate Man,” who says women need to be penalized for being mothers, daughters, and wives. We are going to rethink how we live and breath at work and in our careers. It’s time for women to demand a new, emotionally healthier workplace and a road to the top that takes into account a more organic approach to success and a balanced life.

Here’s the plan I propose we think about: (more…)

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