Episode 100: Owning It - an Interview with Sallie Krawcheck

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…you’re a powerful woman in a profession dominated by men. How do you react when a male subordinate challenges you in front of a group?  

I could have dressed him down. What would have happened then? He would have been embarrassed, which probably would have been good. But so would everybody else have been. And you know who would have gotten the blame for it, right, because he was their bud. So it would have been me.”

Coming up, an interview with Sallie Krawcheck. For years she was one the few famous females on Wall Street.


Before we get into the show I want to mark this occasion. Because this is the hundredth episode of The Broad Experience. I started producing the show in the spring of 2012. If you are one of the early listeners, thanks so much for staying with me and the show all this time. It’s only five years ago but things were quite different then. Women and the workplace felt like a niche topic – even though it shouldn’t have been. Now, it’s an international conversation. Things I used to talk about in early shows like unconscious bias…these days it feels like everyone’s talking about that. In fact there are so many blogs and podcasts and conferences on women and work now that I have wondered lately…where do I fit into this? Is there still a place for this show in the sea of content that’s out there now?

On the whole I think there is still room for The Broad Experience. There’s a lot of black and white out there but I’m more interested in the gray. I try to keep these discussions thoughtful and nuanced. I’ll never please everyone. You won’t like all the guests you hear on this show – maybe you won’t always like what I say either. But that’s part of the point. I don’t want to have people with identical views on every episode. I want to make my listeners think, to make myself think, and consider things from different points of view.

Anyway, thanks for listening and supporting this independently produced show for all this time.  


For a decade or so Sallie Krawcheck was one of very few women with a top job on Wall Street. She earned millions of dollars, had a huge office, and the use of private jet. I knew her name from when I was a daily business reporter. I remember the news of her firing from Citibank spreading all over the business pages back in 2008.

I ended up meeting her a couple of years ago because I’m a member of Ellevate, the women’s networking group she chairs. After leaving Wall Street for good a few years ago Sallie became an entrepreneur; she bought Ellevate, worked hard to build it and more recently she founded an investing platform for women called Ellevest – if you’re a US listener you’ll have heard me reading an ad for Ellevest on the show recently.

Sallie is also the author of a new book called Own It – the Power of Women at Work.

AM-T: “You say not that long ago, you were one of those people who didn’t really think about gender, ‘we’re all people, we’re all different’ – and now you’re writing a book about women owning their power at work. Tell me a little bit about your past.”

“Yeah. So if you’d asked me if I were a feminist I would have said yes. I wouldn’t have said it with a capital F, I would have said it with a little F. If you’d looked at my leadership teams when I was running Smith Barney and Merrill they were diverse. So I was out there maybe not talking the talk but I was walking the walk. It was really in my thinking post the financial crisis when I began to as a former exec in these businesses and former research analyst began to think about the causes of the crisis. Everybody was talking about greedy evil geniuses who perfectly foresaw the downturn and that is not at all what I saw. What I saw was well meaning individuals who missed it. What I also saw were well meaning individuals who all looked alike, had sort of the same backgrounds, who’d all been in the same training programs, were all friends, some vacationed together, who missed it. And as I began to think through I thought, that is groupthink. And how do you break groupthink – oh, diversity. Diversity of thought, perspective, background, orientation, education, skin color, nationality and one that has become my favorite, gender, and that is when I became truly passionate about the issue of the advancement of women in business.”

AM-T: “And you started doing your research because that’s your forte…”

“Right, I researched and researched and researched and actually spent time down in Washington DC saying guys, we talk about how for these banks quality of management is so important, but we’re just winging it.  You know, ‘oh I think he’s smart, I think this person has a lot of experience.’ The only research I’ve seen that says anything about the quality of management is the research on diversity, and in particular gender diversity. And that it’s not by a little…that companies that have people of difference in their leadership teams have higher returns on capital by a lot. Lower risk, greater innovation, greater employee engagement, greater customer engagement…the power of diversity is such that diverse teams outperform smarter teams. But somehow we just don’t seem to acknowledge it. And worse, even with this research, with all the discussion and debate and advice for women and do this and do this book and this book and this book, the march to gender diversity has stalled and on Wall Street it’s gone backwards!”

AM-T: “Some people will know you and your work but others will not. You’ve famously talked about being fired publicly twice. Tell people about those two really big jobs that you had.”

“So my background – I was there. I was the CEO of Smith Barney for a while, I was the chief financial officer of Citi and I was the CEO for Merrill Lynch, so I was in those board rooms. I was fired on the front page of the Wall Street Journal twice, which I’m sure is the world record for any woman and really up there with the guys, too. Some people do it once but to do it twice is a super-special event. And I talk – for years if you’d said to me, were you fired from Citi because you were a woman I would have said, absolutely not, that’s an outrageous thing to say, get over yourself. However, as time has passed I’ve begun to think I was. Not because I had different body parts.

Here’s what happened: In the crisis it turned out we at Smith Barney had sold our clients investments that we truly madly deeply believed were low risk. It turned out they were high risk. They should have gone down 8c on the dollar, they went down 100 c on the dollar. The big print said low risk, the small print in the document said you could lose anything. I went to my very brand new boss and said this is unconventional but I think we should partially reimburse clients, because we’re wrong, cos these are our clients, we did wrong by them, and because of the long term health of the business this is better than being sued. And it’s the ethical thing to do. He disagreed, we went back and forth and back and forth, it went to the board, and board sided with me and of course then I knew it was done. You go up against your CEO with the board, you no longer have a job. And sure enough, a few months later I found out I’d been fired on CNBC, which is always a [laughs] one of those mornings, hey honey, what did you do this morning, well I went to get some coffee, some Cheerios, then I found out I’d been fired on CNBC. Weird! And what, that doesn’t sound like a woman thing! Except the research shows we women tend to be more relationship focused than men, we know this, more long term focused than men we semi know this, more risk aware, not risk averse, risk aware, we want to know more about it, understand it. And the other thing the research shows is we women tend to make decisions based on more factors…that is as the situation becomes more complex we can keep up, and gentlemen tend to narrow their focus…and all those things went into my decision to go up against the CEO. So I say yes, I was fired because of my more womanly characteristics.”

She ended up moving on to another top job – this time at Merrill Lynch, which had been bought by Bank of America. She was named head of global wealth management. The CEO who hired her said he’d be staying on for two years…but in the end he retired two months later, and in came a new regime. And even though the business did well under her leadership…she never loved the job the way she had her previous role. And she lacked real supporters at a senior level. After two years, she was let go. Again. 

“And the lesson of that was the importance for us women of sponsors. When I called the board later and said, tell me what I could have done better. The answer was you had no one in that room arguing for you. You were by yourself.”

AM-T: “Yeah I thought that was so interesting…that picture of yourself on the coach feeling sorry for yourself, but having that sensible instinct to actually say thank you very much, what happened, and everyone who responded to you told you that same thing.”

“And a lot of them didn’t respond to me. But this is an issue right, that we women tend to get less feedback at work than men do. And we are not as individuals, we don’t come out of the womb understanding how to lead, how to run a business. So my advice is feedback…but to try to learn about yourself every step of the way. Learn what works, learn what doesn’t is important so I called the board even though I was in a tremendous amount of emotional pain and I was embarrassed and I was humiliated, I thought I can’t wait a month to do this…because then they’ll give me their pat answer, you know, time has passed. I want this to be fresh and I want to surprise them into telling me the truth.”

AM-T: “Can you just tell that story…when you were first working, you came in and on your desk every day you found an interesting little…”

“Ah, yes.  Salomon Brothers. So this was 1987. I am fresh out of college. I think I had hay coming out of my teeth because I had come from North and South Carolina. And I came to Wall Street not because I had this burning desire to work on Wall Street but because I was a journalism major and wanted to know more to become a business journalist, and knew it was sort of rough and tumble but it was Michael Lewis’s – for those of your listeners who read Liar’s Poker - Salomon was as tough as they came. So about my second day of work I smelled cigar smoke, and a gentleman – well a man, came up behind me and said, ‘what kind of –fing discount maternity wear is that?’ And I thought, who is that profane individual? And it was the height of Charleston fashion, and of course it was my boss’s boss’s boss. So that was the environment. A couple of days later I saw a guy fall to the floor out of the corner of my eye. He’d had a heart attack, in his 30s, 40s. They carted him away, they brought him back and a couple of weeks later they fired him! OK, so all this is happening and in the meantime to the story you’re talking about, I’m having Xeroxed copies on my desk of male nether regions. And you’re thinking huh, this is an interesting artistic photocopy of something squishy and hairy…and…” [laughs…]

AM-T: “You don’t talk about a lot of things like this in the book, you tell some stories and you sort of laugh them off, and you don’t talk about sexual harassment, either, but you must have had to deal with this. I mean you call Wall St the biggest boys’ club”.

“Well it is the biggest boys’ club. So I did an interview a week ago and the person called me back afterwards and was a little accusing, an edge of why didn’t you go to HR? and what about the other women? And I said, I was 22 years old. I had no idea there was such a thing as HR. like I had no conception that was even an option…that was the culture and I had rent to pay. I came from, at the time my family was solidly middle class. They could not afford to pay my year-long New York City lease. I had to keep that job. So you just…”

AM-T: “The same reason women today don’t…”

“Absolutely, I had to crumple it up, throw it away. And essentially look guys, y’all are not gonna run me out of here, you’re just not. And eventually found my way out of investment banking and into research and to a company, Sanford Bernstein, and a company with a different culture and different values where I felt like I could be myself. But it took a lot of years to figure that out.”

AM-T: “And did you parry it largely with a sense of humor?”

“Well, yes because I had to, and I’ll tell you, a friend of mine, one of the investors in Ellevest said something really interesting to me. She tells young women, if you look for gender discrimination you will find it. You will find it everywhere.  And you can choose to look and look and have it drag you down, or you can choose to pick your battles on it. And there are battles you need to pick. If someone is making overt sexual comments or overtures to you, today happily we have anonymous report lines and people do know what HR is and the environment is different. What I have found though is there is a lot of – among men and women – there are a lot of inherent gender biases and expectations that some of us, many of us don’t even know we have. And if you attack every one of those with anger and energy you’re gonna wear yourself out. So I practice what I call MRI – most respectful interpretation, and I bring humor to it.

One little example. When I was brought in to run Merrill there was a more mature gentleman in a big branch meeting – 150 people – and he essentially challenged me, well what makes you think you can run Merrill Lynch? And sort of arms folded, sitting back, challenging, not obnoxious but challenging. And I could have dressed him down. What would have happened then? He would have been embarrassed, which probably would have been good. But so would everybody else have been. And you know who would have gotten the blame for it, right, because he was their bud. It would have been me. I was the brittle bitch who had embarrassed their friend. Instead what I did, and this isn’t very funny but it’s just a slight…oh, oh my gosh, I thought I was here to do a presentation about the future of the company, but looks like it’s an interview right? He said, well yes it is… I said OK great, so let me see how I do. So I ended up parrying back and forth with him, going through my background, and at the end of it I said do you think, do you give me your OK to run the company? And he said yes, and off we went. Now none of it’s particularly hilarious, but I let him off the hook…and I did it in a way that took the temperature in the room down and I was respectful of him.  MRI – it’s not oh, he’s an old gender biased fart, let me do that again, dude, and I’m angry at him, instead it was the way I’m gonna think about it is this man cares for this company and he sees me coming in quite a bit younger, looking quite a bit different than anyone else has ever looked here, so let me answer his question and let’s do it in a way that engages us both.”


I told Sallie I’d done a show on flexibility recently, and we started talking about how that’s still lacking at so many companies – even companies that give lip service to the idea. Sallie knows this first hand.

“Sometimes you need to leave a culture. You know I think we as women tend to think if we, you know, asked to be transferred away from a boss or away from a department or quit and go to another company that that's a failure. But some companies really are not conducive to I would not say being a woman, to being a person. So the anecdote I told, the story, I had a scare. I had a real health scare and went to my boss, the CEO, and said to him I'm afraid I'm going to have to step out today for a bit in order to have a brain scan.

And his response was, well, get back as soon as it's over. Not, hope you're OK, or ‘Oh my gosh! Take all the time you need. Is there anything we can do? I don't want to pry…’ – nothing. Get back as soon as you can. And lest you think I said hey, I have to step out. I said I have to go have a f--ing brain scan, right? That was not the kind of company in which I wanted to work quite honestly or I think people should want to work.”

AM-T “Did you leave that company?”

“Well, I got re-orged out”. [Laughs] Actually I say that because the issue that I really had, and I've thought about this a lot, that company's culture did not fit me. Bernstein's culture fit me, Citi’s culture fit me. It was a company that where there were meetings before meetings to figure out what was going to be said at the meeting. And that's not a culture in which I felt completely comfortable. My challenge was I had 40,000 people working in my department and so I just could never imagine calling my dad and saying you know, I'm just I'm just not comfortable every day. But what I will tell you is it is this is a reason that we women drop out, when we have cultures that don't have any give to them that don't accept us as people. I'll go further: when so much of the advice from so many experts out there and from our bosses and from H.R. professionals when we do our performance reviews, is essentially to act like a man -- be more confident. Raise your hand for the job you're not ready for, take on whatever those things are. Those ways that push us to be something we’re not, always what I hear from women again and again is just, I'm tired of being told, contorting myself to act like something I don't feel like.

And look, the reason companies do it is because for one they don't fully recognize the power of diversity is…dramatic pause…diversity! Not bringing in a bunch of people of difference and telling them to act like middle aged white guys. And the other thing is it's just an easier way to manage. I've managed a lot of people, it's way easier to manage everybody the same than to say you know what, Ashley is an introvert. And so I'm going to have to pull stuff out of her as opposed to, you know, just come on. You need to be much more forthcoming. You do the work, not me. But when we allow people to be themselves we get much more out of them.”

AM-T: “I mean you had you had two really big health scares with each of your kids after – you had you were not in one of these jobs, but I have to wonder, if that had happened when you were on the job at that company, what would have happened?”

“You know it's hard to…and both of my kids, I had such easy kids for so many years and then all of a sudden they both - my son got very sick for a while and my daughter was in a car accident it was out of school for a while. And happily somebody was looking down on me. I wasn't working at the time so I gave my full attention, and you know it's funny for a bit of time I sort of said geez if this had happened when I worked at X, any of these companies, I would have had to quit my job. The truth is I wouldn't have. I would have done a really bad job for my kids and I would have really done a bad job for the company and it would have been bad. So somehow in our, and in particular with companies like that in our culture the fact that we are humans and have lives outside of work rather than being viewed as normal or even positive it somehow makes us less ambitious. I assure you when I was in the hospital room with my son and I wasn't not ambitious. I was taking care of a kid who was in grave danger. Right. It didn't mean I didn't want to be CEO or CFO or C anything O. It just meant I'm a human being and I for some reason we hurt women – mostly women still for just simply being humans.”

AM-T: “Regarding…having…you lay out in the book that we should be talking, we should be having these conversations. We should be you know if someone makes an inappropriate comment there's a way to draw them aside. But surely it's much easier for women who do have some seniority to do those things, because the problem is the rank and file…it's tough.”

“Well, so I talk about the courageous conversation, and the courageous conversation is the one that I'm having with the book, is one where you will say, Hey Joe, you interrupted Susie 12 times in that meeting. These don't again – we can do them with humor and most respectful interpretation. But part of that most respectful interpretation is teaching people, sharing information with them. ‘I'm not sure that you did this but we'd get a lot more out of Susie if we didn't interrupt her.’ And of course, of course any number of conversations are easier to have when you're more senior but I had some at a junior level, you know, and which ones can you have and which ones are you comfortable having? And all of them not in a blame-based way, ‘You're such a jerk, you're doing this,’ but ‘hey, not sure if you're aware,’ right? Hey, I was reading something the other day I think you might find useful, or, it can be a courageous conversation even by going to H.R: ‘Coach me through this please. I'm challenged by this. Help me work through this.’ It is their job after all.

So I think for all of us rather than just letting it go by, what do we see and how can we make our workplaces better? Because it's good for them to have these conversations. And by the way we have to start them. I love all this bringing men in. I love it. I really, really, really hope it happens. I can tell you on Wall Street I interrupted more men talking about more things than anybody on the planet. As I say in the book, never once did I walk into a room and say oh my gosh sorry guys, and they’re like oh no, hey Sallie, come on in. The ten of us are just sitting here shooting the breeze about the power of gender diversity in driving business results. Never – it never happened. It was me who had to bring it up because it's a topic that's near and dear to my heart. And so if we wait, if we continue waiting, we're going to see what we've seen so far which is gender diversity in business has stalled.”

AM-T: “And I think race adds an extra layer as well, for women of color, especially if most people around you are white and your bosses are white, that's an extra layer of difficulty as well.”

“Oh my gosh, well in every way, right. Because we talk about the 78 cents on the dollar, but it's much more and much more for women of color for women with disabilities as well. So they're approaching these issues, you know, they have a harder climb than Caucasian women do.”

One way Sallie is hoping to level the playing field for all women is by encouraging them to invest some of their hard-earned money. She recently founded Ellevest, that investment platform for women I mentioned earlier.

AM-T: “I know when you were doing your research you had some outraged feedback along the lines of ‘how dare you, you know, pinkify investing?’ How do you get around that, because this is something that happens when anything is done for women.”

“I know it, I know it. And I for years, I have to tell you, people would say, ‘you should start investing business for women.’ I would say, ‘you should jump off a cliff,’ because we don't need anything special or a dumbed down, or remedial financial education. And then the research and analyst in me recognized that we have a gap, a money gap we never talk about. I talk about it all the time now, the gender investing gap. Men invest to a greater degree than women do. It cost your listeners hundreds of thousands, some of them millions of dollars over the course of their lives. We will not be equal with men until we are financially equal with men and the investing industry has really kept us away from it. Not on purpose but an industry with 86 percent males who are on average in their 60s. An industry that traffics in war and sports analogies - beat the market, outperform, pick a winner. An industry in which the TV shows are built off of sports broadcast. An industry whose symbol is the bull, which is a phallic symbol, is an industry built for men, and indeed does a better job for men than for women. And so when I began to recognize this…and by the way their answer is women work harder, or you're flawed in some way, you're risk-averse so you don't invest because you have a uterus, obviously, or you need more hand-holding, or you need more financial education. That one kills me because men need more financial education too, but they invest anyway.

And so we spent hundreds of hours with women to build an investing platform that doesn't market to them, though we do market to them, but works to solve the underlying issues that keep them from investing. And so a couple of things we did that no one else does: We take into account we live longer. Super important! We take into account, bummer, our salaries peak sooner. We have career breaks that we take. So that changes the entire complexion of how we need to save, slash invest.”

But at first, women were quick to criticize…

“What we saw at the beginning is we’d put a pop up, a Facebook ad. “How dare you. My lady brain isn't smart enough, you know, for the guy brains. I hate you.’ And then women would sort of circle through the site and say wait a minute, wait a minute, this is different in a good way. It isn't sexist, it’s sexist that we haven't had something like this in the past. What is notable and sad is that not one single solitary person, not one, has seen that it's for women and said it must be smarter when in fact in my view it is.”

Full disclosure – I was intrigued by this idea so I opened a small account at Ellevest myself at the end of last year.

Sallie is on a book promotion blitz right now and she needed to get to her next interview, but I wanted to make sure I covered one last thing.

AM-T: “Can I ask you one more question, do you have time for one more? OK. I was reading the book last night and I thought, I’m gonna ask Sallie why she doesn’t talk more about her family and how she did it all…and then I get to the end of the book where you say, I’m not gonna dwell on that. But you do talk a little bit about that. but of course everyone wants to know how a woman like you managed you know, your family life. Does your husband work in finance as well?”

“Two kids, two step kids, two cats, and one husband who worked in finance. And look, part of it is we were fortunate because we both were compensated well. We were able to put in place an infrastructure and support structure that sadly many women in this country can't afford to do. So for me to you know for me to say, ‘oh, it was so tough.’ I mean we had it lucky. The other thing I'd say is that I took a different approach, which is the whole work life balance, how do I do it, oh my gosh. I am a mediocre mother on my best day. I make such an unbelievable pie. I do a great luncheon spread. I'm 15 minutes late for every school play that has ever has been. And guess what? It never killed my children. And my approach to it rather than, I'm sorry, I'm guilt ridden, I hate myself was, ‘Hey guys, I'm doing the best I can.’ What I wanted them to see instead of me having this perfect work life balance, what we talked about my household is what impact was I making in the world out there.”

And she says even though her first office as an entrepreneur was the opposite of the corner office luxury she was used to – small, cramped, with mice – her daughter was impressed. Because she could tell her mum was really excited about what she was doing.  

That’s the Broad Experience for this time.

If you’d like to become part of the group of listeners that supports this one-woman show, you can go to the support tab at The Broad Experience.com or go to paypal.me/TheBroadExperience. Any contribution is welcome.

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I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.

Broad Experience Shorts: Going on Leave

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

In this mini show we’re talking about parental leave – or really navigating any extended leave.

“…a really big challenge around leave and flexibility, is that people who aren’t going out on leave feel very overburdened when work is just dumped on their plate. And that’s another place where resentment can build up.”

That’s Rachael Ellison. She was one of the guests on my last show about delegation. When I interviewed her, she told me delegation is key to a successful leave – but more than that, a successful re-entry.

We got onto this topic while we were still mulling over delegation. She told me her female clients have a hard time handing off work.

“It’s so much easier for them to take on more work time, than thinking about how could I structure this differently. When we think about why flexibility is hard for companies to implement and when we think about the challenges around leave, parental leave or any kind of family leave and what’s challenging about that, a lot of it is about how you change the workflow and delegate, and we’re not set up to do that. We don’t know those skills.”

That is so true. After last week’s show I heard from a friend of mine – and she really crystalized something for me about this whole delegation thing. She said look, I am terrible at delegating. I admit it. I would love to be better. But she said delegating requires being organized in the first place. You have to strategize and think things through.

Rachael says for companies who’ve never even thought about leave before, ramping up means putting in some time. She tells the story of a tech startup in Pennsylvania – the CEO had never had a pregnant employee before, or the spouse of a pregnant employee who wanted to go on leave…

“He had a young workforce, when his first employee got ready to go out on leave they spent 50 hours with her breaking down the different tasks she had and thinking about how could we hand things off, and what’s the process we’re gonna use, when not just you but anybody has to leave the office for any period of time for whatever reason. I spoke to a dad at that company who when he had to go on leave and needed flexibility, there was a very clear process for, “this is how you hand your work off.”  And often that’s just not explained, it’s not detailed, no one knows what to do. And if you’re not explicit about it, the delegation is not gonna work.”

AM-T: “Well yeah, talk about this work you’re doing around parental leave and how delegation or lack thereof plays into a difficult transition.”

“Yeah, so you know, I’ve been coaching and consulting around parental leave for quite some time and I’m working with the Center for Parental Leave Leadership. And one of the things I’ve noticed when working with folksis the enemy of success in the process of leave, in the transition to ‘out for leave’ – we think about the three phases of leave, preparing to go, being out on leave, returning from leave…is the ambiguity – without outlining what the expectations are explicitly for how work is going to be handed off, and how it’s going to be picked up…what the communication timeline should be, how and when should people be expected to respond to communication from the office? There will be automatic resentment and confusion and conflict between managers and employees, between team members. It happens every time, particularly on the return.”

She says women often come back from leave to find some nasty surprises…

“So I’ve had people who are partners in professional services firms who have lost clients, the clients – no one ever planned for it to come back to her, so she didn’t have that client any more. There are just so many ways in which things are not spelled out. And it’s not spelled out according to the employee’s wishes, it’s not spelled out according to the manger’s wishes, so it falls apart and there’s resentment.

So one of the things I’ll say before I talk about the tools that we use is that one of the reasons parental leave is an important transitional moment, it’s one that comes up a lot in workplaces, it’s an opportunity for managers to learn skills about how to support someone personally and professionally in the workplace, it’s an opportunity for employees and managers to learn about how to create more clear communication aroundwork re-organization and delegation and it can transform the way people work going forward.”

Maybe you’re listening to this in the UK or Canada or Sweden – or somewhere else where women get a year’s worth of leave, or more. I’d be so curious to know if this stuff resonates with you or not. Because in the workaholic US you’re lucky if you get 4 months off after you have a baby. So maybe in other countries they just do leave better? Maybe none of these problems exist in countries where leave is a bigger part of the culture.

Rachael says she and her colleagues at the Center for Parental Leave Leadership use this tool called the next step action plan: she says it lets people think clearly and specifically about what projects they have on their plate, what tasks are involved, who’s gonna be affected by the handoff, who is gonna take on responsibility when that person is gone. She says there’s also a communication plan, you know, will you be in contact while you’re away? If so, how often?

“There are contingency plans, right, what if you have to go out on leave earlier? What if there are unexpected changes that are required? How can you plan for those? And when you come back, how exactly are each of those projects you outlined before going on leave going to be transitioned back to you in a specific way? How do you make sure not only are you clear on what you want, your manager is clear, your team members are clear. It also gives the employee who is delegating the work an opportunity to be aware and conscious of who is taking that work over and how to reward them and thank them for stepping in when they needed them to – which is a really big challenge around leave and flexibility, is that people who aren’t going out on leave feel very overburdened when work is just dumped on their plate. And that’s another place where resentment can build up. So this is about intentionality, this is about thinking through delegation in a way that’s proactive and productive as opposed to an afterthought.”

She says the best way for people to plan their leave is to plan their return.

“They feel prepared. I think the overwhelm of thinking about how to suddenly combine work and life in a different way can cloud their thinking on some of these practical pieces that they need to be considering.”

And of course it helps a lot when you and your company are working in tandem to plan this leave, so everyone knows what to expect…

“Too often I’ve heard from clients before planning in this way, I’m not sure what’s gonna happen when I come back, what are they gonna expect from me? What are they gonna say about me? So many questions that are not just about the work itself but the expectations of their performance and the judgments they’re assuming are gonna come. This process of planning seems to wipe all that out.”

You can find out more at CPLleadership.com. I’ll also put a link on the website. And if you have had an experience around leave you’d like to share, go ahead and post a comment under this episode at The Broad Experience.com or on the show’s Facebook page.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. 

Episode 99: Hate to Delegate

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…a lot of women don’t feel comfortable delegating. And there may be good reason for that.

“We’re also taught that we’re supposed to do it all and we’re not supposed to ask for help and we’re supposed to be perfect in all that we do…but what ends up happening is then when we delegate we don’t feel right because we’re letting somebody else do it.”

But a desire to control the outcome can also play a part…

“The struggle is not wanting to…I think it’s the assumption that we can take control of things that are not remotely within our control.”

Coming up, why some of us shy away from delegation, and how to master it. 


I was doing an interview a few months ago and I asked my guest why she thought few women in Sweden had top jobs in the private sector, despite the country’s egalitarian outlook and all the effort it’s made to ease life for working parents. And one thing she said was, well, I’ve noticed women aren’t that good at delegating. And when you don’t delegate you don’t have time to focus on more of the big stuff – and the less obvious, network-y kind of stuff – that helps your career.

That delegation question is something I’ve thought about too. I have been a reluctant delegator in the past. I’ve caught myself thinking, time and again, oh, I’ll just do that because it’s easier – it’s easier if I do it. I’ll do it better. But what that means is spending a lot of time on stuff that’s fairly routine and could be outsourced.

I sat down recently with Rachael Ellison to talk about this. She was a guest on a past show I did about work and motherhood. She is a coach and consultant and she works a lot with new parents – mostly women – going back to demanding jobs after their leave ends. She’s also a partner at the Center for Parental Leave Leadership.

AM-T: “What’s your impression of how comfortable the women you work with are with delegation?”

“They’re not. They’re very uncomfortable with delegation and I think there’s a sense of wanting to do your best in every sphere of your life and wanting to control that outcome and delegation obviously takes away from your ability to control the outcome. You see it with parenting, you see it in the workplace. But I think most of the people I’ve worked with are quite uncomfortable with delegation.”

Again I’ve often noted my own desire to control and I’ve noted it a lot in other women – whether it’s to do with their kids or their work, they want to put that finishing touch on whatever it is themselves. They don’t want to delegate it. We talked about why this is – maybe women feel if we don’t control the final outcome, it’ll reflect badly on us?

“I always hear…this sense that, what I hear from new parents is I need to give 150% at work and 150% at home. So that feeling of needing to go over and above and show that veneer of perfection. And you can’t do that if someone else - theoretically it’s harder to do that if someone else is taking some of that job from you. I think that’s what people are feeling. And on the home front there are pressures around motherhood and the image around motherhood and being a perfect mom that we’re struggling with. And we don’t want to relinquish that role even if we don’t…you know, I find it’s very hard for moms that I work with to – and again it’s this one particular area - to relinquish control to dads. They kind of assume that, you know, there’s this stereotype that if you have dad make the lunches instead of you make the lunches rather it’s gonna be thrown together pieces of bread with maybe one piece of protein in there. But if you make the lunches it’s gonna be beautiful, it’s gonna be a balanced meal…”

AM-T: “Yeah, I want to talk to you about the part home plays in this – I think there’s overlap between home delegation and work delegation. But the lack of home delegation affects your work greatly, or can do. This has come up a few times on my show and the example the woman has given has been a home arena, where they’ve found it hard to relinquish control of that thing whether it’s lunches or choosing an accessory for the home that they outsourced to their husband. It was tough for them to do that. Now I’m assuming this is because the home has traditionally been our arena. And so many of us still find it hard to say, ‘no, you do that.’ is that where it comes from do you think?”

“I think that is partially where it comes from but also we’re not doing it in a vacuum, right? There is the other side. How do men, how do they assume the role they’re given when it’s delegated? There’s an interesting study that came out of the Families and Work Institute a couple of years ago looking at heterosexual versus homosexual couples and the division of labor and responsibility there. And basically…and I’m paraphrasing, I don’t have the data top of mind, but the issues around delegation and division of responsibilities were essentially not there in homosexual couples. There were no roles that we’re assuming we’re supposed to take. So I think in heterosexual couples, men and women, they are assuming their roles – the woman maybe feels it’s her role to be in charge of the home sphere. And similarly the male is feeling like, that wasn’t really my job. I don’t know how to assume it. So on both sides I think there’s hesitation there.”

She tells the story of one heterosexual client she had who was trying to exert control both at work and at home. At work there was a tricky management transition going on. And at home, she was frazzled trying to potty train her toddler…

“She was just, really didn’t want to let go of the management transition and what she felt like she needed to do to make things go smoothly, and also was really struggling with this potty training on the home front and would not let go of that…would not let go of being really strict about it, felt like her husband wasn’t stepping in the way he needed to, felt her staff wasn’t stepping in the way they needed to at work and just wouldn’t let go. She really did have a moment of saying I can’t – I have to have a different approach to both these things and recognize what in this situation I can control and what I can’t. And potty training is not something that is very easy to control. You can set routines but there is a certain level of letting go and letting it happen, and the same is true with management. [Laughs…] so you have to let it play out.”

AM-T: “What happened?”

“She took a step back. She did some reflecting and she said I’m not gonna put so much pressure on my son to be potty trained at the pace I want him to be, he doesn’t have to be, I’m gonna let my husband take more of a role with this.  And in terms of the management transition, these are the pieces that are most important to me and the rest is gonna have to play out the way it’s gonna play out. There’s nothing I can do.

I think a lot of times the struggle is…it’s the assumption we can take control of things that are not remotely within our control – they’re not controllable! But that’s where we run into the most trouble is when we…you know, I was talking about the 150% at work and the 150% at home. There’s a math problem there. There’s a kind of logic problem we have. It’s just not possible to control both spheres the way we want to…it requires letting go…and I think it’s about choosing which parts you want to let go of.”

I bet a lot of you can relate.

You’ll hear from Rachael again in a mini show I’m releasing next week – in that we’re focusing specifically on parental leave and how delegation can help with a successful leave. So if you’re a manager or someone who’s likely to go out on leave – or both – tune in for that.

Jodi Detjen is also a past guest. She’s a professor of management at Suffolk University in Boston. She’s also a partner at Orange Grove Consulting – it’s a firm that works with companies to get more women into leadership.

When we spoke there was some overlap with what Rachael and I talked about. But Jodi has her own take on this topic.

AM-T: “It’s come up in past conversations I’ve had with guests, the idea that women don’t delegate as much as men or don’t like to, and thus more of their time is tied up on the smaller stuff they could give to somebody else – what do you think, it this true, what’s been your experience of women and delegation?”

“So we found the same thing in our research and our work with women, and what we found is that women and girls, it’s reinforced and reinforced across their lives about getting stuff done. "Oh, you are so good at that." "Oh my gosh, look how hard you are working." And you see this consistently. And so what ends up happening is that women believe that they are not very good at delegation. So what ends up happening, for example, think about men. Men are entitled to support. So they think--"alright, the women are going to clean the office's dishes. I don't have to worry about that." Or they believe that their work is valuable so they are much more ready to spend money to make their life more efficient. So for example, men will have no problem getting their shirts cleaned, whereas women will wash them and iron them themselves. They will also feign incompetence in support tasks. "Oh, I can't take notes. I am an awful writer and you are so good at it." And that just triggers women who have been told they are so good at these things—these small things. It just triggers them to want to do it more. And so men have learned that they are supposed to get support. And that this is their God-given right. And women have been taught quite the opposite.”

Not to generalize too much about men, but as I listened a portrait of myself was emerging pretty fast. Take the pride many of us have in being self-sufficient…

“…if you look at the data – girls outperform boys in school across the ages, so through college. But we are also taught we are supposed to do it all. And we are not supposed to ask for help and we are supposed to be, you know perfect in all that we do. And if we ask for help, that's selfish. But when ends up happening is that when we delegate, we don't feel right because we are sort of letting someone else do it, and it feels really uncomfortable to us. So when we’ve been working with women, you'll be surprised at how many women refuse to delegate housecleaning even when they can amply afford it. Affording is not a problem. They just don't want to do it because, you know, the cleaners won't do it as well as they will. Men, no problem at all.”

AM-T: “I think I’m gonna book a cleaner as soon as we get off the phone.”

 “I have done this back when I was living in London. My husband said, "We are spending too much money on the cleaner." So I said, "Let's try cleaning in it ourselves." And so we had our list, and he didn't do his list, and I said, "That's it. We are hiring the cleaner back." And we have had a cleaner ever since.”

AM-T: ‘I would love to hire a cleaner so I think you’ve just galvanized me. But what you said about men expecting to receive support was so interesting. Because in all my thinking about this topic I’ve never thought about that.”

“Yeah, so they are raised to believe that it's okay to get support, and women are raised to believe that they are the ones who have to give support. I'll give you an example. So a couple of years ago, I had a male student tell me--this was at the end of the semester. He had a team of all young men. He said, "You know, we did poorly because we didn't have a young woman on our team to organize us." And I liked looked at him and I almost exploded. And the more I look at this, I see this again and again and again. And of course, what ends up happening is that the men get all the glory jobs, the glamor. They are the ones who are up in front doing all the work. You know, looking like they are doing all the work and the women are in the back organizing it. This is undergrad, so it's not changing. These are 21-year-olds!”

In her house delegation is a way of life – her two sons have been doing their own laundry since they were 13.

But let’s consider the idea that, again, women don’t actually like to delegate – whether or not they’re expected to do everything, they want to do it. Jodi tells the story of one woman she and her consulting colleagues worked with.

“She was a relatively new manager. She was probably managing for about a year. And she was really uncomfortable with delegation. So she would delegate it to her people, and the minute they came back with a problem for her, she would just be like "Okay, just give it to me," and she would take it over. So what ended up happening was and the problem she was having, she would be working later and later and later because she was doing her work and their work. And they were leaving earlier and earlier and not getting much to do. And the other thing that was happening was that they were starting to think that she didn't trust them. That they were incapable. So she was sending them a really clear message that they didn't have the capability to get the work done. That only she could. So we had to work with her, on really thinking about what is it that could happen? What's the worst thing that could happen if you could delegate to them? What if you look at it as an opportunity to develop them? To build their skills so you have a stronger team? So she worked on it over a six month period, and at the end of it, she was going home a much more reasonable time. She had a stronger team. She had a more capable team. And she wasn't doing their work anymore. But she had to get over that hump, that initial hump – she really believed they were incapable, and they knew it.”

I had an experience like those employees once, years ago. I was hired by a company in an associate role, to help out my new boss, who was overwhelmed. But my boss – even though she had asked for the help, she had persuaded the company to create this position – she just would not delegate. So I was incredibly bored, a, and b, I felt like she didn’t trust me to do the work. It was really dispiriting. And I wondered why I’d been hired in the first place if she was just gonna keep doing everything she’d done before. Finally I talked another executive into giving me some other writing work to keep me busy, and that ultimately led to me becoming a journalist a couple of years later.

Jodi says the ability to delegate is vital if you want to rise through the ranks. 

“It's the difference between a junior and a mid to senior level manager. Because the ones who don't make it to the top are the ones who can't delegate. Because there is absolutely no way you could be in a senior level management position without delegating. You just cannot do your people's work as well as your work. It's just not possible.”

AM-T: “Well talk a little more about that because as you know, the idea for a show on delegating came from one of my listeners who’s also been a colleague of mine and she said she’s getting better at delegating at work. But she pointed out that often means letting people make mistakes, and some people would say, ‘I don’t have time for that.’ So how do you start to become a delegator if traditionally you haven’t been much of a delegator?”

“Well, I think the problem is that people get scared of the process itself. Initially the process is a learning process, so you have to teach people, they have to learn how to do it. And you're right. They have to learn how to do it. And you're right. There's mistakes. And that's just the nature of the beast. You know, if I hand something to a junior person for the first time, what I get back is not what I want. It's not. It's going to take me three to 10 times longer the first time, but you have to look long-term. I have to think "Okay, this person is going to be with me for several years, and I am going to invest this time now because in three months, I don't want to be doing it.” If they haven't learned it in three months, then I haven't hired well. I don't have the right person to delegate to. So part of the process is who is it I am delegating to? Do they have the basic essential skills to start with so that they can learn from there? And that's not always the case. But I'll give you an example. We had an assistant here 10 years ago. And at first, she was absolutely awful. She was just one of the least capable people I have ever met, but she was perfectly capable of learning it. And so we all took the time, and we taught her every little aspect of what we needed. And it probably took her three months because she was a quick learner. And then she became one of the most capable people in that position that I've ever met. And she got promoted within a couple of years, because she was so competent. We trusted her and she learned. Now, there's two pieces to that puzzle. You gotta have the trust and then you gotta have the person who is willing to learn. And then you don't have both of those things, but both of those things are managerial challenges, right. If you don't trust, there's a problem with who've you hired, and if they are not capable, then there's a problem with who've you hired. So all roads lead back to us.”

But she says once you start…

“Delegation is addictive. I delegate everything. So I delegate to my kids. I delegate to my husband. I delegate to my graduate assistant. I delegate to people who work for my company. I delegate to my teams at Suffolk. I delegate to everything. So the first thing that happens to me – the first time I get a question, I ask myself, ‘Who is the best person to do this task?’”

And sometimes it is her. But often someone else can do it.

One thing that drives Jodi nuts is a particular belief people seem to have about women – including women. It’s become a cliché.

 “Women are so good at multitasking. So this is a trigger word, right? We are told that we are just so good, and we are so efficient at getting a lot done. We have to do it all. And so when we delegate, of course we are not doing it all. Somebody else is. We are giving it to somebody else to do. And when people tell us that we are great multitaskers, what they are basically saying is, "Keep at it. You keep doing everything. We aren't great at getting things done." And it keeps reinforcing this same exact bias. - And we internalize it as a rule. And so when people tell me I am a great multitasker, I say "Actually, I don't multitask." And then I just stop. And they don't know what to say. And they get really uncomfortable. But I am just like "Multitasking is not actually physically possible. When you look at brain research, people don't multitask. There are actually costs to multitasking because every time you switch tasks, there's a pause in your brain, and it's like a microsecond, but it adds up. So multitasking is actually quite inefficient.”

But punting, as she calls it, now that is efficient…

“When we learn to punt, we actually learn how to let go of control. So punting is basically saying you're dropping it, you are saying, "not my responsibility." And there's actually a method to doing it that we've discovered. And the first one is, you just stop doing it. So for example, there was this one woman whose team was responsible for monthly reports. So she decided to do an experiment and didn’t do half the reports one month just to see what was happening. And you can imagine what happened. Nothing. So she was just relieved of the majority of those reports nobody even looked at. They didn't miss. So she just relieved herself of a ton of work that opened her up for a lot more strategic work. So another one is a lot of people punt on their emails. They look at their emails and they’ll only respond if it’s urgent. The rest of it they just punt and the whole idea is if it's that important, it will come back again. And men and women do this. It's fantastic. The third one is that you can ask for help and this one, everybody always talks about how men don't ask for directions, but women don't ask for help. So for example, a big presentation that we have to do next week.  Each piece of the presentation has been given to my team so the team together is creating the whole thing, not one person. And then the delegation piece. So as we learn to punt, to prioritize what really needs to happen here and actually, most stuff, you'd be amazed of how you can get away with subpar, and when I mean subpar, I mean subpar compared to perfection, not subpar compared to expectations. Because you can meet expectations and our expectations of perfection are not really what the other person’s expecting. They are expecting it just to be done.”

You can listen to the early show I did with Jodi for more on women and perfection – that one’s called Killing the Ideal Woman.

And she says it’s not just people like her with teams who can delegate. A lot of entrepreneurs hire virtual assistants or if you’re like me you sometimes hire an intern to help out with research and transcribing interview tape – Zaynab Ubaid transcribed most of my interview with Jodi and she found me an academic study on women and delegation.

Jodi says one woman she worked with was hired to do social media for her company but the company had a tiny budget, she was the sole person in this role. She ended up asking her friends all over the different departments to find interesting stuff to post, and it worked out really well. She was doing her job but she had lots of unofficial helpers.

Jodi says the problem is it’s easy to get overwhelmed at the outset. To think, ugh – how can I delegate this beast? I’d better just do it myself.

But…

“And all you have to do is just break it down into smaller pieces and then figure out which aspects can be delegated. And you know what? It's a 21st century leadership skill. You learn how to do that, you can do a lot of stuff.”

Jodi Detjen.

As ever I’m curious to know what you think. Has your career rocketed since you began to delegate? Do you find it hard to give up control? You can comment under this episode at The Broad Experience.com or on the Facebook page or you tweet me at @ashleymilnetyte – without the hyphen.

And I mentioned this earlier but I’ll be bringing out a mini show in about a week. In that show Rachael Ellison talks specifically about parental leave and the role delegation can play in having a successful leave and re-entry.

If you can kick in a few bucks, or pounds, or anything else to support the show, that would be great. Any amount is gratefully received – you can go to paypal.me/TheBroadExperience.

I will see you next week for that mini show. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.

 

 

 

Episode 98: Leaning Back

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time, so much of the literature for professional women urges us to strive for the top job. But what if you have no interest in leaning in?

“The majority of women want to capitalize on their educations, want to do something meaningful and interesting and lucrative, but they’re not willing to sell their soul for their professional life.”

Coming up, we talk about leaning back, opting out, and asking for flexibility.


So last month I came across an article in The Atlantic – in fact it was the beginning of a series they ran on women’s ambitions over time. And you know, as with so many of these pieces about highly educated, high achieving women, about a quarter of the women they focused on had dropped out of the workforce completely to look after their kids. Something that’s fairly common in the best-educated cohort.

Reading it, I thought about Kathryn Sollmann.

Kathryn runs the website 9 Lives for Women. She’s also an executive coach. She’s done a lot of different things in her career. She started off running training programs and events in the corporate world, but switched to running her own business when she was still in her twenties. After 9/11 her business hit a major downturn and she started to ponder what she should do next. At the same time, she’d be out and about at her kids’ school or at the supermarket near her home in Connecticut and she’d get talking to other women.

“And they’d say to me, oh God, it’s so great that you work, and I really would like to work again but I’ve been out so long and I don’t know who would want me. And I would keep talking to them, and in the next few sentences I’d find out they went to Princeton, they have an MBA, they used to be senior vice president of a big Wall Street firm…and I would think wait a minute. There’s a big disconnect here. Why would these women think nobody would want them or they couldn’t get back into the workforce?”

But it really was tough. They’d lost their networks, their skills were rusty. They’d lost confidence. This gave Kathryn an idea for a new business and for the next decade or so she and a business partner ran programs for these returning professional women; eventually they morphed into a recruiting firm.

These days she’s writing, consulting and working on a book about how women can work flexibly throughout their lives – without taking damaging career breaks.

AM-T: “When I heard you talking about the women saying you’re so lucky to be working, I’ve been out so long…that’s quite common in wealthy suburbs in America and elsewhere, these are the people who can afford to quit work. I’m just a bit worried some listeners may hear this and say I can’t relate to this at all, much as I’d like to scale back I really can’t, we need our two incomes. Does this discussion only apply to the kinds of people you and I are surrounded by, fairly wealthy people in New York and its suburbs?”

“No it does not. And that is a very interesting social commentary and I feel I can really speak to this. I’ve been working with this demographic of returning professional women for 15 years. Obviously if your husband is making a big salary and can pay the mortgage and all the big bills it’s very easy to say, I am gonna leave the workforce for a few years. But what I’ve found is that there are women at much lower income levels who, you know, don’t have a lot of extra income coming into the household each month who just firmly believe that once you have children you are supposed to be home with those children. It is definitely not just something the most affluent women do.”

AM-T: “You have a beef with the current discussion around women and work. What is it?”

“Well I think there are two prominent discussions that linger. The ‘can women have it all’ will not die, and then there’s the Lean In. And I feel that both those conversations are really talking about the pros and cons of working and of getting to the top, and missing from the conversation is any discussion about the fact that working whether you’re a male or female, working is attached to long-term financial security. And rarely when I’m talking to women who are struggling about whether or not they should leave the workforce or the ones who did leave the workforce, rarely is there any big thought about the financial aspects of leaving.”

Instead, they’re focused on what they can achieve at home, and having a less stressful life. She says the women she met over the years who quit spent an average of 12 years at home. And the yearning for the off-ramp often begins when a second child is born.

“They’re saying I don’t know if I can do this any more. And then there’s the thought that if I can just go home for a couple of years and get everything in order, then I’ll come back. But the problem is most times a couple of years then turns into the average of 12. And women aren’t thinking about what the impact is of 12 years out of the workforce. Because every year they are out of the workforce they are giving up up to 4 times their potential compensation.”

Not just salary but pensions and other benefits.

Now Kathryn grew up in an affluent community herself and she lives in one now. So in a way she seems an unlikely person to push this idea of continuing to work throughout your life. But she got an early taste of instability when her father lost his job decades ago. He never fully recovered. It made her determined to keep earning money no matter what her future spouse might do. She worked in a corporate setting for several years after college but then left to start her own marketing/communications business. She was running that when she had her two children, now young adults. She says she worked early mornings and late nights, but she also got to go to school events sometimes. They were crazy hours. But they were her crazy hours. And yes, her husband earned more as an insurance executive. But she says working consistently but flexibly has allowed her to be present a lot for her kids, and to earn decently too…

“So I’m saying that you have to think about your work/life decisions not only in the context of family but also in the context of long-term financial security. That is because life has many you-never-knows, and even though you may be comfortable today and your husband may have that big job today you don’t know what’s gonna happen down the road, and it’s very foolish to be out of the workforce for twelve years and do absolutely nothing that’s professional. Because it becomes very difficult to get back in when you really need to.”

She says many women need jobs that not only fit around child-rearing, but also caring for aging parents. Daughters are often the ones who take on this role. Many baby boomers and some Gen X women are already firmly entrenched in elder care on top of their other responsibilities.

“If you have experienced it yourself and I’m certainly going through it now, you don’t have to be the caregiver for that caregiving role to take over your life.”

AMT: “Right, you just have to be the coordinator.”

“The coordinator. Right, exactly. So basically what I’m saying is there is no perfect time to work in terms of caregiving and family. The smart thing is to always work in some way from college to retirement. And it does not have to be a 60 hour a week corporate job.”

AMT: “You also say few women have the desire or family bandwidth to break the glass ceiling.” 

“Well I do think that’s true. It’s counterintuitive, counter feminist to say that but it is the reality. I mean all the talk about the fact that women are not at the top of corporations. Again yes, for the women who do want to be at the top of corporations, be in C suite, have that 24/7 responsibility, they should be able to get there and stay there. But my argument is there are very, very few women relatively who want to be in that C suite. There are very few women who want to be Hillary Clinton. There are some, absolutely, but I feel that the majority of women want to capitalize on their educations, want to do something meaningful and interesting and challenging and lucrative, but they’re not willing to sell their soul for their professional life.”

One of those women emailed me last year. She’d definitely leaned in. She has a good career, great title. But now, she wants to lean back. I read Kathryn her email. 

AM-T: “She wrote to me in the early summer, she said she’s in her early 30s, her husband’s mid-30s, they live in DC…she’s a health care executive. She said we both have demanding careers that take up most of our time both during the week and during the weekends. We'd like to have kids within the next year, and I can already tell that it will be difficult to balance my career and having a family. I would love to be able to stay at home part time especially while my children are young, and I honestly doubt I will miss my job and all the stress. And yes, I realize what a privileged position I am in to even consider this.

That said, I definitely do not want to opt out. I watched my mom do it and depend on my dad for an income for many years and would never want to be in that position. I would love to go and take a low stress, part time job for a few years. But I don't know how to do this without losing my network, being branded as a quitter, and destroying any prospects I have to get back on the fast track if I wanted to later.”

“Well I mean the first thing I would say is that you have to adjust your definition of the fast track, you know the fast track is not just being a health care executive or being an executive at a corporation. The fast track can be having your own business. It could be you know being a consultant, in my mind, there are lots of ways to skin the cat you know and it goes back to what we were talking about before. I mean how many people, how many women are so, so concerned with what their title is?”

I am one of those people who honestly doesn’t care about titles. But then I’ve never had an impressive one to lose.

“I mean I'm sure there are women who do, who do care about it but you know especially once you have a family you know your priorities shift a little bit and you're trying to fit everything in. So I still think that this woman can be a health care executive without being under the corporate umbrella. And you know what I would say to her as a career coach is OK. You're think you're starting think about having children now. So start planning now for how you're going to work when the children come.”

Now this listener who wrote to me – she indicated her company just isn’t flexible. She’s not even attempting to ask for flextime there. She is looking around for other jobs, she told me just recently. Places where she can imagine scaling back. But Kathryn says a lot of people can achieve a part-time schedule at work IF we sell it right.

“Most women at that crossroads, they would go into their boss and say you know I'd like to scale back a little bit. You know would it be OK if I if I work part time? And that is the extent of their pitch for flexible work, that's it. Because I've spoken to so many women who say well I left my job because it just was not possible to work in a flexible way.

And then I dig deeper and I say OK, so what did you say and what did you do? And it's always this simple ask. There's not a professional pitch for flexibility talking about how it's going to work for you how it's going to work for the employer. How are you going to manage people if you work at home, you know all those kinds of things. And so I mean she's now, this woman is now a subject healthcare expert and there are probably many, many companies, health care institutions, who would want her expertise.”

She’s says there’s always the consultant route…and to go that route you need to lay some groundwork. Think about clients you might approach. Plan ahead while you’re still at the current job.

“But she doesn't, she doesn't have to think of it as being a quitter. She's instead what she's doing is putting work more on her own terms and she could become a very highly sought after consultant that could be still considered very much on the fast track. It's just that you're not within the corporate confines.” 

And we’re going to come back to that thought about working on your own terms in a minute.

So talking to Kathryn I kept thinking about an earlier show I’d done with the author Laura Vanderkam…some of you may remember this one, Laura is a well known author on time management and show 67 was called How to Make the Most of Your Time. Her contention is that if we just managed our time better…we could achieve a lot more and be a lot less stressed. She says going part-time isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

 “We think that going part time will allow us to officially set boundaries right, we've paid the price. Now we can set artificial boundaries but the problem is just because you have a boundary doesn't mean that people will automatically respect it. And so you're going to have to constantly be negotiating this, you know if you have Tuesday as your day off. People are still going to schedule meetings on Tuesday. Your team is still going to have a conference call they're going to wonder why you're not there. They're going to e-mail you and wonder why you haven't responded and so you can not respond but many people are trying to be accommodating and so they wind up working basically full time hours they're just getting paid less for it. So in particular if people are thinking about taking an eighty percent schedule I would caution against that because it is quite possible to slack for twenty percent of the time and still get paid for it. I am not sure how many people who are working aren't slacking twenty percent of the time at the office. So why officially cut your pay just to go through, you know we all go through ups and downs in our productivity and this may be a particular low point for you but probably there will be a higher point at another point.”

 “Laura's work is terrific because she's really showing everyone that you know, we waste a lot of time and we can be more choosy about how we spend our time. I don't know that I would say though that you should not try to go the part time route because I mean that's the old model. You know, you go part time and you have to work full time. I mean there are ways around that too. I mean we're certainly moving to a freelance economy which is you know not full time work every day 52 weeks a year. I think people are much more, employers are much more open to less than full time work and you know and again it's back to how do you propose it? And you know what are the what are the guidelines that you're proposing. For example I know a woman who works for one of the big recruiting firms. She was very high flying and she decided that she wanted to go part time and she saw that it was starting to be you know, the hours were expanding beyond the twenty hours or whatever she had had agreed upon. And so then she basically had a conversation with her employer and said look, I understand that you know life and work is going to go beyond the 20 hours but that's what I'm being paid for. So would you agree to pay me by the hour? And then sometimes I will be working 35 hours and sometimes I might work 15. So a lot of it is that we need creative thinking and much more work at the front end, of what the parameters will be of whatever the flexible work is.”

Which prompts me to ask if any of you have tried an ask like this – like a strategic ask, something you planned carefully ahead of time. And has it worked? I think other people could really learn from this so please post a comment under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com.

Back to the topic of financial security, which is close to Kathryn’s heart. She did a survey of her readership, and she found the majority of women – 70% plus had experienced some kind of unexpected life event that had hit their finances hard. There were the big things like the death of a spouse, or a divorce, but other things as well.

“Parents are footing the bill for their adult children and supplementing their income or you know maybe they don't have a job at all. And then you know, this one I've mentioned before, this aging parent situation where it's becoming more and more common that your parents are going to run out of money and that can happen even if the parents were at one time affluent. Once they get to the point where they need $25 an hour care around the clock which is $4,000 a week, you run through even a big bank account very quickly. And if you have four parents who are living, if you're married and you have you know two sets of parents, I'm hearing more and more from people that they're having to pitch in and help their parents.”

And I’m not sure how many of us are thinking of this kind of thing when we’re in our thirties. But I said to Kathryn, what about the argument I’ve heard women make against returning to work, which is, I’ve been out so long, I’d only get a low-paying job, 25,000 dollars a year really wouldn’t make much of a difference. But Kathryn says, hang on a minute – say that is all you can command initially…

“If you are able to just sock that away because somebody else is paying all the bills, I go into all the numbers in my book but I give an example where a woman who does that from age 45 to age 65 – she would have an additional 500,000 dollars at age 65 for retirement. 500,000 dollars is a lot to turn your nose up at.”

Especially given so many people are living a long, long time after retirement these days.

“You just can’t count on anything. You’ve got to have the insurance policy of always being able to generate of a paycheck – you can dial it up or dial it down, but it’s really very scary to leave the workforce for long periods of time. And you also don’t have to suffer in a big corporate job that’s stressing you out…you know if you are really hard driving you can be hard driving in something that is on your own terms.”

Kathryn Sollmann. Her site is 9 Lives for Women.

I’d be really interested to hear stories from any of you who have deliberately scaled back your career in some way and how that’s turning out. You can leave a comment under this episode at The Broad experience dot com or post on the Facebook page – or email me if you prefer.

And you may have noticed we have some new theme music today. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for ages – I wanted something punchier, more confident sounding. And I’m really happy with the result. The composer is Nick Bullock, who pitched me after listening to some of my shows.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.

 

 

 

Episode 97: Women's Work

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…we talk a lot about women in traditionally male office cultures. But a number of professions are female-dominated and have been for a long time. And they bring their own challenges…

“What the analysis has really showed is there’s just a lower value placed on work done in an occupation with a higher number of women. When women start doing work, that work becomes undervalued and under paid.”

Still, working mostly with members of your own sex can be rewarding in other ways…

All the women I work with have quite a feminist angle to it…we are very aware as a team of the need for women to help eachother and to work together.”

 Coming up – we take a look at the female dominated workplace.    


I spoke to three guests for today’s show. One is a sociologist. Two are listeners on different continents – each of them works largely with other women. Each has things they like about it, and things they wish could change.

We’re gonna start in London.

“My name is Lucie Goulet. I work for a British luxury fashion company and I also run a website called Women in Foreign Policy about gender equality in foreign policy.”

Lucie was born and raised in France. She came to London to go to university and she’s been there ever since. Her site, Women in Foreign Policy – it’s a bit like the Broad Experience in that she took it up on top of her other work because it’s something she’s always been passionate about and wanted to be involved in. Foreign policy of course, is an area with few women – fashion, on the other hand is full of them. And fashion marketing has been Lucy’s day job for six years.

She doesn’t feel comfortable telling tales about her firm. But she points out something that’s common in female-dominated workplaces: you won’t find many women in the top jobs.

“I think it can be frustrating sometimes as women to see a lot of the decision making process still sits with men. There’s a couple of examples in fashion…without speaking directly to my company. I don’t know if you’ve seen The September Issue…which is that documentary about Vogue…Anna Wintour is really powerful and then you watch the September Issue and you realize she answers to the powers that be at Conde Nast. You see her go into a room and All the people in that room are men. I think it’s quite a recurring theme in fashion.”

 And in plenty of other professions as well. We’ll get to the why a little later.

Lucie says one aggravating thing about working in her industry is other people’s attitudes.

AM-T: “You talked about fashion being a field that isn’t taken particularly seriously in general.”

“Yeah, if you go to people, like for instance like I say at the start, I do a lot in foreign policy. And at the beginning when I mentioned I worked in luxury fashion they used to find it very amusing, to think it was a bit of a fad and something --not very serious – but working in marketing and all the things we do you’ve got big stakes involved whether in terms of money, for instance, it’s a really huge company. But I think because it has to do with clothes people have this thinking you can’t be serious and be interested in clothes. You know there was that whole debate in the news earlier this year or last year – I think you had articles that question whether you can be a smart woman and be interested in clothes. That was the gist of it. Even though it’s 2016 and you would hope we have moved away from this, I don’t think we have.”

There’s been a lot written about British prime minister Theresa May and her love of high fashion. And she is one serious woman. If she can’t change that perception I don’t know who can.

Now maybe you’re someone who’s had a bad experience working with other women. It happens. It’s a stereotype about women that they’re nastily competitive at work, undermining, eachother. We’ve talked about this on the show before. But of course that’s not the whole story. I’ve had brilliant experience working with and for other women, and I’ve had bad ones.

AM-T: “It’s your whole career really you’ve been working in this female dominated arena, so maybe you can’t compare it to working with mostly men. But what does it feel like, working with predominantly women? Do you like it, are there things you love about it?”

I like it because I think that all the women I work with have quite a feminist angle to it – for instance I read Feminist Fight Club.”

Feminist Flight Club is a new book by journalist Jessica Bennett.

“And I turned up to the office with it and posted quite a few quotes from it on Instagram. Quite a few colleagues have borrowed it and read it – and I think we are very aware as a team of the need for women to help eachother and work together. I’ve heard some women say women are the worst to work with because they’re really bitchy and undermining to eachother but I haven’t experienced this in a gender way. I think you have people who are like this to eachother,and when they are I think it’s because of their personality not their gender.”

She’s found her female workplace to be very supportive. But she says structural problems remain.

“Fashion as a whole is not the best paying industry. I think part of it has to do with the fact that it’s very in demand and if there are 20 people applying for every job there’s less incentive to pay people incredibly well. Not that I can complain about my salary. But on the whole I think fashion pays less than other industries and for me it goes back to the fact it’s not taken that seriously because it’s a woman-dominated field.”

I wanted to talk about all this with someone who knows the research.

Marianne Cooper is a sociologist, She’s based at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. She’s also the author of a book about inequality in the US called Cut Adrift.

First I asked her about the positive stuff – what are the benefits when women work largely with other women?

“So when women work with units with more women, they report lower levels of gender discrimination and harassment, higher levels of group cohesiveness, coworkers considering them friends, and also strong organizational commitment so commitment to their jobs or their companies and overall lower levels of disagreement and conflict.”

I was interested to hear that part about women being more committed to the job when they work with more women. I wondered why.

“It may be related to when there’s more women working together there is perhaps more social interaction and friendships and things like that, that can – and of course when you’re friends with the people you work with you’re more committed precisely because you’re friends with them.” 

And staying at a job for a long time can be a good thing…but sometimes you need to leave to get to the next stage of your career or up your salary. And all those friendly relationships can hold you back.

Next, Marianne got to the less good stuff – and one of the points Lucie raised.  

“Even in these female dominated occupations often men are still over represented in leadership and it’s even more glaring in those kinds of environments because the staff is largely female.”

AM-T: “Why does that happen?”

“Well, it’s an interesting thing. And what sociologists have pointed out is when men enter female dominated jobs or occupations they experience something that sociologist Christine Williams at University of Texas at Austin – she coined the term the glass escalator…which are invisible pressures that men have to move up in their profession. So when men are in a female dominated occupation, within that occupation there can be roles that are seen as more fitting for a man, such as administrative roles or leadership roles, because we tend to think men are a better fit for those kinds of roles. So men can be encouraged to take that next step to leadership or offered opportunities. Or sometimes even men themselves can experience an internal conflict, a feeling like, ‘I know I’m in a female dominated job and it doesn’t quite fit with who I think I am, and I’m gonna move up into a position that’s more culturally male.’ That’s not explicitly the thought process that a lot of men have but it just feels like the right move. And so that’s how you end up getting these odd situations where in teaching for example where women make up, it’s about 76% of teachers but only half of principles and only a quarter of superintendents.”

AM-T: “Yeah, and I mean, I’ve thought about that a lot and someone wrote to me, she’s been a teacher her whole life said - she’s in younger childhood education.  She said I’d go so far as to say a male who wanted to teach young children is looked at askance. She said, ‘I’ve had a director tell me point blank she wouldn’t hire a male teacher because she didn’t think the parents would like it. Which is so interesting…”

“Sure, and it’s true that just as women can experience gender bias getting into male dominated occupations men can as well, and there’s studies showing – like resume studies, or job application studies, and when men apply for female jobs, particularly in childcare, they don’t get the callback rate that women get and it’s related to our beliefs about what men and women are good at. And women are thought to be good at caretaking and nurturing, and when men do that there’s a suspicion about what their motives may be.”

Last year I read a piece in a business magazine about male nannies in New York – apparently there’s a growing call for them. But they’re still unusual.

Marianne says kids are growing up, seeing men and women doing certain jobs, and they begin to imagine themselves on those same paths.

“But what’s interesting too is how easily jobs can be reinterpreted along gendered lines – and there’s a great book by Robin Leidner, another sociologist, and she studied fast food restaurants, and in some restaurants men were at the stove cooking the hamburgers because it’s kind of a tough job, you might get burned. And in other places women made the hamburgers because women cook. So pretty easily we can gender jobs, most jobs in different ways, depending on what we choose to emphasize and de-emphasize.”


Several listeners have got in touch with me over the years about their work in female-dominated areas. I’ve heard from nurses, teachers, social workers. And one topic they’ve all raised is pay. One woman asked, ‘How do we disentangle the relationship between profession and gender when gender is why the profession started with such a low status?’

I wanted to ask Marianne about this. Now at this point in our conversation we ran into some major technical hurdles. We ended up having to finish our discussion on the phone. So that’s why you’ll hear a difference in voice quality.

“So in general occupations that have a higher number of women, they tend to pay less even when you control for things like education, skill requirements, things like that – what the analysis has really showed is there’s just a lower value placed on work done in an occupation with a higher number of women. So it’s not just that the work inherently should be lower paid – it’s that when women start doing work, a certain kind of work, that work becomes undervalued and under paid, so that kind of analysis has showed that occupations that have gone from more male to more female, you see a decline in pay over time.”

As with teaching, for instance – that began as a male profession and flipped in the 19th century.

She says female-dominated professions are a story of social class and race – and which groups of women have always worked more…

“Women have always worked and the fact that we don’t have that as a cultural narrative just shows the larger belief that women really shouldn’t be working, and they should be just taking care of families and other things. But women have always worked and some groups have always needed to work for economic reasons. But typically because of ideas about men being breadwinners and taking care of their families even when women are doing that work they are not granted that same belief that we should pay them a wage to support the family. And we see that today, there’s the fatherhood bonus. Research has found when evaluators are looking at a resume between a father and a man who’s a non-father, very similar, they’ll give the father the higher salary.  And in contrast when evaluators are looking at resumes of a mom and a woman who doesn’t have children the mom is offered less money – so these beliefs about who works, who contributes money to the family, and who provides, are still bound up with very traditional gender ideologies.”

But again, she says, it’s amazing how quickly we can alter our thinking on this stuff.

“So when we needed women to work in WWII, all of a sudden we had childcare and women could work in factories and all that kind of stuff. And when men came home and needed jobs we stopped thinking that. So the malleability is what’s really interesting because it shows how fast we can really change these things when we want to.”

But perhaps when it comes to one area – caring for others – we’re not so quick to change our ideas. Recently I heard from a woman who works in Silicon Valley – but she’s not developing the latest app. She works in social services, with young people at risk of dropping out of the education system. All her colleagues are women. She says software engineers get paid three times as much as she does, and wonders why her work with other people is so much less valued.

“Care work in general is devalued – caring for people, doing that work of feeding children and caring for the elderly and all of that, it’s devalued work, and people who work in these jobs, they often are getting paid less than everybody else even though it’s the work that keeps our  world and our society going. It’s a big contradiction and any job that is related to caring particularly for children tends not to be valued as much as other kinds of jobs, despite the fact that we know how important it is. So you have people working in preschool and daycare centers who are paid such low wages that even when working full time they are paid barely above poverty wages…so it’s a values system, really.”

 These professions that involve caring for another person in some way – they’re associated with female-ness – with stuff women just do – for free – because we’re women, nurturers. Marianne says the only way she can see that lower pay changing – at least for some of these jobs - as if there were a shortage of workers compared to the numbers of people who need care. But she’s not optimistic there’ll be a revolution in how society sees these roles.

Kailah Carden works at a university on the east coast. She’s a sexual violence prevention educator. She sees her role as very much a caring one. She’s in her late 20s and everywhere she’s worked or studied has been female-dominated.

“My other major was community health, which was also primarily women, and definitely

in women’s studies, in my classes, and in women’s centers, it was really celebrated as being a female space, it was empowering and viewed as something that was positive, and beneficial, and spaces that were different from mixed gender spaces that new and exciting things could come out of.”

Now, though, in her current job, things are starting to feel different. And not in a good way as far as she’s concerned. She says traditionally this area of sexual violence prevention has been full of women – makes sense – but now there’s a lot of pressure to get men involved as allies. And to do that she says everyone’s being urged to lighten up, to make anti-sexual violence discussions less dark, more appealing…she says it’s a tough sell.

“The shift I see at work is that you know, we really need men involved because only men can reach men, men will only listen to other men, and we need to find ways to make this fun and engaging and not heavy and depressing because that’s the only way men will be involved. Whereas I look around the room at myself and my colleagues and I feel very saturated in content that is not fun or engaging or light but it’s work that I feel obligated to do…so it can be frustrating the way it’s framed as an expectation for women to do the heavy emotional lifting around sexual violence, and then lamenting the absence of men but their involvement being much more about them having fun and being engaged in very different way than women are.”

We talked about emotional labor in the last show. Kailah says there’s a lot of it when you work in this realm. And she understands the need to work with men. But she says there’s this whole history of female scholarship and activism in this area, and it feels like it’s being shunted aside.

AM-T: “Moving away slightly the topic of sexual violence…because you’ve worked women’s spaces before…you were telling me when we first spoke that you really enjoy working with a lot of other women. Why?”

“That’s a great question. I do really enjoy working with women, I enjoy women in general. I enjoy a collaborative environment, I enjoy bouncing ideas off other people, I also enjoy not having to have an artificial separation between my personal life and my professional life. I definitely believe the personal is political and I can do better work professionally when I can bring my whole self, including my personal life, including my personal beliefs and opinions into my work, and I’ve often found in female dominated spaces that is something that can happen.”

AM-T: “I mean do you mean just talking about personal stuff in the context of work sometimes?”

“Yeah,  definitely talking about personal stuff, using personal experience to inform the work you’re doing, I think again thinking about care, I do think the ethics of care are really valuable and important in a workplace and often it can be pushed to the side – so I think caring is important, it should be part of our work, I think attending to emotional wellbeing should be part of a professional workplace…and I do find that to be more common when there are women and when women can be in charge and women can set the tone.’

What do you think? If you work with lots of other women does that jibe with your experience? I’d love to hear from you if any of this rings a bell – or if your experience has been quite different from what we’ve talked about today.

As usual you can comment at The Broad Experience.com or on the show’s Facebook page.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. Thanks to Kailah Carden, Marianne Cooper and Lucie Goulet for being my guests on this show.

A big thanks to all those of you who have supported the podcast with a donation or who give a monthly amount. I’m really grateful. I also love hearing from listeners. This is a one-woman show and your support helps keep me going – mentally and otherwise. To donate just go to the support tab at The Broad Experience.com.

I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. 

Episode 96: Burnout

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…

“I think a lot of times what happens with my female clients is they will be on the edge of burnout and feel like they can’t do anything about it because it’s self-indulgent. Or they’ll get to a place where they are burnt out and they’ve already given away their energy to everyone else.”

“I have gotten much more ruthless about proactively avoiding getting to burnout rather than dealing with it once I notice it’s happening.  So I schedule my workouts in, I make sure I see people I care about a certain number of times a week or month.”

Coming up…anyone can burn out at work, but women seem to be doing it faster and younger.


Last year I did a show on women in their twenties. And we talked about the world being so much more competitive than it was when I graduated from college in the early ‘90s. And as I see it, one aspect of the current work world is that these young women with their packed resumes and multiple skills and incredible work ethics...they’re burning out faster than my generation did. They’re getting that don’t-care, can’t-do-it-any more feeling quite young.

I began to talk about this with Dana Campbell. She’s a career strategy and burnout coach. And she came to the work honestly – by burning out. Twice.

The first time she was still in her twenties…

“I was in management consulting at the time and I had just come off of a long string of traveling projects, traveling 5 days a week, working management consulting hours, very long hours, often on weekends…I mean at one point in that stint my then boyfriend said no way can you spend the night here because you received phone calls at 2a.m., 4a.m. and 6a.m.”

But it wasn’t just the insane hours. It was the work she was doing, the fact that at one point everyone was kicked off her team, and she didn’t feel safe either. She didn’t like or respect the people she was working for, or believe in what they were doing any more.

“The term for burnout that I use follows some really long-standing research that talks about it as three symptoms: exhaustion is the first one. The second one is cynicism.   And then the third one is negative self-evaluation. So you take someone who maybe was a high performer or is used to being high performing and all of a sudden it’s like, I can’t do this…”

That’s what happened to her at her next job. She was only working 35 hours a week. But still she had to drag herself into the office. She says she and the company were totally mis-matched.

I told Dana about a listener I heard from recently who said she’s on the edge of burnout. She teaches and does administration at a university. She said she loves her work, but state budget cuts have hit her institution. Everyone is doing more for less. But she says it’s not the extra work that’s running her down. It’s that the administration doesn’t seem to find her work valuable. 

AM-T: She says ‘burnout becomes more of a threat when I feel like I don't belong anymore, and what I do isn't truly valued. That sense of belonging and fit to the large culture seems key.’”

“And if you think about it, right, one of our base human instincts or needs is to belong. And when we feel that we don’t belong it triggers the stress response. We see that as an enormous threat to our safety and to our livelihood.”

True in organizations and society as a whole.

Dana sees these kinds of issues all the time with clients – she has corporate types, yes, but also teachers, even a church choir director.

She sees a mix of men and women, but her clients are mostly women. I pushed her on the gender aspect of burnout…

“So I think there absolutely is a gender component. So when the initial burnout researchers stared doing research, it was all on service-based professionals, so nurses, therapists, people who are really serving, and people have that tendency to want to be in serving fields…so already we have that tendency to wanting to give to others instead of feeding ourselves or putting ourselves first. But the other piece is that new research is proving the connection between burnout and perfectionism – perfectionism being basically the amplifier for your ability to go into a spot of burnout. And women overwhelmingly tend to exhibit – there’s two components to perfectionism, the first being the tendency toward wanting to be a perfectionist, the second is all around how you treat yourself when you aren’t perfect. And it’s that second category where women tend to be mean to ourselves, we tend to beat the hell out of ourselves when we don’t show up perfectly.”

And that’s because we are expected to show up perfectly…to be all feminine things to all people…and a good employee as well.

And that thing of putting everyone else first…

I have a lot of female clients where half of our work is identifying their true needs, and feeling OK with meeting those needs. So I think a lot of times what happens with my female clients is they will be on edge of burnout and feel like they can’t do anything about it because it’s self-indulgent. Or they’ll get to a place where they are burnt out and they’ve already given away their energy to everyone else, they don’t have anything left to turn around and fix themselves, or they just believe it’s wrong. There’s a lot of fear with taking care of themselves. I also have clients who very much live under the do it all label…you know they want to be mothers, to be professionals, to have a social life, and in order to prevent burnout quite often you have to shine a spotlight on one of those areas and downplay it. Meaning you only have limited resources, so at a certain point you have to start diverting resources to take better care of yourself so you don’t burn out.”

That’s exactly what my second guest has done. But it hasn’t come easy.  

Stacy-Marie Ishmael was born and raised in Trinidad. She started her work life in the UK and now lives in the US. She’s in her early 30s and she’s a journalist. If you’ve been listening since the beginning you’ll have heard her on a couple of early shows. Right now she’s on a break from the regular work world – she’s doing a fellowship at Stanford University.

Before that?

 “It was a slightly more stressful environment. I was a news editor at BuzzFeed News and the managing editor for mobile, which meant I was responsible for launching and shipping and running the BuzzFeed news app and the team that managed the BuzzFeed News app and the BuzzFeed News newsletter.”

In short, great colleagues, a lot of pressure, endless deadlines.

AM-T: “It’s my perception that women are burning out younger. A lot of women in 20s and early 30s have already experienced some form of burnout. What do you think? When you speak to your friends and your colleagues what are you seeing and hearing.”

“I think there are a couple of things that are playing into this, which is one, that we are finally out now of a major financial crisis but it’s had some long lasting effects. So people now in their mid- to late 20s, who in another era would consider buying a house for example, have a different understanding and experience of the financial system and in some cases didn’t get the kinds of jobs they thought they’d get, and in a lot of cases are faced by significant amounts of student debt and student loans. And there are all these calculations that are generationally distinct partly because of what was happening in the financial system when they were graduating or getting into their first jobs. I think that’s an underestimated effect that is in fact very stressful – you’re in your late 20s or early 30s, you have these societal expectations that don’t line up with your bank account.  You don’t have a 401k. if you’re in the UK you probably do not have a final salary pension. So that’s what I’ve seen, that people are much more stressed out and have much heavier financial stresses.”

And stress often leads to burnout. The other thing she sees a lot – this misconception so many young women have that you just have to work hard, and better pay and promotions will naturally follow. Spend long enough in the workplace and you realize that is far from true. But most of us don’t start our careers knowing this. After all…

“These are high achieving people who have been conditioned by their parents, by their schools to expect that if they do good work they’ll get rewarded for it and they’re not being rewarded in the same way. And that again is something that’s stressful.”

AM-T: “I imagine that you must have been burned out in your last job, but tell me what’s been your own experience of burnout in the last few years. Have you experienced it? Have you experienced it more than once?”

“My last job was stressful, yes, news is stressful, shipping new things is stressful, building teams is stressful. But I don’t think about burnout in terms of stress. I think of burnout in terms of not prioritizing things I want to do enough. So for me I get burned out when I spend too much time, too many hours, too many mornings and evenings doing things only for other people, only for the team, for other people’s deadlines, and skipping yoga or not running or not being able to see my family because I’m spending all my time at work. Which isn’t always correlated with how stressful that work is…right, there are definitely times you’re in the office till 7p.m. and you’re like, this wasn’t a stressful day, why am I still here? So I’ve really figured out and it took me a while, what the early warning signs are and how I can combat them…but I 1.17 was once so properly burned out it took me several months of spending most of my time learning how to make ketchup to really recover from that. For me the symptoms of burnout are, I’m naturally a very curious person, I like getting things done, I like hitting targets, beating expectations – but when I’m burned out I just stop caring.”

She can’t get motivated by the things that usually galvanize her. We’ll talk more about symptoms and solutions in a minute.


Some people quit when they’re burnt out. The lucky ones can quit without anything to go to, others seek another job. But Stacy is skeptical that leaving your job is the answer.

“I don’t think that quitting a job is a solution to burnout.  I think people quit jobs for other reasons. I mean sometimes your preferences change, the country you want to live in changes, your family circumstances change – because unless you figure out how to deal with burnout as a concept, as a thing, it doesn’t matter what job you’re doing.

So let’s say you work in a media industry, tech, advertising, you think that your burnout is related to your industry, sometimes that’s true, so you maybe switch job, but unless you’ve developed the coping mechanisms to identify what does it feel like to be burned out, why do I feel like this, what can I do about it? – it doesn’t matter what you are doing, it will happen to you again …unless you maybe quit and take up professional surfing…so I have gotten much more ruthless about proactively avoiding getting to burnout rather than dealing with it once I notice it’s happening.  So I schedule my workouts in, I make sure I see people I care about a certain number of times a week or month, I say no to a lot of stuff because I know if I say yes to too many things in a week I fall into this hole of exhaustion that makes other things harder, and that is a more effective strategy both short-term and long-term, than waiting till I can’t go to work any more and then I’m like ugh, I’m done.”

 She says quitting a job just like that is a luxury, and it is. But as Dana said earlier, there’s also the feeling a lot of us have that we can’t give up on something…no matter how exhausted, cynical or negative we may feel…

“There is a part of my brain I suppose that hears my parents’ voice being, like, suck it up. And so I don’t think I allowed myself to stop doing something just because I was burnt out. I think I only allowed myself to stop doing something when a number of other conditions had been met.”

 That talk about quitting raised the question of options, or the lack of them.

AM-T: “We talk about this as if…the context in which it is discussed is generally the context of educated professionals, and having just produced a show on class, if you’re working in a factory doing the same thing for 30 years you may be burnt out but you’re not necessarily going to be able to do anything about it the same way somebody else who earns $100,000 a year might be able to.”

“For sure. There’s a lot of things tied up in this. It’s not just about the financial resources about doing it, it’s about the societal perception of doing it. In the same way creative professionals like to tell themselves oh I’m so busy, like it’s a status marker. We think of burnout as a status marker. We think about stress as a status marker. We think about complaining about how many meetings you’re in as a proxy for, well, you must be busy and important. And sometimes that just means you’re a bad manager and you don’t know how to delegate. But these are the kinds of stories professionals like to tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better about how we’ve chosen to spend our lives, but they don’t have anything at all on their face to do with why people get burned out and the context in which that might happen.”

And speaking of context, when Stacy got burnt out in her last job, she says it was tied to the amount of emotional labor she put in on a daily basis. Something a lot of you will probably recognize.

“One of my responsibilities as manger is making sure my team is OK, and making sure my team is ok is doing a lot of that kind of emotional work which gets exhausting – and that is something female mangers are expected to do at much higher rate and more profoundly than men in most contexts.”

AM-T: “Yeah, that’s really interesting, I’d love you to tell me a story, can you just pick one example, can you actually tell a story…”

“Yeah, I mean 2015, 2016 is a super tough time in news, right? You’ve had the Paris attacks, attacks on Brussels, you had the EU referendum by the UK, you had a really, really ugly campaign that started in the primaries where a republican debate would include jokes about genitalia size…it was just a very unpleasant environment for people having to write about these things all the time. And if you are in a newsroom and you’re from say an under-represented minority, so say you are a Muslim reporter, and you are seeing a significant uptick in anti-Islam sentiment based on some of these news events, and you’re running the social media channels…and people are saying ugly things on social that you have to moderate and are responsible for, or you just have to read in your job, that is horrifying experience.

And one of my responsibilities as a manager and news editor is to realize there are people on my team who are disproportionately affected by the kinds of things that we have to cover, by the kinds of things we need to send push notifications about, and to build in time to sit with those people and say look, I know this is hard for you, are there specific things I can help you with, are there kinds of stories you need a break from? Do you need this afternoon off? Talk to me, what’s going on? And that’s something I had to do a lot.”

 And some readers of her weekly newsletter, Awesome Women – we noticed when she was feeling overwhelmed. It came out in what she wrote. She says that’s the great thing about doing the newsletter – readers are often better than she is at recognizing when she’s pushing herself too hard.

“And so sometimes, and you’ve definitely done this, like if I write a newsletter and it seems like I’m really stressed out, I’ll get a bunch of email saying you need to take a break, have you gone to yoga this week?” [laughs]

AM-T: “That’s why I thought of you for this show, because that sounded like a great job you stepped into but boy did it ever sound stressful and taxing.”

“Yeah, and that’s the key thing, you know. I have extremely high achieving friends who are running big things and saving lives who rarely get burned out because they are so much better than I am at taking care of themselves…and setting up situations where they don’t have to take care of those around them all the time. And then I have friends who are in jobs that on their face are much less stressful. One is a jewelry designer, and she’s burned out constantly. Because she is much less good at saying no to things and at recognizing when it’s time to take a break. So despite what people in, with the C suite titles would like to tell themselves, it’s not so much how important you are, how much you get paid, or how many people report to you, that is the primary determinant of whether you get burned out. It’s mostly what are your coping mechanisms and what do you do once you recognize that you have a problem.”

Stacy-Marie Ishmael. Problem recognized.

Thanks to her and Dana Campbell for being my guests on this show.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time.

You can give feedback on this episode at The Broad Experience.com or on the show’s Facebook page. I’d love to hear if any of this resonates with your experience.

And if you haven’t reviewed the show on iTunes and you have a few spare minutes it would mean a lot to me if you did. Reviews help the show gain notice and I could always do with more listeners.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. See you next time. 

 

 

 

Episode 95: Better in Scandinavia

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success.  I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

 This time, America may not have elected a female head of state. But most Scandinavian countries have. And these countries have excellent reputations for gender equality. 

“This is something that’s talked about in the government and then it’s talked about down to the pre-school or school level – and then amongst parents.”

But despite that, the number of women in senior roles isn’t that different from the US.

 “Actually more women do have a good education but still we see the problem that it’s men who are getting the highest salaries.”

Coming up – we take a look at life for working women in the Nordic countries.


I live in the workaholic US. Hours are long, parental leave is often non-existent, and good, affordable childcare can be hard to find. And during the years I’ve been doing the show I’ve often thought enviously about women in Scandinavia. They seem to have it so good – there’s the state-funded childcare, the shorter working week, what seems like a huge number of men who take an active part at home. It sounds great. These countries usually top lists of best places to be a working woman.

But here’s the paradox: despite this wonderful approach to work/life balance, few women in Scandinavia are in positions of power, especially in the private sector.

You could say that doesn’t matter – after all these societies are so much more equal than many others. Working class women are far better off in the Nordic countries than they are in America. Still, I wanted to probe a bit more.  So I got in touch with three professional women in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

Bronwyn Griffith is a curator at a contemporary art museum in Stockholm – it’s called Magasin III (three). She’s American by birth but she’s lived abroad for years. First she was in France, and for the last 11 years she’s been in Sweden. Her husband is Swedish and they have two kids, a 13–year-old boy and a 10-year old girl. Her husband is a musician. She says they live in one of those former working class neighborhoods that’s now full of artists and writers.

We began our conversation on Skype. She can’t imagine working and bringing up kids in the US, after living in Sweden…

“Childcare is heavily subsidized for example, healthcare is heavily subsidized, so some of these things stress out my friends in the US aren’t there. A lot of women are working fulltime.”

Including her. And this is largely because they need to – Sweden and its neighbors have generous welfare states but they are funded by high taxes. Governments want as many people as possible to work and pay into the system. Most families need two incomes to keep up their households.

Bronwyn says equality is in the air here. There’s a real attempt to erase gender bias. She says her kids’ school holds meetings where the parents all discuss attitudes to gender in the classroom. They talk about how the school can prevent boys and girls getting siphoned off into different groups with different activities.

Sweden has introduced a new gender-free pronoun so people can avoid using ‘he’ or ‘she’.

So that’s what’s going on in public. But when it comes to men and women, old attitudes and expectations linger in private…

“It’s common for both people in the couple to cook, both do laundry, those things are evenly divided, but there are certain things that still default to the mothers consistently: buying birthday presents, booking doctors’ appointments, setting up playdates is often still on the mother, and those all take time and organization and energy away from other things – it’s outside of the workplace but it still relates because it’s what you do during the evenings when you come home after a long day’s work or on the weekend…”

AM-T: “When you say mothers, are you including yourself in this? Are you saying YOU do the doctors’ appointments, and…”

“Yup! [laughs] We’re working on it, it’s an ongoing discussion – and you know, it’s clothes that the children have outgrown, and giving away those things, sometimes it’s just not on my husband’s radar, he’s wonderful about sharing other tasks but it’s an ongoing conversation. I feel like I’ve had a minor victory today. He sent out the birthday invitation to our daughter’s birthday party. So he’s gonna be, you know, he had to look for all the email addresses and he’ll be sorting through all the RSVPs, and that for me was a small liberation.”

Still, she admits some of who does what – that comes down to her being able to let her husband take it on. To delegate. To give up control.

She’s working on that as well. She says her husband sometimes tells her he wishes he could slow her brain down. He says she can’t relax, she’s always planning the next thing they have to do, or making some kind of list.

“And that it’s’ important to be able to wind down and have those empty moments and not feel you have to constantly fill it. That’s something that you see here, they call it, there’s something, they called it in Swedish - to hit the wall, when people are getting burned out. It’s actually a medical diagnosis here, and it’s mostly women I know who have got this diagnosis, where they’re so stressed the doctor thinks they’re showing medical signs of being too stressed and so then they get put on sick leave to have time to rest up and re-coup. But most doctors think it’s because women are going on all fronts. They’re working really hard and fulltime, and then they’re trying to be the perfect mother and have the perfect home. There’s a lot of pressure here to have very tidy, very stylishly decorated homes, and all of that takes energy. There’s also a phrase here called to be a good girl – you’re a perfectionist, you’re trying the very hardest to be the best at everything you’re involved in.”

What Bronwyn says about homes is worth dwelling on for a minute. Because women in the Nordic countries don’t outsource housework the way a lot of people do in America or Britain. Professional couples in those countries often have a cleaner or a nanny, or both. But in Scandinavia with its high taxes, help with the house is seen as one expense too many. Research on the Nordic countries shows women still take on the vast majority of housework. And that leaves less time for a career.

Bronwyn recently took a stand on a domestic matter – preparation for the school bake sale. An email goes out to all the parents saying, ‘Let’s do this – who’s in?’

“When the email thread starts it’s nearly always a mother who initiates it and it’s a conversation between the mothers. And recently when this happened I got really irritated about it because I noticed all the fathers were on the thread and not responding. And all the mothers were saying oh, I can bake this, I can stand between 2 and 4. And none of the fathers were bothering to respond at all. So at home with my husband we got into a heated conversation about it. I said you’re also on this thread, you haven’t answered. It doesn’t seem fair that if I haven’t answered I feel like a neglectful mother, but with men, you don’t seem like you need to deign it with a response…your partner’s taking care of it, and you know, you’re gonna bake and you’re gonna respond, and we’ll see what happens. I bet some fathers will respond. And so he did, he wrote and said I will be happy to contribute, I can bake, and within two minutes two other fathers answered.”

AM-T: “Wow, that’s telling.”

“It is, and so often we say you need to talk about girls standing up for themselves but you do also need to talk to the boys. It’s so much what you model at home. The kids also really pick up on the fact that, if dad’s making dinner a lot they know dad also makes dinner. Or if the dad is picking them up from school or whatever. So they see that becomes the norm – not the lip service that we’re equal but because they see us living according to those principles.”

My next guest would agree. She lives outside Oslo, the Norwegian capital.

“My name is Katrine Gjaerum – my last name is a bit challenging for Americans I guess.”

AMT: “That is true.”

 “Yar-um, you can say.”

Katrine is a videographer. She started her own business several years ago.

 “I do everything from shooting, or planning shooting, and publishing, and also I do the marketing for people afterwards.”

And it wasn’t easy, starting a business. Entrepreneurship isn’t common among Norwegian women. She didn’t qualify for any subsidies to get her started. And Katrine’s female friends were quite negative about her choice.  

“I didn’t get very much support I must say. I didn’t because we have here in Norway...a kind of law, the law of ‘you shall not think that you are something.’

In other words, you shall not think you’re anything special – you mustn’t show off. Which is a bit tricky if you’re going into business for yourself. And of course the total opposite of the American attitude to entrepreneurship.

“We’re taught up to be kind of humble and you know, don’t put yourself first. But I think it’s stepping forward here at least amongst entrepreneurs in Norway it is…they’re looking at American online courses – I’m doing that myself. And I think it’s stepping out of your comfort zone that really does get you forward.”

 She did that in a big way when she set out to create her business in 2012. Her career had been up and down before that. She and her husband have twin girls -- they’re 14 now. And when she had them she took advantage of the maximum parental leave on offer for two kids.

She was working in the public sector when she became a parent; it was mainly an administrative role with some IT support thrown in…

“I’m glad I got the chance to stay with them for such a long time. I had them with me till they were 3 years old…I still kept my job, I kept the position at that job in the public section then but I couldn’t choose when I came back after three years, I couldn’t choose my tasks, so they put me to work on the switchboard at that time.”

It wasn’t ideal. She had a degree in a computer-related field. Still she was struggling just to get herself and the twins into Oslo each day, find parking, put them into daycare and then do the whole thing in reverse. Ultimately she quit to pursue another degree in digital media. She landed another part-time job during that time. Quite a few women in Norway work part-time.

AM-T: “Norway has this great participation rate. Women’s participation rate in the workforce is 75% of women are in the workforce. Which again is much greater than many other western countries. I mean how does that feel? Are you proud of that? Are there any compromises that come with that, with having a lot of women in the workforce? Are these satisfying jobs? Were you satisfied?”

“Yes and no. I think it’s great to have such a large amount of women in work but of course it’s a paradox because you mentioned part-time work, and it’s like me, that wasn’t, in the long run it wouldn’t have been satisfying but of course would give more flexibility, and the other thing is that, in what kind of work do we find the women? It’s mostly in very women-oriented work, – like teachers, nurses. I think that should be balanced even better.”

This is common across the Scandinavian countries – men work in typically male jobs, women in typically female ones – there’s less gender balance in professions than in many other countries. Women flock to the public sector with its generous benefits, but lower pay.

“And also it’s hard to get the top job, we can see more women have a good education, but still we see the problem that it’s men who are getting the highest salaries, and that’s kind of the struggle we have here, but how do you find the balance? I mean you want to spend time with your kids. What we are fighting a lot about here now is the fathers should also stay at home more with the kids.”

Fathers do have a quota of 10 weeks’ parental leave – if they don’t take it, it’s subtracted from the overall leave the couple can share. But what happens most often is they take the 10 weeks and go back to work. The mother takes many months more.

Still Katrine appreciates her country’s investment in early childcare and its parental leave policies – a lot. She says yes, it all helps keep women in work, and it keeps the fertility rate from plunging like it has in countries like Italy. But there’s more than that…

“Actually it has led to…the number of divorce has gone a little bit down in Norway – because if you take care of your family it is better for all the parts. I think it’s better for both men and women and keeping families together should be something that must be interesting for the countries because then it’s better stability.”

Norway’s childcare system seems to have long-term benefits as well. I was at a panel on universal childcare last week. We heard from an economist with Norway’s official statistics body…she said kids who have been through the Norwegian state-funded system pursue more education and earn more later in life. 

Bronwyn Griffith has only good things to say about Sweden’s childcare system. She says it’s fantastic care and it’s affordable. You’re charged based on your income and if you use your state child benefit as well, you can pay as little as $40 a month for daycare. That includes food and diapers.

As for parental leave, she did take most of it. A full year. Her husband took two and a half months.

“I know in some couples, there were some couples who have had long conversations about who gets to be at home with the child…because both parents really want to do it. And I have a number of colleagues, male colleagues who took 6 months to be at home with their child and they were very determined about that, there was absolutely no discussion that they were not going to have those 6 months off. And I think that it allows the father to have a really nice relationship with their child.”

But some outsiders don’t recognize that relationship when they see it. Bronwyn has a friend who works at another museum in Stockholm. And a group of Italian curators was in town, and she was showing them around to exhibitions…

“….one of the Italian curators leaned over to her and said, what is it with all these gay nannies? Because there were all of these men walking around with prams. And they thought these were gay nannies instead of the fathers of the children that were on parental leave. It was really funny.”


My next guest lives in Copenhagen. Lynn Roseberry qualified as a lawyer in the US. She met her Danish husband at Harvard Law School. 22 years ago she followed him to Denmark and she’s been there ever since. She’s just wrapping up a longtime job as a professor at Copenhagen Business School. She’s about to go into business for herself as a diversity consultant.

AM-T: “One of the things I think is so interesting about the Scandinavian countries, and I did want to ask you about this, is I know that the number of women in these top jobs…in these kinds of professions, like law and finance, aren’t any higher in Denmark, Sweden or Norway than they are in the states. And I wonder why you think that is?”

“That is so ironic. I think there are lots of reasons. The very general reason is that in Denmark it seems to me the conversation about gender and careers stopped in the 70s. And there’s an assumption we are all equal now and everyone has the same opportunities, and if women aren’t progressing into the upper reaches of the hierarchy that’s because of their own choice. Of course you have some of that in the States too but it’s my impression there is still quite a bit of conversation around it, and that there are women who find ways of progressing -- and it also seems to be especially in well paying positions, which is what all of these are, it’s quite acceptable to hire fulltime nannies, live-at-home nannies, and that’s not quite acceptable here.

It’s certainly more expensive to hire a nanny in Denmark. But the other thing is the social piece…

"It’s that there are some women who look down their noses at women who don’t pick up their kids early from daycare, and don’t bake, and don’t do all the kinds of things you’re supposed to do to show you’re involved with your kids, and this is a standard that applies to women.”

A standard many women strive to meet. And she says there’s another thing - corporate Denmark has blinders on. 

“Companies here have been very slow to take up diversity management and practices; they hardly want to talk about it…”

AMT: “Really?”

“Yeah, you raise hackles when you start talking about it. So you can ask me why am I doing this business with inclusion and diversity consulting. But I mean there are – the companies that are active in doing something with diversity and inclusion are the big multinationals that have headquarters in the States.”

Which is so interesting to me. That American women look at Denmark and its neighbors as beacons of equality…but Danish companies are actually lagging American ones on trying to pull more women up.  

AMT: “Given so much of the discussion here in the US does revolves around the lack of affordable childcare, the fact the system in the US simply isn’t geared around people having families. Politicians give lots of lip service to family being the most important thing but America is all about work, work, work…now Britain is better but I still hear a lot of complaints and concerns about the cost of childcare in Britain and it’s still a more workaholic culture than many of its neighboring counties. Given that Denmark has taken care of this huge slice, which is the childcare part, what are some of the things you think are hampering the advance of women into these higher roles?”

“I think it’s our socialization. The anxiety that gets provoked when you deviate just a little bit from gender roles and gendered behavior. It triggers anxiety and criticism. So you tend to choose the path of least resistance. You have to be really goal-oriented and committed to put up with that. And just not care about it.”

AM-T: “And I think, is it worth saying because it’s something I’ve noted a little bit on my visits to Denmark and talking to a good friend of mine in Denmark…it is quite a conformist society isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. I’ve lived in a small town in the US and I compare it to that. Denmark is a very small country. People don’t move around very much, so in the little town I came from people didn’t move around much either…I mean there were people who were born and raised there and couldn’t dream of leaving. And it’s the same thing here. There were very definite expectations of how you behave, and if you don’t, you feel it. You feel there is some kind of social sanction and there’s a tremendous pressure to confirm. And that’s how it is here.”

Now of course there are some high profile women executives in Denmark, including the head of Microsoft Denmark. Presumably they don’t bake much or make it to the school gates by 4.30. And for four years until 2015 the country had a female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt. She formed a coalition government with two other parties.

“They were all headed up by women. And then the PM chose several women to be ministers. And suddenly everyone was talking about how women were taking over and we didn’t have to worry about women in government any more because look, we have all these women at the top – and now it’s just flipped.”

She says the current government has far fewer women ministers.  

I wondered if the former prime minster championed women’s progress…

 AMT: “Did she ever speak about these kinds of things or was she one of the women who just wanted to shut up about the whole thing?”

“Well that was one of the big disappointments of that government. They went into government – one of their promises was they were going to introduce earmarked paternity leave, so right now it’s not earmarked for men. Moms and dads have to split it but that can split it however they want to or they don’t have to split it.  Women can take all the leave if they want, and that is what most of them do. They went into government with this promise and they completely dropped it. And the person she appointed to be the gender equality minister was so unknowledgeable about all of this, I heard him speak a number of times. He was probably one of the least impressive ministers in the government… on the gender thing he was completely without a clue. There was some survey at some point that women suffer more from stress than men…taking care of kids, house, job, they’re stressing out totally, and he came out and said publicly ‘well, it’s just a question of prioritizing – sometimes you just can’t go to Yoga.’ [Laughs]. This was our gender equality minister!”

AMT: “How did that go down?”

“Under Helle Thorning-Schmidt. She had nothing to say about this, she just let him say these things. The impression most of us who are interested in this got was that she didn’t want to get too far into this because it wasn’t a popular position. It’s not regarded as important, not regarded as strategically important. So that just got sacrificed for political reasons.”

Pop culture isn’t always that evolved either. A few years ago Danish public television aired a show where men studied and critiqued a naked woman’s body. The woman had to stand there silently while the guys offered comments. The show’s creator said Danish society needed this…

“He thought that we need to, sort of like Justin Timberlake’s song, we had to get sexy back. And for him sexy means men admiring women’s bodies and men being manly and this was part of being masculine.”

It sparked plenty of outrage. But Lynn says the fact it made it to air tells you the whole equality thing – it’s not quite as ingrained as you might think in Denmark.

“So, you know, we’re a progressive backward country…or a backward progressive country, I don’t know.”

Lynn Roseberry. She’s the co-author of a book called Bridging the Gender Gap. Thanks to Lynn, Katrine Gjaerum and Bronwyn Griffith for being my guests on this show. 

If you’re listening to this in one of the Nordic countries and you have something to add I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me via the show’s website or on Twitter at ashleymilnetyte – without the hyphen. Or you can leave a comment under this episode at The Broad Experience dot com.

That’s the Broad Experience for this time. Thanks to all those of you who have supported this one-woman show with one-off donations or monthly donations. If you’d like to join them go to The Broad Experience.com and hit the support tab on the homepage.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. See you next time.  

Episode 94: Class and Career

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time, career and class. Because even if we don’t talk about it…

“It absolutely is clearly a part of how people think about themselves, how people understand eachother and as our study showed, how people get ahead or don’t.”

And having a different background from everyone else at work can leave you feeling isolated…

“The people that I deal with now, they’ve probably never met anyone from where I grew up. They probably would live their whole lives and would never meet anybody like I was when I was a young child.”

Coming up…social mobility is possible, especially with a good education. But what’s it like when your career and your background don’t match?

Julie O’Heir works for an adult education program at a university in the American Midwest. She wrote to me a couple of months ago and said have you ever thought about doing a show on being in the professional world when you come from a working class background? She said a lot of her colleagues had a toolkit for the workplace that she didn’t, because of her upbringing…  

“My mother was a teacher at a Catholic school and my dad worked for a construction company. And most people in the area I grew up in in the Midwest were either police officers or firemen.”

The women were crossing guards, teachers, nurses, or they pieced together part-time jobs around looking after their kids. When Julie’s mother retired, she was earning less than 30 thousand dollars a year.

But Julie and her siblings were able to go to college. And when she got there she found herself surrounded by students who had their own cars, credit cards…

“I had to work my entire time at university and that’s when I found you miss out at college if you have to work. I could not take an unpaid internship, I couldn’t spend an extended period of time volunteering. You know when it came to the end of college and I was trying to figure out what the next steps are I thought it might be hard to get a professional reference because I never had a job where I wasn’t waiting tables or dong service-oriented work.”

AM-T: “Before we go on I want to dial back to what you said about how you grew up because a lot of people I think would say teaching, nursing, being a firefighter or a cop, that those were middle class professions.”

“I definitely understand that perspective. I guess I mean more culturally. Aside from nurses I guess, but most firefighters I knew, police officers, didn’t have college degrees. My mom had a degree from a teaching college, my dad didn’t have a degree – what I mean more is I didn’t know anyone who had developed a profession. I didn’t know any lawyers, doctors, university professors, anyone who was an accountant. People who had gone to school for a specific profession outside of a vocation.”

And she says not coming from that world left her with a knowledge gap. She says she just didn’t realize until she’d been in academia for a while that there was so much invisible stuff involved in having a career – take the idea of professional development…

“Things that are part of your job – or, perhaps a better way of talking about it would be networking. It took me a very long time to understand what networking is and why you would do it. Part of that was, culturally growing up if someone is a police officer you just apply to be a police officer.”

There was none of this business of courting people over drinks in a cacophonous hotel conference room. It took a question from her boss one day to make her realize she was missing something.

“My supervisor and I were at a conference, and we had been there a couple of days and he said ‘what kind of connections are you making?’ And I had no idea what he was talking about. And I thought, oh, we’re just all here talking about the fact we all do the same type of higher education work. It didn’t make sense to me to think oh, these people have been in my profession for a long time, and …I could very much learn things from them in the workplace. Those kind of things didn’t cross my mind.”

Like a lot of people she recoiled from the idea of networking at first.

“It feels very much like self-promotion, and…the reason I say there’s a connection to class is I think when I was much younger perhaps in high school or early days in college I thought it was like you were sucking up to someone, and that went against every cultural norm that I knew. And I’ve always thought that was related to class. Maybe it’s an American thing or maybe it’s a universal thing. But now I know it’s about inviting them into your professional life…but you know, trying to build a vocabulary for your work skills or professional goals, that takes time for everyone, but if you didn’t know about that type of vocabulary then just trying to define everything is much more difficult.”

Sometimes she feels her vocabulary is off. She says she didn’t know talking about money – or the lack of it – wasn’t done in academic circles. But whenever she’s brought money up, she says people go quiet. She doesn’t do it any more.

There are still work occasions when she squirms.

“If it is a professional happy hour, a networking event with a social piece to it, I am very uncomfortable in those situations because I think that…For example, a few months ago I was out with some faculty members at the university and I was the only staff person there. Politics came up and I mentioned how my brother and my brother-in-law, both are in different trade unions, and how those unions were having disagreements about which presidential candidate to back, and the faculty member I was talking to said oh, are they in a teachers’ union? And I said no, one is an insulator, the other is a building engineer. And she said ‘Oh, I’ve never met someone whose union was not a teacher’s union.’”

Julie had grown up with men in unions, men who worked with their hands. And this woman didn’t know anyone who did that kind of thing?

She could feel this weird imposter syndrome swimming over her, that feeling of not belonging, of not being quite up to par.

AM-T: “I mean did she seem amused, bemused? I’m just curious, I mean I wonder how she felt versus about how you felt.”

“I don’t know – I think this is another professional difference. She seemed very good at keeping it a low emotional conversation whereas I wanted to say how do you not know anyone in a union? I was much more interested in her experience. But she just seemed very surprised – like, oh, it’s so interesting that you would know someone like that. And I thought, I think it’s interesting I know all these people who have PhDs now.”

She’s 32 now and she says she is getting more comfortable in this rarified world. And she feels lucky to have had such a good education herself, including graduate school. At the moment a quarter of her salary goes to paying off her student loans. But she says it could be worse.

My next guest has a PhD himself. Daniel Laurison is a professor of sociology at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Before that, he spent three years at the London School of Economics doing research on class and inequality in the UK.

And I couldn’t do a show about class without talking about Britain.

AM-T: “First of all, before we talk about the study you did with Sam Friedman, you are an American and you plunged into British society – to what extent to you think Britain is still a place where class matters?”

“Oh, I think it absolutely matters in Britain, it matters in the US as well. People say it’s less obvious or less overt here and I think that’s true but it’s clearly a part of how people think about themselves, how people understand eachother and as our study showed, how people get ahead or don’t.”

Daniel and his LSE colleague Sam Friedman did this study on people in high-status professions like law, medicine, and finance – and they looked at their backgrounds.  

“We were interested in the question of how much class origin matters for the success of people who have been what sociologists call upwardly socially mobile – for people who have gotten into high status professional or managerial jobs but who come from working class backgrounds, are they at any disadvantage or once they enter those professions or does class go away? Are they just like everybody else?”

What they found suggests class doesn’t entirely go away. They examined labor force data that showed what these high-status employees’ parents did for a living back when the employees  were 14 – they used that information to determine class origin. Then they looked at what these employees were earning now as adult lawyers, doctors and so on.

“There’s a 17% difference between working class origin people and privileged origin people in these top jobs. When you control for everything you can control for in these models that difference gets smaller, but it’s still about 9 or 10% in annual earnings.”

So people who now worked in high status jobs, but had grown up with less privileged backgrounds - they were earning less than their peers who’d grown up with professional parents. Or as a British newspaper put it when the research was published last year, ‘it pays to be posh at work.’

There’s a gender piece to this too. And remember ‘long range upwardly mobile’ means a person from a household where the parents did low skilled jobs…

“If you just look at women versus women and men versus men, the gaps were about the same, but if you look at long range upwardly mobile women versus men from privileged backgrounds, the gap is about twice as big, right, because they have both a gender pay gap and a class origin pay gap.”

So what Daniel and his co-author call the class ceiling seems to be that bit higher for women. They’re now doing follow-up research and interviews to find out more about why these income gaps exist.

But what about America? He says no one has done an identical study here, but similar studies and books have come to similar conclusions.

AM-T: “What do you think the difference or differences are in attitudes to class in the US versus the UK?”

“I think the big difference is it’s subtler here in the US. We read people’s class when we interact with them but we’re less aware that we’re doing it. And we’re less explicit about it with eachother and with ourselves. In the UK as you well know, you know an awful lot about someone when they open their mouth based on their accent. Their accent ties people to regions and to a fairly large extent as I understand it, ties people to class origins as well. In the US it’s not quite so cut and dried, you know, America more or less from its founding has had a myth of being a pure meritocracy where class doesn’t matter at all. That stems from the fact that we got here and nobody was a noble...so there was some difference in how much class there was. But there have still always been differences in the amount of economic resources people have and cultures they have and all the things that come together to advantage people or disadvantage people.”

Add race, and class acquires another layer of complexity. 

Denise McKenzie is a patent lawyer at an international law firm. She’s based in LA. She’s in her fifties now and she’s been a lawyer for about 20 years. She grew up in Los Angeles too, but in very different circumstances from most of her colleagues.

Denise has a packed schedule so I got her on the phone between meetings.

“I am the first person in my family to go to college. My mom was a teenage mom—she had her first child at 15 and she had me at 17. And my dad was a technician. He worked with engineers. His big thing was getting me into math and science. He wanted me to be a scientist or engineer because those are the people he worked with and admired. So when I was little he’d make flash cards for me to teach me my math facts.”

She worked hard, did well at school and got into UCLA. She commuted an hour and a half each way to the university and back and held a job on top of her studies. She majored in mathematics and electrical engineering.

“And I ended up working at Hughes Aircraft as an engineer in their missile design group.”

Hughes Aircraft was a big defense contractor. Denise had met her dad’s expectations – and her own. She was now an engineer.

AM-T: “So from the get-go when you began in your first career, were there feelings of discomfort, how did it go?”

“Well my feelings of discomfort started when I went to UCLA – I went to an inner city school and that school didn’t really prepare me for what I was getting into, especially not for math and science. So when I went to UCLA I was in my calculus class – and at that time it was between 350 to 400 students in the class. I was so confused in that class…even though I’d been top at my high school…I had done everything at my high school, student council, top grades, I was a cheerleader, I was one of the best people. At UCLA in my calculus class I was so confused I didn’t even know how to ask a question, that’s how confused I was. I felt like a total failure.”

She was overwhelmed. But UCLA offered resources to students from less privileged backgrounds. They put her in touch with a tutor.

“I get a tutor in every class, I worked day and night and actually I didn’t do that well, my first quarter I did very poorly. The school sent me a letter and said get your grades up or you’re not gonna be able to go here. And I was devastated because from my home, from my school I was this best person who was supposed to be successful, and I just really was not prepared.”

But she kept at it, and the work did eventually pay off. She graduated and landed that engineering job. Still, she often felt ill at ease at work. A) she was an African-American woman among many white and Asian men. She says they really didn’t know how to talk to her. But the other thing was she didn’t know how to navigate this new environment. Take her first performance reviews.

“It was just very awkward, I just didn’t know how to handle myself. I didn’t know how to…I mean I should have been selling myself, telling them all the stuff that I achieved, and I didn’t do that. I didn’t do any of that.”

Because she didn’t know she was supposed to. Now it didn’t help that the person reviewing her was a man who wouldn’t even look her in the eye. And that she already felt like the odd one out.

“I just looked very different, right.  There’s no one there like me. And that’s even now, to be quite frank – when people meet me they’re just kind of shocked.”

And for Denise this is where it all gets mixed up – is she being judged on her gender, her background, her race, or all three? She is a true minority in her current workplace too. A black woman among many white men in a highly specialized area of law. She says few lawyers have her background in engineering technology.

But some people can’t seem to get past the surface. She tells the story of one encounter. She was meeting with another lawyer about a case. He was sitting opposite her, and she started to feel self-conscious…

“He kept staring at me and I kept thinking is something wrong with my clothing…I just felt very odd because he kept staring at me. And he said, the judge in our case, she’s just like you. And I didn’t know what he meant…I said, oh, is she an engineer and a lawyer? And he said no, she’s just like you in every way. And he said, she’s black, and I think if we put you on the case maybe you could talk to her because she doesn’t understand technology. And I was just so shocked that he said that and he said you know, she’s in Oakland, (which is an inner city area in California). I was so shocked he said this because he was not saying it in a mean way, he’s not a mean person, this was just what he was thinking. We were talking about very complex technical matters and I realized he was not really listening to what I was saying about the technology, he was focused on what I looked like, and who I was, an African-American woman. I really didn’t know that people focused on that first and almost solely.”

AM-T: “And what did you say in response?”

“Well what I said was I most judges, whether they are African-American or not, don’t understand technology – I said she’s just like every other judge, you know, she doesn’t need me to explain something to her. That’s what I said to him.”

He laughed – perhaps nervously. She’s not sure if he got it. And the incident made her feel so isolated – again.

She says in her world of corporate law virtually everyone she comes into contact with has parents who were white professionals…

“Some of the them the parents were lawyers, you know, doctors, so not just professionals but highly paid professionals, a lot of them went to private high schools and just had a different type of upbringing than I had. They had traveled the world more than I had. So in that situation, when you’re having a conversation, just a regular informal conversation, I felt excluded…not necessarily because they were intentionally excluding me, but because I couldn’t contribute to the conversation, if that makes sense.”

Daniel Laurison says that experience is common…

“Sam Friedman who’s my co-author on a lot of these studies has done a lot of research showing how much people feel out of place when have been long range upwardly mobile and how painful that can be for people, even if they’re simultaneously also happy with the job they’ve got, the career they’ve had, the opportunities to give to their children. A big part of what happens when people have long range social mobility is they end up in places that don’t feel comfortable to them and the norms are different from what they’re used to, the things people chat about are different, and it’s not through any fault of theirs, it’s just that the whole culture is so is dominated by people from privileged backgrounds who tend to have somewhat their own culture.”

“The people that I deal with now, they’ve probably never met anyone from where I grew up. They probably live their whole lives and would never meet anybody like I was when I was a young child. I myself only see people like that when I would look at my family. And it’s because I work a lot, and the world I’m in, it’s like it’s parallel to the world where I grew up in, it just doesn’t cross.”

AM-T: “How does that feel?”

“Well it’s, um…it’s not a good feeling because I often feel like an outsider. I feel like an outsider for a variety of reasons, a lot because I’m African-American, I’m a woman and working in an all- white male career, but then also from the people I grew up with as well. Because I’m different now, I’m different than them, we’ve had completely different experiences, and really it’s hard to relate. I mean my struggles, if I talk about my struggles they seem like nothing compared to someone who maybe can’t put food on the table…right?”

She is close to her family though – despite how different their lives are now. She says her parents have always been eager to understand her new world even if it does seem far removed from theirs. And they’ve always supported her.

Denise met her husband back at UCLA. She says their daughter is having a totally different experience than she did growing up. And Denise says that’s wonderful, but it’s also been unsettling sometimes. 

“My daughter, she goes to private school, so when I was looking for schools for her to go to when she was in kindergarten, we went to the interview, and they wanted her, she’s bright, whatever. And I cried after that meeting because I thought of all the little kids that go to the schools I went to, and I thought, how can they even compete in this world? If you have kids who go to these schools that cost like $25,000 a year for kindergarten, I mean that’s crazy, and then you have kids in the inner city, they don’t even have the books and pencils and desks they need, then how can they compete when it’s time to go to college? How are they going to get into the top schools? Most of them don’t. And for me just that realization, because I’d never seen that. Where my daughter went to school, I didn’t know that existed.”

Her daughter is now in college, studying computer science. Denise is thrilled things will be easier for her as she transitions to the professional world.

Because when she looks back at her own trajectory, she says she thinks of how difficult it was. And still is. 

“I mean this will sound funny but I feel like I wouldn’t advise it – this path that I was on, I wouldn’t advise it. It’s uphill. You have moments of pleasure you have to enjoy and appreciate, but it’s grueling.”

AM-T: “But you did it.”

“Yeah, somehow, by the grace of God. I mean I don’t know, I just think it’s um, it’s so unfair, it’s such an uneven playing field. When people evaluate you, when they look at you they don’t look at all that. They just think that everybody has the same opportunity and everybody doesn’t. To get where I am I worked day, night, weekends, holidays, vacations and birthdays. When my daughter was little she didn’t know when her birthday was, because I had to celebrate her birthday when I had a free moment. But I felt like I had to work like that just to sustain myself.”

AM-T: “You know what you said about lack of opportunity and how could kids in inner city schools possibly ever get to the same level as kids who went to a school like your daughter’s?  Was it your dad, I mean obviously you made this transition, and you’ve pointed out a lot of other people don’t, was it your dad and his coaching and your own intelligence and drive, a combination of those things?”

“Yeah, I think it was my family. My dad, he was like drilling me with the math facts but he also gave me the confidence that I could be like a scientist or engineer, right. Because most women have math phobia, and this is a whole big thing right now, about girls and math and that kind of stuff, well my dad before it was even popular was like, this is what you’re gonna do. So I never, ever doubted that I could do it. And then my family – even my grandmother, because I told you my mother was 15, and we lived next to my grandmother - my whole family just cheered for me, everything I did was just like oh my gosh, she’s gonna be the one that makes it. So I really think it was my family.”

She says her own perseverance played its part too, especially when it looked like she might get kicked out UCLA because she couldn’t keep up.

And even though she said she wouldn’t advise it, this journey through socio-economic layers, by the end of our conversation she’d remembered something a speaker at her high school had told the class back in the late ‘70s…

“This is all he said, he just said never, never, never give up, and I think that’s what I’d say – I know that’s simple but that’s really it - just don’t give up. And I think if you don’t give up you might not reach your goal, but you’ll be much better off than you were before you tried.”

Denise McKenzie. Thanks to her, Julie O’Heir and Daniel Laurison for being my guests on this show.

If you have something to say about the show I’d love to hear from you – you can reach me via the website or post your comment under this episode or on the show’s Facebook page. And I am reading those iTunes reviews so thanks for the ideas you’ve raised there, as well.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. If you’re not already a subscriber please sign up on iTunes or wherever else you get your podcasts – you will never miss an episode again – and tell your friends and colleagues about the show too.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. 

Episode 92: Illness and Secrecy

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time, working with an illness…

“We have a stereotype of women as weak, or weaker. So I think that when you have a chronic illness and you’re sitting there thinking, I am weaker than my male colleagues, I do have more trouble with this, I think that part rankles in a way that would be very different than it would be for men.”

And how or whether to let the office know about it…

“Two people at work asked me oh, what happened to your arm? And I lied. I said oh, I just fell and sprained my wrist. And that’s when I really started thinking more about how am I gonna handle this at work? What am I going to say?”

Coming up, we look at our attitudes to health and strength at work.

Mary Ratliff lives in Virginia, just outside Washington DC. She was one of several listeners who wrote to me after the show I did on working with Asperger’s. I asked if you’d be interested to hear more about people working with some kind of health condition.

And part of the reason I wanted to talk to Mary was because of something she said about being in a creative field and having a chronic condition. She’s a documentary filmmaker, but like so many filmmakers that’s not how she earns all of her living. She handles social media for a Washington think tank 15 hours a week, and she does various other gigs. And her condition isn’t the kind of illness where people offer you immediate sympathy or understanding.

We spoke on Skype.

AM-T: “When you wrote to me you said you had a sleep disorder…”

“Yeah, so people with chronic illness are familiar with this – I have a diagnosis that is their best guess. I’ve had so many tests that have come up negative they’ve said OK we think you have idiopathic hypersomnia – which when you boil it down means you have extreme fatigue where we can’t find a primary cause…so I’ve been tested for apnea, narcolepsy, all those things. None of them are what my issue is.”

The first time she went to a doctor for this was when she was 14. She’s now in her mid-thirties. So she’s been dealing with this for years.

“I’ve had good months, bad months, that kind of thing, and like I’ve said I’ve been tested for apnea 3 times actually because I’m also overweight. And being an overweight woman in the American medical system means you have a tendency for doctors to discount what you’re telling them. And they have a tendency to be like, oh you’re just out of shape, you need to exercise, eat less…so I was wading through that for a very long time. But for me it started to come into a conclusion in 2012.”

She was doing post-production on her documentary and making silly mistakes. She was also working on a couple of friends’ films and just knew she was not doing as good a job as she could. Added to the built-up lack of sleep was the stress of bringing in these projects in good shape, on deadline. She says she’s had anxiety issues for some time…

“So the anxiety was at an all-time high. I spent 6 months, almost a year where I’d be awake for 30 to 36 hours and sleep for 14 hours. I was non-functional. I was no good to the rest of the world.”

She had to figure out what was going on. So she started seeking out specialists. She’s been through 3 sleep studies since then, received tons of suggestions – yes, she gave up caffeine years ago. Now she has a doctor she really likes – but no one’s really got to the bottom of what’s causing this - yet. Right now she’s doing better though. She’s on medication to help her stay awake, rather than to help her sleep.

“Once I started taking that and I’m awake for more of the day – you know, I used to get to a point where at 2 o’clock in the afternoon I could not keep my eyes open, and I would fall asleep and if I didn’t set an alarm I’d sleep for 2 or 3 hours in the middle of the afternoon, and that throws off your sleep cycle. Now I’m on this medicine during the day I’m sleeping better at night.”

AM-T: “You spoke to me specifically when you approached me about this, about your life as a creative, and you said there’s a lot of advice and rules for creative careers that can be hurtful or difficult when you have a chronic illness. What did you mean by that?”

“The one I think of first whenever people bring this up, is when you do anything to do with writing people say write every day…and when you have a chronic illness and you have bad days you can feel like the biggest failure in the world if you’re not able to do something everyone else acts like is so simple. Where they’re like, ‘you can’t be a writer if you don’t write every day. You don’t really mean it.’ They do this with art too – if you’re not working on your art every day, and if you’re a freelancer, if you’re not looking for jobs every day, you’re not committed, you’re not really doing it, you don’t really mean it.”

But there were days and still are days when she feels like she just can’t put finger to keyboard. Her brain’s in a total fog. And she knows she’s not the only one who’s struggling.

“Especially someone with a chronic illness like fibromyalgia that has a pain component and you can’t even sit up at the computer, how are you supposed to be looking for a job that day? But then you’ve got all of these little voices saying you don’t want it, you’re not chasing your passion, and that starts to wear you out, and that is where I started to get upset and resist my diagnosis and say it’s gotta be something that’s fixable, it’s got to be just me. And maybe if I just change this one thing, maybe if I just do this, I can be this creative like they say I’m supposed to be.”

She says it’s only been during the past few months that she’s been able to tell herself on bad days, she can’t do that particular task.

“And that doesn’t mean that I’m a failure. It just means I have a different situation.”

AM-T: “I was gonna say, how do you feel about this situation, I mean frustrated, guilty, less than, all of those things?”

“Yeah, it’s definitely all of those depending on the day, sometimes all at once, and to be a bit topical about it all the discussion in the past few weeks about Hillary Clinton’s health has really bothered me. Because I already feel there are already people looking at me thinking oh, she can’t do this. And to see someone who’s trying for the most powerful position in the country and because she likes to sit with a pillow behind her back, people think she can’t do it...”

And in case this Hillary pillow story passed you by, back in August there was a flurry of internet chatter about photos taken of Clinton using a pillow or leaning against a stool at public events. The question seemed to be – if she needed these props – could she lead?

Mary and I had this conversation right after Clinton revealed she had pneumonia, but she hadn’t let on about the illness for a couple of days after her diagnosis.

Mary isn’t surprised Clinton kept her mouth shut. She says it’s partly why she’s been so hard on herself. The image we’re supposed to present at work is one of strength – anything less and you can be branded not good enough.

“The rhetoric comes across as very derogatory towards people who aren’t perfectly able bodied. And so it does, it makes you start to feel so less than, that you have to say that’s a thing that’s beyond my abilities. I can’t do that.”

Just because she can’t work on a film set 6 days a week for 12 hours a day, she says that doesn’t mean she’s a less creative person, or someone who’s coasting, not making an effort…

“But that’s very hard to get through to people. My parents are both disabled so it’s something I’ve noticed for a very long time. Things like, when people think it’s funny to laugh at people who take the elevator up one flight of steps and to insult them and say they’re lazy. And it’s like, you don’t know them, you don’t know the challenges they’re facing, you don’t know why that person wanted to sit down on the subway. Maybe they just had knee surgery, you have no idea. Our society has some problems with that that they need to work out.”

And as we were talking about these perceptions of weakness and laziness, I was thinking about the other side of this story – men. In a way I wonder if this stuff is harder for men – after all the stereotype of the invincible alpha male is very much out there. So are you thought even less of if you’re a man who has some kind of condition you’re dealing with?

Mary doesn’t think so.

“You know there’s this idea that if a woman wants to be successful in the workplace she has to be twice as successful. So you’re already coming from this disadvantaged place where people don’t have the same expectations of you. Again going back to Hillary Clinton, if a male candidate had said he felt overheated, people probably wouldn’t have thought that far into it. But with her, there’s amateur people saying she has Parkinson’s and trying to diagnose her from random things. And I think a little bit of that is that idea that we have a stereotype of women as weak or weaker, that women are weaker, physically. So I think that when you have a chronic illness and you’re sitting there thinking, I am weaker than my male colleagues, I do have more trouble with this, I can’t lift that box…I do have to go get help. I think that part rankles in a way that would be very different than it would be for men.”

If you have a different opinion, let me know – especially if you’re a man who’s had his own experience of illness at work. 

When Mary first got her part-time social media job she wasn’t comfortable letting on to managers or colleagues that she had any kind of health issue. She’d do her utmost to make sure she was ‘on’ the whole time she was at work. She’d arrange therapy sessions or doctor’s appointments around that.

But later, when she’d been there a while, she was put on an experimental regime to limit her sleep, and this was going to interfere with her work. The idea was to re-train her body and mind…

“Trying to re-set your body and re-set your body clock, so I was trying to function on even less sleep than I’d been getting, and I finally realized I’d have to tell them…and I was like, ‘right now my brain is Swiss cheese because I’m not getting any sleep, and it’s on purpose, I’m under doctor’s supervision…but I just need you to be patient with me and to help me, like if I ask you go back over my work, try not to judge me for it.’ And they were perfectly understanding, I have amazing co-workers, I love my job.”

She realizes that compared to a lot of people she is lucky.

My next guest isn’t using her name. You’ll find out why a little later. She can say what she does for a living.

“I’m a human resources professional, I am a generalist, and I work in a large corporation.”

She just turned 35. She’s been married since she was in her late 20s. No kids. Back in April of this year she went on vacation.

“And I went to a tropical location, and even walking on the beach was painful – my knees were just bothering me so much and it really worried me, also because there was swimming pool and I realized I couldn’t tread water any more, there was no strength in my legs. I’ve always been a strong swimmer.”

She says the pain wasn’t like anything else she’d experienced.

“It felt really heavy, almost like I had a bag of hot coals tied around my knees, it was just extremely uncomfortable.”

This wasn’t the first time she’d noticed something amiss. About ten years before she’d had some issues with her balance and had to be hospitalized for a while. Then lately she’d begun feeling odd sensations in her body; she was tired, she had go to the bathroom more often. But none of it really seemed like a big deal until what happened on that beach.

When she got back from vacation she saw a doctor, had a bunch of tests.

And one day she’s at work – and the phone rings. It’s her doctor. So she’s sitting there, no privacy…

“We have open plan cubicles, and I stepped away into a conference room, I have a conference room near my cubicle. He said based on what you’ve described and some of the tests, we did MRIs, and some lab work, based on all that I think that you have MS.”

Multiple Sclerosis.

“He was pretty confident, pretty sure it was MS. I just knew in my gut he was right, you just get that feeling, you know. I knew that it was MS. I still had to get a confirmation from a neurologist, but I knew that was it. I was just in a conference room by myself on the phone with him, I just sort of started crying, and then I called my husband, and then I cleaned myself up and got back to work, because I was in the office. And then just kind of processing that for the rest of the day and the day and weeks to come.”

On the one hand she thought, how can this be me? I can’t have this disease. On the other something at the back of her brain told her, yup, this is what’s wrong – it all fits. And the thing about MS is, people have quite different experiences with the disease, so she’s not sure how things will pan out for her long term.

“For some people it’s their eyesight, and for some it’s their balance, and for some like with me, odd sensations and trouble walking. So they really don’t know what you can expect, everyone is different. From what I’ve read online there’s a percentage, maybe 20% of people that do end up wheelchair-bound – so that part has probably been the scariest, is thinking about the future and not knowing.”

AM-T: “I mean you were at work when you got the diagnosis which is typical that this should happen in a place where we’re trying to maintain our privacy. Talk about how you’ve handled this at work because you mentioned you’ve had some trouble walking and some people are going to notice that.”

“Yes, one person did notice and she said are you OK, what’s happening, your walking…and I just said oh, my knees are a little stiff today, I’ll be fine, I said something very quickly, in the hallway, I didn’t know how to react. Up to that point I really hadn’t thought about how to react to questions at work. I didn’t prepare, I shrugged it off, she wished me well and we went on our way.

But I needed some treatment that required an IV on my arm, so I had a bandage on my arm for 5 days. And 2 people at work asked me oh, what happened to your arm? And I lied. I said oh, I just fell and sprained my wrist. Again I just didn’t know what to say. So I did lie. And that’s when I really started thinking more about how am I gonna handle this at work? What am I going to say? Because lying, and keeping that secret, just started to make me feel really uncomfortable.”

After all she sees these people every day. And they’re well intentioned. But…

I do have some concerns about the consequences of disclosure.”

Now she works in HR. She says she’s not worried about losing her job over this revelation – in fact the law would be on her side.

She wanted to be anonymous on this show for slightly different reasons. For one thing her boss doesn’t know yet that she has MS. And her boss may sympathize for all she knows…but it’s more complicated than that.   

“Thinking about promotions and opportunities, would I be held back from those because I might be seen as less competent or less able to handle stress because I have multiple sclerosis and so that really is my main concern. And I know this because I am an HR professional, I know that biases exist.”

AM-T: “Well I thought that was so interesting to me, that you wrote you work in HR and you know how things really work, you said. Because we’re all presented with this idea that HR in America at least is terribly fair, and there are all these rules, and American companies have to jump through all these hoops if they want to get rid of somebody, so what’s it really like?”

“Well what I mean by that is all these rules do exist – the ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act, protects against discriminating in hiring and promotions at work, and that’s all true – but again if a hiring manger is faced with that decision, he or she could simply say I am not the most qualified candidate for whatever reason, maybe I don’t have enough experience, or I don’t have the right certification, it could be anything else, and I’d have no way to prove that’s because the manager is aware that I have MS.”

She’s been reading a lot online. And she says even the MS Society advises you may not want to say anything at work because of just these things – the possibility being treated differently, losing out on better positions. Again, this whole thing of being seen as weak and not up to the job.

Still, she wonders…should she tell people? After all…

“There’s a lot of talk nowadays about authenticity at work, right, bringing your authentic self to work. And so that’s something I’ve been thinking about, OK, I need to get more comfortable. And I know I will over time. This is who I am, I have multiple sclerosis and that is my authentic self now, and it’s different from who I was just a few months ago, and just getting comfortable with that and saying that if need be.”

But at the same time I don’t think she should be under any pressure to tell because of an overblown management trend around being authentic. But you may have other ideas. I told my listener I’d ask – is there anyone out there in a similar boat who has any advice for her? Let me know if so.

I wondered how much her diagnosis is affecting her outlook on life.

“It’s amazing how in a few short months it’s impacting everything – the way I see the world and especially in my interactions at work, and maybe that’s a silver lining, right, it makes us more empathetic and more open to that. We just don’t know what someone is going through at work. It’s impossible to separate what’s going on in your personal life from work. And that’s been one of my biggest takeaways is I just don’t know what someone’s going through.”

AM-T: “What about your thoughts about your future career? Some people when they get a diagnosis, they say it’s changed my view of what I think is important, somebody who was wildly ambitious now wants to spend more time with their family. It’s a bit of a cliché but you know what I mean. I wonder, are you thinking at all differently about career versus the rest of your life, or not really?”

“I am a little bit and I’m not superbly ambitious or anything like that, not to this point. One thing I am thinking about is um, the stress level. If I wanted to be in a leadership position or a management position that comes with a lot of stress. And stress can make my condition, can cause a relapse or exacerbation.”

Which obviously she wants to avoid.   

“What has not changed is wanting to be a solid performer. Because now that I’m ill, obviously I’ve always needed my job, we all need our jobs. But now I really need my job. I have short-term disability with my job, and long-term disability, and that has become just crucial in my thinking. OK, if I become severely disabled or anything I know I have this security at work, and that’s a comfort. So I don’t want to do anything to risk that. So whatever the future holds I don’t know, but being a solid performer, that hasn’t changed.”

Thanks to my listener for sharing her experience on the podcast.

And as I said earlier if any of you want to contribute to this discussion, particularly about how and whether to come clean about an illness or other condition at work, let me know. You can post on the Facebook page, at the Broad Experience dot com, or you can email me via the website.

And my first guest, Mary Ratliff, does her own podcast called Introductions Necessary – it’s all about women in STEM fields, most of whom we’ve never heard of.

I am getting married at the end of this week and I’m a bit busy so you won’t be getting a new show in two weeks – but I promise the one you will get is relevant to our current times.

And I get that not everyone can contribute with a donation to the show but maybe you can write a positive review on iTunes – I’d love it if you did.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. 

Episode 91: Sandberg vs. Slaughter

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time, we look at two influential women – Sheryl Sandberg…

“To tell women who are bumping up against these intractable and structural problems that it’s all about you…is just extremely frustrating in the end because it’s not all about you.”

And Anne-Marie Slaughter…

“How can we effect change so that everybody can have this blend of care and competition so the world is more integrated?”

Coming up – will change come through individual efforts, or is it more about the system?

Back in July I released a show called Selling Empowerment – it was all about the cult of the women’s conference. We asked whether those conferences really had any positive effect for women long-term.

During my interviews for that show two women’s names kept coming up – Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter.  You’re probably familiar with them. Sandberg of course became famous after publishing her book Lean In in 2013. It’s a call to arms for women to push themselves forward at work. Anne-Marie Slaughter is a former US State Department official who wrote an article for The Atlantic in 2012 called Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. Last year she published a book that grew out of that article – it’s called Unfinished Business – Women, Men, Work, Family.

It’s hard to exist in this world of women and work without hearing these women’s names bandied about all the time. And Sandberg in particular evokes strong feelings – even among people who haven’t read her book. Many women resent a woman of Sandberg’s background and wealth apparently telling them how to tackle their work lives.

What I got from Lean In was take some of it, leave the rest. For instance, for me, it was a bit annoying that Sandberg seemed to be talking only to women who had partners who could help them out. She seemed to assume every grown woman had one. I didn’t. But I found plenty of other stuff in the book useful.

And of course now Sandberg doesn’t have a partner herself. Her husband died in an accident last year. They have two children.

I asked you to tell me how you felt about Sandberg and Slaughter and their messages. And I discussed it with business journalist Sheelah Kolhatkar when we spoke for the show on women’s conferences.  

“Well I think both Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter are really important and I admire them personally, what they’ve accomplished and done, in terms of making this issue part of the conversation, and we needed that, I’m thankful to both of them for that…I think they also on some level represent these two ways or approaching this problem, of women’s lack of progress in different parts of the modern world. Sheryl was really preaching individualism, self- improvement, I’m gonna work on myself, I mean that whole idea of leaning in, she wasn’t saying the whole office should lean in, she wants you personally to lean in harder and do what you need to do, and not leave before you leave, and just take the big job, and push push push. I think those are important points but they’re not going to solve the problem. And I think yes, she’s obviously immensely wealthy…and I’m sure she’s a billionaire many times over because of Facebook, but to tell women who are bumping up against these intractable and structural problems that it’s all about you – and you through personal behavior change and self- improvement can plow your way through is just extremely frustrating in the end. Because it’s not just about you. It’s about a whole bunch of other things that have nothing to do with you.”

And Sandberg didn’t address those – the limits of your particular workplace or bosses and the system as a whole – which after all was designed by and for men. There was a lot about you changing your approach to things…and I think this is really interesting because it’s my theory that the older you are the more OK you are with making some personal tweaks. The younger you are the more it rankles – this idea of fitting in with an existing, male-dominated structure.

I heard from one of my listeners on this, Aesha Williams. She’s in Chicago.

“I strongly believe that institutions need to change and it really rubs met the wrong way if I’m listening to a show or reading a blog or whatever and it suggests women should just suck it up and maybe change their way of dressing or their way of being because men won’t take them seriously.  That’s a real problem for me. I don’t understand how anything is gonna change if we have to continue forcing ourselves into a male world instead of the world changing to accept women and their habits and their behaviors.”

 I hear her. But I also think at least some of the advice in Lean In is worth a try if it’s going to get you more money or something else you want.

I asked Claudia Chan about Sandberg’s message too. She was my other guest in that show on women’s conferences. She’s a longtime entrepreneur.

“I see Sheryl, even in reading Lean In, obviously she has a very traditional – like Harvard, right, to State Department I believe, to Google, to Facebook…and so she’s had this very traditional corporate upbringing. So her story in many ways probably will resonate with more corporate women. But to me Sheryl did not have to do the book, she did not have to do any of it. She was rich enough. She already had enough recognition and fame. So I believe it was really generous of her to share that story.  And really she’s young, she’s beautiful, she runs one of the coolest companies in the world. So she had the microphone to attract all that media attention, right, and she really did in many ways resuscitate this modern conversation around feminism – or the conversation around modern feminism.”

It’s true. When I started this show the year before Sandberg published Lean In, women in the workplace felt like a niche topic. Now, it’s huge.

Dawn Edmiston teaches at William and Mary College and she’s a former guest on the show. She was galvanized by Sandberg’s message.

“Did I agree with everything that was said in her book? No. But we rarely agree with everything that is said by others. As a college professor I have had the privilege of teaching hundreds of women who of course are very fortunate to even have the opportunity to have a college education. But they’re also very fortunate to have a woman like Sheryl Sandberg who is creating her own path and empowering women to think differently about their own lives and how they choose to define themselves.”

But many women’s ire grew from the fact they’ve been leaning in, sometimes for years – and they still aren’t where they’d like to be. Who was the privileged, highly connected Sheryl Sandberg to tell them how to climb the ladder? People got up in arms about the parenting side of the book because of course Sandberg and her late husband had plenty of help at home. Help a lot of people can’t afford.

And since Sandberg became a widow last year she has said, I didn’t get it before – I had no idea how hard it was to keep all the balls in the air at work when you are the only parent. It was an admission that she had been in a bit of a bubble.

And especially if you work in America, you need help. It’s a workaholic culture. There’s very little government or company support for working couples with kids or single parents. Here’s Sheelah again.

“And that’s where Anne-Marie offered a more relatable, more honest assessment, or philosophy. She said, that’s all good but in fact there are these structural problems, we in fact have a barbaric policy system with regard to family leave. We’re telling women to leave, if they’re lucky enough to get 12 weeks of unpaid time off, which very few people do in an economy where most people’s salaries have not gone up since 1990 and the cost of living has soared – to tell these women to take your 12 weeks of time off and then leave your 12-week- old baby in a ridiculously expensive daycare or in a totally unregulated black market nanny economy, is just barbaric.

And then they get to work and there’s no accommodation for the fact they’re new parents and there’s this sense they have to put in face time, and there are no women they can look at above them who managed to do this. And of course women get frustrated and quit when they can. We have this huge proportion of households headed by single mothers…who are in an impossible bind, and that’s even more acute if you go down the income ladder. So Anne-Marie at least was acknowledging these things we all know are true which is the system is not right. It’s not fair, it is stacked against women, it is not a reflection of the way the world is. It was all designed on a 1950s ideal of a man going to work every day, long hours at the office, and the women at home taking care of the home front. And that is just not the way the world is. And our policies and corporate culture have not changed.”

And she says they won’t as long as women are trying to address these things through their personal behavior.

Another listener of mine, Karen Lock Kolp, says she’d barely followed Sandberg until recently. She read Lean In this summer and found a lot to like when it comes to self-advocacy. But she’s a bigger Slaughter fan.

“I love her emphasis on care.”

She likes the way Slaughter challenges traditional views about who should work and strive for promotions, and who should look after others…

“She suggests that people need to think more about care and competition together. So if we think of these two worlds as care has been the women’s purview and competition has been the men’s, we need to think about how those can blend. Because we live in world where care is extremely important and it’s not getting the kind of emphasis that it should be getting. Everyone needs to care for their families whether it’s aging parents or young children or spouses, friends, anything like that.”

She appreciates that Anne-Marie Slaughter has raised this question…

“How can we effect change so that everybody can have this blend of care and competition so the world is more integrated? And I just love that idea, I’m so completely taken with it.”

But of course to have that more integrated world…attitudes at the office need to change. Not to mention political attitudes.

Sheelah Kolhatkar says Slaughter could have done more in her book to tackle exactly how that change might come to pass. 

“I would have liked to see her go farther in terms of practical advice and suggestions and the fact that she didn’t I think reflects the fact that it’s actually really difficult to address.”

Also, as I see it from my perch as an ex-pat, not everyone in the US wants this kind of change. The whole country was founded on this idea that you help yourself. A lot of people look on government as a clunky, overweening force…something that’s far likelier to mess you up than help you out.  

AM-T: “And this is speaking as someone who didn’t grow up here, the cult of the individual is a very American thing. You know it’s not the same… I think the UK is closest to the US in terms of culture, of the European countries. But it’s a given there as in so many other European countries that you get some help from the government.”

“Right, no, sure, there’s obviously a strain of American culture that says I don’t want help from anyone. However, there are a lot of people getting help and big companies are certainly getting a lot of help. It always shocks me that women’s issues and childcare issues – I hate to just call them just women’s issues, but family issues, don’t become more prominent in political campaigns, and I think now with Hillary Clinton as the apparent Democratic nominee for president, I think this is going to become a bigger part of the conversation, but that’s what it took for it to even get talked about. Year after year I’d say why aren’t women organizing and demanding certain things? There are other groups of people pushing their rights forward, which is very good, but why are women not doing that too, why are they not saying no, we refuse to live with this situation anymore? And in fact there are many men who feel the same way. They want to have family lives, particularly younger men coming up into these companies now. They do not want the old system where they worked till 8p.m. and don’t ever see their children. Most of them do not want that. So it’s going to take everybody demanding that companies be more flexible and that public policy change to reflect the way the world has changed and not pretend we’re in a 1950s white male utopia. It’s just not like that any more.”

 Sheelah Kolhatkar – she’s now at the New Yorker.

I’m particularly interested to know what you think if you don’t live in the US – do you think the status quo here is crazy? Or does it also feel hard to have a sane existence as an ambitious female where you are, even if public policy is on your side?

As usual you can comment on the website or on the show’s Facebook page or you can email me – I’d love to hear from you.

And if you’re interested in Lean In – even if you’re a hater - you might want to download an early show I did called Leaning In – it was a 6-woman debate on Sandberg’s book and there were a lot of different opinions.

Thanks to all those of you who have given donations to this one-woman show – you are helping to keep it going. If you’d like to join them, go to the support tab at TheBroadExperience.com.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.  

Episode 88: Selling Empowerment

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time, maybe you’ve noticed there are a lot of women’s conferences out there lately. They’re popping up everywhere…advertising empowerment, inspiration….and not just for women nearing the top…

“What about your average consumer who’s watching Kim Kardashian or who has like, no clue as to what even empowerment means and what feminism is or why it matters to them? So my goal is really to set out to create the world’s most accessible women’s conference.”

But are these events actually changing anything for women?

“They’re really based on this philosophy of you can just work to improve yourself, make yourself better, smarter, stronger. But the fact is as long as women are fighting these little solo battles I don’t think a lot is going to change.”

Coming up, we take a look at the growing business of women’s conferences and whether they’re anything more than a tonic.  

Sheelah Kolhatkar is a staff writer for the New Yorker. When we met a bit earlier this summer she was still at Business Week. And earlier this year she wrote a piece for that magazine that articulated so many things I’d been thinking about women’s conferences but hadn’t quite been able to put into words.

I asked Sheelah how she came to this topic in the first place.

“I noticed over the last couple of years I’d get invitations to these women’s conferences, it seemed to happen every month, it was women’s empowerment, it was women in science, women in STEM, the glass ceiling – there were dozens of them. And I was intrigued and of course I’m interested in women’s issues, it’s something I write about. So I started to go. The first thing I noticed was the way a lot of the women up on the stage look – they are very glamorous, most of them…this was the strong point I came away with. Often wearing these stylish little skits and dresses, they had these crazy high heels on…I’m not someone who can really wear heels though I think they look great…they’re all up there in these stiletto heels talking about feminism and women’s empowerment, and when you sit in the audience there’s this row of high stiletto heels right at your eye level, it’s all you see when you sit down below the stage – and I thought that was odd given the subject matter of these conferences, and so I started to wonder, what exactly were these conference achieving – they were clearly turning into a huge business for a lot of corporations and media companies and I started to wonder whether any of the women attending were coming away with what was advertised – which was empowerment, inspiration, changing the conversation, they were vague promises but I wondered if people were getting what they paid for.”

And that business about the shoes – that really struck me at the last couple of conferences I went to. And if you’re thinking well what does it matter what people wear on their feet, I guess to me the fact these women on the panels all looked so glamorous and were in these towering heels made me wonder, do I fit in here? Does my version of feminism belong here? I suppose I felt a little intimidated by the glamor level.

AM-T: “It became a game with myself when I went to one – is there anyone on a panel who isn’t wearing stilettos? And I think the last time I went to a conference who wasn’t actually wearing stilettos, nobody was wearing flats, they were wearing some kind of in between shoe. But I’ve also wondered about this – do you have to look like the best approximation of a model to be a panelist at this thing, and if so, doesn’t that defeat the purpose?”

“I think that’s a good question. I should disclose I’ve participated in many of these conferences as a panelist and moderator, so I started to think about this myself. You want to look good, a lot of people are watching you, people are making videos, tweeting photos – of course we want to look good. And then you look around at what other people are wearing, and part of the aesthetic comes from the broadcast TV world because often these conferences go to TV anchors and reporters and ask them to do these live interviews, because those people are used to doing that. And the broadcast TV aesthetic is quite unforgiving for women in my opinion…typically it’s a very image conscious business and the women are very, very thin and wear these tiny sleeveless dresses as they report on the news all day, and they wear these high heels. So this has translated over to the conference world.”

But not completely. Sheelah points out there is one conference with quite a mix of guests – Tina Brown’s wildly successful Women in the World conference. It’s been held on a few continents. She has tons of celebrities from entertainment, politics and royalty. But she also features refugees and rape victims from Syria and India, women whose names we’d never know if we didn’t attend the conference and hear their stories. But the thing about hearing their stories is, you want to do something to help after the event is over. And you don’t really get the opportunity. Even if you come away awed by their bravery and determination.

AM-T: “With regard to whether these actually do anything, that was what was lurking in the back of my head. Like the people you talked to in the piece I’ve come away inspired with a lovely warm glow inside, thinking about all the achievements I’ve heard about, all the conquering hard times and all that, but at what point did you start to think…was it at the very first conference you attended where you thought, is this achieving anything? Or was it as a result of going to several that the warm glow began to wear off?”

“I had a moment of epiphany when I acted as moderator at one particular panel. It was at Advertising Week, and the subject of the discussion – it was called ‘the glass ladder’, and it was about women in creative professions, film, music, creative directors, it was group of very impressive women from different companies, very accomplished women.”

The event was held at a big theater on 42nd Street in New York, and the room was packed.

She says you could feel the excitement in the air. This topic was something these women really wanted to sink their teeth into – because there are so few women at the top in these creative industries. Sheelah says the session was a hit. And at the end, she glanced out across the room…

“So the house lights came up and it was all women, there wasn’t a single man there. And I guess that shouldn’t have really surprised me but I was still a little shocked to see how uniformly female the audience was. And I thought well, I’m glad that women are seeking out these kinds of experiences to help guide them or get advice but really men ae missing from these conversations about why there aren’t more women in certain industries, why their careers fall apart after children, why maternity leave is so far behind most advanced countries, and none of those things are really going to change unless men are involved. Because men still run most of these companies, they’re the ones setting the policies at these corporations where all these women are struggling to figure out how to move forward, and just that moment really crystalized it for me.”

I’ve had that feeling too. That said, one of the conferences I went to a few years ago, the SHE Summit in New York, had one panel where men talked about men’s part in this whole effort to bring more equality to the workplace and life in general. But there were almost no men in the audience. And one of the men on the panel even raised this. He said the names of these conferences put men off.  

AM-T: “He pointed out, how many men are going to attend something that has the word women in the title? And I think about that all the time I mean even the title of my show, I’m pretty sure, I know I have male listeners but they’re going to be a minority because most people are like, that’s not for me, because it has ‘women’ in it. And I think that’s a problem with these conferences.”

“I raised this with a lot of the conference organizers and they all acknowledged that yes, we need to get more men – but packaging these things and branding them as a women’s event is very effective. They are sold out – even though there’s a new one popping up every day there seems to be unlimited demand, which I concluded is a reflection of the fact women are very frustrated. They go charging into the workplace, they get their degrees, they get the best grades, and then they suddenly encounter all sorts of obstacles they weren’t anticipating. They look around, they’re thinking about starting a family or trying to move up or making less money than their male colleague and they’re kind of just bewildered, they did all the things we’re telling them to do and they’re feeling really frustrated. So as long as that exists as a problem in our society, these conferences are gonna fill up with women.

 Now getting more men involved is one important goal. I would say having spoken to a number of historians and social justice experts and activists, a few of them said you know if there was more follow through afterwards that might help too. Because the conferences are very individual, very focused on personal issues, personal improvement – they’re based on this philosophy that you can just work to improve yourself, make yourself better, smarter, stronger, lose a few pounds, get better footwear, ask for more raises. There’s a lot of advice about how women should ask for raises more often, which I think is true. But as long as women are fighting these little solo battles I don’t think a lot is going to change. I spoke with a few women studies professors, academics and historians who have studied social change, movements, and civil rights, the fact is things don’t happen on a big scale till people take collective action.  So people, women, need to group together and push for changes whether it’s in the political arena or within individual companies and I think so long as women are being preached at, being told they should constantly work harder to make themselves better, there’s just going to be a wall – there’s only so far you can go with just pure self-improvement advice.”

Or is there? We’ll come back to Sheelah again a little later in the show. In the meantime, we’ll hear from someone with a different take.

Claudia Chan is the founder and CEO of SHE Global Media. She and her organization put on a women’s conference every year in New York – one I’ve been to a few times. She says the aim is to bring together a group of women who want to be leaders – women who are part of what she calls the macro movement…

“Our core conference every year is SHE Summit, and it is a membership driven global empowerment conference and it's all about attracting, identifying, convening who these individuals are, to give them the role models and the education and the conversation and the activation to rise to their highest potential and lift other women.”

Heady stuff.  

Claudia started her conference right around the same time I launched The Broad Experience. It was 2012. And until former state department employee Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote her famous ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have It All’ article for the Atlantic that summer, women and the workplace definitely felt micro rather than macro. Her article and Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In changed that. Suddenly it felt like everyone was talking about this stuff.

“Yeah. And it's great because it's almost like a crescendo has happened right, and we're all tackling different pieces of it, and so you know, I come from - my last company was another event company called Shecky’s, and we convened women and their girlfriend groups for shopping experiences, discovery. And so my whole background was convening mass crowds of women and figuring out what they would be attracted to. And so my whole goal was I wanted to mainstream women's empowerment – I’m like everything out there women’s conference-wise was elite, exclusive and expensive. And I'm like OK, well that's great and it's important to convene our most successful powerful people, you know female leaders, but what about your average consumer who's like watching Kim Kardashian or has no clue as to what even empowerment means and what feminism is, or you know, why it matters to them. So that's you know I my goal is really to set out to create the world's most accessible Women's Conference and to create an agenda that was that was very relatable and practical.”

Claudia’s had some fantastic speakers – including Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, Deeprak Chopra, and Marianne Pearl, the widow of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. And then there was that panel on men’s part in lifting women up that still sticks in my mind a couple of years later.

“I mean and this year we're actually going to have even more men and that's what it is right? It’s giving this audience – and we charge you know two hundred to five hundred dollars for access to the conference so it's super accessible for two days, and it's almost like a leadership curriculum that women will go through, but you're just getting this massive exposure to such a wide variety of role models and thought leaders.”

AM-T: “But the argument that was made in that Business Week piece was and then you get back to your desk, and the guy next to you is still being paid more. And there are all these structural issues that mean there’s only so far you can go with all that stuff that you took away from conferences because of the way that the American workplace works. You’re hitting a wall after a while no matter how empowered you feel when you leave a conference.”

“Yeah you know so it's interesting, I mean I'm doing this because I'm a product of consuming thought leadership, I'm a product of consuming inspiration. And whether or not I consume that inspiration through books or through conferences or my Sunday sermons when I go to church or my yoga meditation and immersions, and you know like I have my mixed bag of sort of what’s ignited me, what's activated me. But you know in order for people to really get activated we need to connect with other people, we need to get educated, right, we need to get inspired and it's that inspiration, it's that content that creates the consciousness and it's the consciousness that actually creates the change. And then we can say that you know these conferences are critical because in many ways, it’s hearing other people's stories, it’s seeing other role models. We cannot be what we cannot see, we cannot become what we do not believe, so you know we need exposure to these types of things, and there's something about the physicality right, I mean it's one thing to read some article in The New York Times and read a great compelling piece, or watch a really inspirational video, but it’s a whole other thing when you're physically energized - the power of a real life energy is so strong.”

It’s true. There is something about being in a room with all those other people who care about the same thing. And the panels are inspiring.

“…and the thing is that greatness and leadership and making a massive social change to actually change these structures that we’re pissed off about, we have to be the change we want to see. So we can’t just go to a conference and say, ‘Oh it's amazing’ and we go back to everyday life. You know we have to actually work harder unfortunately, you know, to actually do the more work so that OK, so what else am I going to do about that like that really pisses me off, that thing about blah blah blah policy, or this issue, or the fact my company doesn't have this, like can we be social entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs? We need to self-motivate.”

So for Claudia, self-motivation is key.

And the thing is, she’s got so much energy and she feels so passionately about making things better for women…you get all caught up in her enthusiasm when you hear her speak. There’s definitely a whiff of Oprah about her. Claudia genuinely wants change. She wants to help people. She’s not a cynical person. Unlike yours truly.

Talking of my dark side, what about what comes after the conference? Does anything change?

“What I typically see is people sort of up their game. If you're, whether or not you're, for example if you're starting a company or you're building a company, because a lot of what we teach is ‘obstacles are what create the opportunities’ right, and you know it's often easy to get discouraged, and we've seen people sort of up their game. One person launched a water company, Wellness Water for Women, out of coming out of SHE Summit. She personally said to me, you know this is inspired me so much, I'm going to do this. We've had a lot of those stories. A lot of women have actually met collaborators like assistants, made hires through connections at SHE Summit. We've had people that have met and created businesses together.”

She says she’s had women in corporate tell her they’re now determined to make changes at their workplace.

“And it's definitely one of those things where you know everybody always asks well what's the what's the next step out of this, we can’t just continue to bring people together, we have to have like more practical next step. And the truth is there's a lot of things that do happen, it's just a lot of that is hard, you know it's hard to track those things.”

 I can believe it. Doing this podcast I have the same feeling – I think and hope that in its own way it’s helping galvanize change…but frankly this show isn’t going to alter America’s lack of a maternity leave policy, for example.

But talking of impact, I wonder if Claudia has ever thought about this idea for her conference – it’s something Sheelah Kolhatkar brought up with me. All these conferences are sponsored by big corporate names. And you do wonder sometimes…are these sponsor companies walking the walk where women are concerned…or just talking the talk?

Here’s Sheelah again.

“I think companies who are involved in this world, particularly there are a lot of corporate sponsors who pay money to have their logos prominently displayed, if conference organizers wanted to push for change they could tell those companies, if you want to be affiliated with our women’s empowerment conference, you need to make a commitment to get 30% female board members at your company or to publish all the salaries of your employees so people can see whether they’re being paid less than their male counterparts…all these things they could do. And I think that’s happened in small ways around the margins but I think the people in this industry could really push for change by demanding that in exchange for the branding and public relations benefit you have to actually do something.”

AM-T: “Actually that reminds me of something you alluded to in the piece…you get these women from famous companies who are often panelists, guests, talking about their own experience but then you might read something 3 days later about that company that’s not flattering about how it treats its female employees…I ’ve often wondered, watching these women from companies that have a lot to lose about being too honest, how honest are you able to be up on the podium?”

 “Well I went to the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, which is a very interesting conference that’s been going on for 15 years or more, and it’s been very successful, I think they’re now charging $10,000 a head, this is the cream of the crop of corporate America, and I did certainly notice a lot of these women go on the stage and do these interviews but they are corporate actors, and they can be fired at any point like anyone else, and they have to think about their company and their company’s share price, and their PR department, they’re very restricted what they can say. They were often presenting I believe a rosier view, where they were glossing over some of the dirty details, and then you’d notice in between sessions, you’d have these off the record chats over wine at dinner with these power women, and they would just dish about how hard things were, their whole board was male, it was this incredible struggle, many of them have husbands who didn’t work outside the home and that’s how they’re managing to have families and do it all – but you just wouldn’t necessarily know that from the outside, they look like these superwomen who are doing all these things that seem really difficult when you actually try them yourself. And that was something Anne-Marie Slaughter mentioned when I spoke to her for this piece. She said if I were doing this, I would ask all the women to go up there and give us the warts and all description of what their domestic arrangement is like – I think it would be hard to get that kind of honesty, I don’t know why women are so scared of talking about it…but it has become a big stigma, you can’t go public with some of these things. But I think that would be more helpful, than presenting this glossy view that you can have the raise, and the big job, …nothing works that smoothly in reality and I think women get incredibly frustrating thinking they can have all this stuff that is in fact impossible to achieve without tremendous sacrifice, so a more honest conversation would be helpful.”

Finally, I wanted to ask her about something – that word that plays such a big role in any discussion around women.

AM-T: “What do you think of the word empowerment? How does that word make you feel?”

“Well it’s a complicated word. I think the concept behind it is very valid and important. There are a lot of women who don’t feel like they have the authority or self-confidence to speak their mind and ask for what they deserve and point out injustice when they see it. At the same time it’s been coopted by a lot of people selling us things, and it has maybe cheapened it a little bit, the power of that word has been diluted by the fact it’s being used by so many people to sell whatever it is they’re selling.”

She says take American’s National Football League – some of its players have been involved in notorious domestic violence cases and the League has been roundly criticized for its slow response. But even the NFL has launched a women’s summit with the tagline ‘empowerment through sport.’

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. Thanks to Sheelah Kolhatkar and Claudia Chan for being my guests on this show.

Now part of my discussion with both Sheelah and Claudia didn’t make it into this show. We got into a conversation about two women you could say are the unofficial leaders of the current women’s movement. They are Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter.  

And here’s where I’d like to hear from you.

Maybe you’ve read Lean In or Slaughter’s book, Unfinished Business. You know each woman comes from a different place – Sandberg is all about the individual making change, Slaughter is much more about institutions and structures needing to change.

If you have strong feelings about either woman’s message or how they’ve affected your attitude or your life and you’d like to be on the show, send me a voice memo with your thoughts. Please start off by telling me your name and where you live. I’m at ashley@thebroadexperience.com. And I’ll need those voice memos by August 15th.

As usual you can comment on this episode either on the show’s Facebook page or at TheBroadExperience.com – you can also sign up for my newsletter right there on the homepage.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. See you next time. 

Episode 87: Work and Intimacy (part 2)

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This is the second of two shows on work and intimacy…and the affect one has on the other.

“Culturally, what we see as really important is productivity, status, position, achievement – women are so achievement focused. And my feeling is you have to decide, how do you want to live your life?”

Coming up, the rest of my conversation with sexuality counselor and nurse/midwife Evelyn Resh.

Since I released the first of these two shows I’ve heard from a few listeners especially on that point where Evelyn said she’d get pushback – where she advised women to start having kids in their twenties. One 25-year-old listener said look, I’m in law school, I don’t even have time to have a boyfriend – I’m focusing on me.  And one of them said, I’m 31 and I’m single and I basically don’t have an intimate life. And now thanks to what your guest said, I’m worried about having a high-risk pregnancy.

When I was 31 I didn’t have an intimate life either. I felt like I was living in a culture that glorified sex, and I wasn’t part of that.

So these shows with Evelyn aren’t meant to be shaming single people. They’re aimed at people in a relationship, but I figured they’re worth listening to for everyone because most of us who are not in a relationship now probably will be at some point in the future.

And here’s something else I heard from a different listener. She wrote after the very first show I did with Evelyn a few years ago. She said, I liked hearing that show but you said absolutely nothing about gay relationships. She said I’m gay and I can tell you when you get two women together, two women focused on doing everything for everyone else, your sex life can suffer.

I asked Evelyn to talk about this.

“Sure, well this is handy because I am a lesbian and I’ve been with my same sex partner for 23 years. I think the woman who wrote to you and said how is this different with two women, I think there’s a hot mess component to this for precisely the reasons that she has brought up to you which is that generally speaking you’ve got women who are dedicated to family and to work and to advocating for everyone in their family and trying to do everything.

We both happen to have children we brought into our marriage…and we now have 3 granddaughters from my spouse’s oldest son. And so now, it’s funny we’re doing this interview today because just this past weekend the whole tribe was here and what were the two of us doing?  We were concentrating and focusing on having everything perfect for everyone there. And then we had to start the work week yesterday. And the two of us were like limp rags. And trying the entire weekend to say OK look it’s not all on our shoulders, these kids are all grown up now…let them take over more of this. And it was not very successful. So there we were cooking meals for 12 people, making sure that there was something everyone was going to enjoy, grocery shopping at the end of our workdays, it was insane.  And by the time we fell into bed we were just spent. And we had this whole tribe of perfectly competent adults who could have taken more of that on. But there’s this way of mothers and as women that we assumed it.”

I asked her if there were any other things that are specific to gay couples and she said people who are married or partnered, they tend to have a lot of the same issues – regardless of their sexuality. She sees about 80% heterosexual couples, 20% gay couples.

I wondered what happens to the dynamic in a same-sex female couple if one woman stays home and the other goes out to work. But Evelyn says she doesn’t see that much.

“I see less and less of that because so many families can’t survive on one income, and so I have very few people where either member of the couple is at home full time. What I do see is actually it’s more often men who are at home fulltime taking care of children and women who are sole breadwinners and still having to do so much work at home, because the way that men take care of children isn’t the way that women take care of children… and 9 times out of 10 women who are powerhouses in the workforce are going to come in and be powerhouses at home – and not let go of a lot of that responsibility.  They want it to be done their way, and so this creates a whole new set of problems. And in terms of intimacy also.”

AM-T: “In terms of intimacy, in what way?”

“Well there’s an interesting thing that has started to happen in my practice. And that is that women who are very competent and very high level professional women start to feel resentful of men that are staying home and doing more female traditional things, because they want to come home and they want their male partner to act and be more traditionally male – so I’ll give you an example. Women will say to me, I come home, I make all the decisions, I pay all the bills, we go out to dinner and I say, where are we going? and he says, well where would you like to go? Why can’t he just sometimes take charge of that and say, meet me at such and such a restaurant at 7p.m? And that’s that. And then I can just surrender. I feel like I’m in charge of everything and I want him to stay in a more masculine energy, linear thinking place. He’s become so feminine I can’t stand it.

And then I start to laugh and I say but this is the arrangement you’ve made and it doesn’t engender him with a lot of masculine energy. Well then he should find it somewhere. It’s fascinating what’s going on now with more and more women, if someone is a sole wage owner it’s not that uncommon that it’s the wife in the family who works. Men are in this weird place and they feel kind of emasculated – this is what men have said to me. And the impact it’s having on sex is very complex.”

She says the women want a traditional chest-thumping mate to pop up at their desire. Which tends not to happen. Meanwhile she says the guys often wonder what exactly their wife wants. Now I imagine this is not the case in every relationship where the woman is the sole wage earner in a heterosexual couple…but those people aren’t the ones calling Evelyn.

In the first show I did with Evelyn 3 years ago she focused quite a bit on the role children play in relationships. If you remember in that show I mentioned that Evelyn trained her daughter when she was ten to do her own laundry. This was so Evelyn wasn’t so overwhelmed between work and home. She reasoned if her daughter could operate a computer, she could operate a washing machine. This gave her a bit more freedom from housework, more time with her spouse.

She says one big problem with this whole work/family dynamic is that too many women put their kids before their partners. They do too much for them – as you heard earlier Evelyn isn’t totally immune from this even now; they worry about what’ll happen if the kids get less attention.

“While I don’t think it is always a good idea to put your partner first I do think it’s a good idea to put your partner first more times than to put your children first. Because children grow up and they leave. And what we want for our children is for them to have marriages where their partner loves them a lot and keeps them in mind as being a very important thing, perhaps the most important thing more of the time. And this is not to say when children are struggling or they’re sick but to say to your children we’re going have dinner on our own. You’re going to have dinner at 5.30 and we’re going to eat at 7 is not a mean thing. But this idea that families have to be pods that are moving together at all times and parents don’t take more time to themselves…I have many, many couples who come in in crisis and I say when was the last time you went away on your own? Oh, well before the children were born. How old are your children? Well, 8 and 10. And 11 and a half. And I’m thinking no wonder you’re in crisis. The two of you are managers. You’re family managers, you’re not lovers any more. So this is a big problem for people and they have some terror around leaving their children because their kids might get upset – well, kids get upset. What I’ve experienced is the thing they get most upset about is when they can sense their parents are not a united front. Because the fact is parents are the masters of their universe. And if there’s dissention among the parents the children will get symptomatic. So when parents say go away, I want your mother all to myself, even if kids protest in the beginning it’s very reassuring to them because their parents are not at odds with one another. And that’s what people have to understand is that parents being really unified, really together, really loving one another and expressing their exclusivity at the expense of children on some sort of regular basis is in their children’s better interest, and this is something that’s very hard to grasp.”

And on that same theme of putting your partner first, here’s a statistic I got from Ellevate, the women’s networking group; maybe some of you are members as well and saw this. In one of their recent surveys they asked which relationships their members spent the most time nurturing.

28% said it was relationships with their peers. 25 percent said it was relationships with clients. 11% said it was relationships with their partners. Well at least partners came before bosses –but still, 11%...it gives you an idea of how easy it is for us to take that particular relationship for granted.

AM-T: “Switching tack, because I want to talk about you. Because you wrote a really interesting email saying I have not been taking my own medicine, and now I’m living in a sexual Sahara, and I need to change this. And I’d like you to talk about what happened and how did things play out?”

“Well I think because we know one another and I’m not shy about anything, I’m perfectly comfortable with you asking such a specific and pointed question. And the best way I can answer this for you is by saying it’s an ongoing work in progress. I’m seeing that I’m still pushing against a tide of that sexual Sahara. And having to remind myself every day OK, look at the calendar – when was the last time you had sex? And people will say to me that is so contrived, I can’t imagine, you put on your calendar when you are intimate with your spouse? And I say yes, -- because time can go by and both of us feel exhausted, but as we become increasingly estranged from one another in that intimate realm that we only share with one another, it feels harder and harder to get back there. And so for me I do keep a calendar. I call it my sex hearts calendar. I put these red hearts on there and go oh lord, 5 weeks, this is not OK…it’s not OK based on my own values system. Where can I just let something go and say no, I don’t want to do that right now, I want to be with my spouse.  So it’s an ongoing work on progress and it’s very, very, challenging especially because of my fatigue level and many of us start to face physical challenges that interfere with being sexually active – we have a new knee, new hip, I don’t know, but it’s really the fatigue more than anything. So how do you work that into your life?”

AM-T: “You talked in some detail in that email about how mentally grueling your job can be.”

“Yeah, I come home and I’m not compos mentis. I can just sit and stare out my window, I live in a rural area, it’s very beautiful, sometimes I just sit and stare and I’m so grateful not to have to communicate with anyone by speech or anything else…because I’ve been doing that all day. On average I see 20, 22 people a day…very complex patients. I often work a 12-hour day and I feel that also in healthcare you take a lot of that work home with you, you worry about people, you want to make sure they’re OK, you want to come up with plans that might suit them better in terms of their care. So there’s a mental burden that I know others in my position feel as well. Speaking of dusting things off that needs to be dusted away and tidied up before I can enter into a realm that is so specific to my marriage and is something I share with just one person. So there’s a kind of mental clarity we need to be focused on our sexuality and I still find myself working on it; my spouse feels the same way. The one thing I believe saves us is that we talk about it all the time, even if we’re talking about how we haven’t had sex in four weeks, we’re talking about it, and we make an effort to be loving and affectionate, and not in this communal roommate sort of way, the kind you would only be with a partner.  Kissing one another on our lips, not just on our cheeks or on the top of our head on our way to bed because we’re so tired. That kind of thing. There are certain things that are reserved for my married life that I don’t share with anyone else, and I focus on those even when sexuality feels it’s so subterranean because of my workload.”

AM-T: “Well yes it was poignant…getting that email…because this is what you talk about all the time and certainly when you’re working with clients on their sex lives and what we talked about in our first show, you have to focus on pleasure…it’s an important part of life. I was going to ask you if you had your coffee this morning, sitting down, looking at the view [laughing] but you also say your spouse said she was going to rat you out to your public.”

“Yes, well that still is a threat. Periodically. Especially as I still send out my e-blast every 5 weeks or so…I really enjoy focusing on something pithy, in 450 words or less. Sometimes she’ll say to me really, how honest are you going to be with them, it’s been five weeks, and you’re going to be writing something about sex as if you’re an expert? So we have this humor that goes back and forth between us. And sometimes she’ll say OK, if you work on this email we’d better have sex pretty soon because you’re not going to have anything to write about, or you’re not going to make any sense. And it’s true. I pull a lot of content from the experience of having a loving marriage and being sexually alive and alert—and definitely the pleasure piece, and that experience of my coffee every morning, not in a paper cup, not while I’m driving, but sitting, having it in a real ceramic mug…it is something important, it makes me feel alert and alive and I cherish it every single day. So there are still those rules around pleasurable living and when I start to feel I’ve had no pleasure all day long I dial back and find a way to get it, because it helps me keep going.”

And for more on our relationship with pleasure – including Evelyn’s coffee habit – go back to show number 19 when I first met her.

But just going back to that whole idea of needing to make time for sex in your schedule…and how hard it can feel to do that.

AM-T: “I was thinking about this in terms of the busyness factor… especially with women, your brain is always buzzing with all those things you have to do. And I – I don’t know if I want to say this on my own podcast – but sometimes, if you have sex in the morning before work you risk being late for work.”

And you’re thinking OK, I’m probably gonna be late but it would be really nice to do this now…but which is more important, having sex, you know, being with my partner, or being on time? And you are a bit late. But it’s probably a good reminder that you need to prioritize sex sometimes if you want to have a happy relationship.

“Yes, that’s true. I mean people often say to me I want it to be spontaneous and I want it to flow… well it doesn’t, there’s not really anything that’s spontaneous. I mean once in a while we might start kissing and then move into something more intimate than that. But generally   speaking there’s not too much spontaneity in most people’s lives even when they’re on vacation. There’s planning that goes on. Even if they just say let’s take the morning and see where it leads us. OK, well I guess we could call that spontaneous. But it takes a lot of energy to be orgasmic, to stay focused, and with women’s minds being as busy as they are and multitasking, you have to do this mediation exercise. I mean women will say we’re starting to have sex and then I’m thinking about, oh God, did I write the bus note for the kids or oh no, I left my cashmere sweater in the wash.”

Or I forgot to send that email, or I need finish that report…

“And I say yes, that’s a mind, that is what minds do. And when that does happen, I mean there’s the meditation technique where thoughts come into your mind, you think about them and you drop them, and then you re-refocus back to where they are. There’s no crime in kissing your partner or touching your genitals or their genitals and thinking about your cashmere sweater is in the wash, you don’t have to admit those things. You can recognize them, they can be kind of comical. You can be like, oh well, I’ll get them later. This is what minds do. And this whole idea that with a meditation practice for example, you’re going to clear your mind completely – that doesn’t happen. It’s not the end of the world when those things happen, and you just keep going, you just keep having sex.”

OK.

Finally I told Evelyn about something that happened around the first time I spoke to her three years ago. I had written a blog post that I posted on the Broad Experience site…

AM-T: “… related to my feeling that whenever I read these articles about very successful women I always wondered, are they having sex? I’m nosy…I can’t help wondering about this aspect of their lives that of course is never mentioned in a Fortune Magazine article. I tweeted this blog post about it and somebody on Twitter got very angry…essentially accusing me of blaming women for one more thing they weren’t doing. It was an angry response suggesting that to talk about needing to have sex was kind of anti-women.”

“Yeah, well I think if somebody is attached to that concept of objectifying women then we have to look at that, or if they feel that way about being sexual, that’s it’s not a health practice…then I mean I work with them from that point. I don’t have this penchant for making sure people are sexually active on some kind of schedule. But what I get disturbed about is when people say I miss having sex, I don’t know why I feel so far away from it, help me get closer to it. Personally from doing this work for such a long time and with many high powered women that, you know, have been featured in those magazines, is the answer to your question is no, they’re not having sex. They aren’t. Because they’re doing a million other things. And they don’t have the energy for it and because they don’t see it as important, and part of why they don’t is because again, culturally, what we see as important is productivity, status, position, money, you know, achievement – women are so achievement focused. And my feeling is you have to decide, how do you want to live your life? What is going to be important? Yes, it’s important to live a life that is intellectually satisfying and where you’re contributing to the world, however you work is not going to miss you if something happens, but your spouse will, and your family will. Your spouse, their life will be forever changed, because there will never be another you.”

Evelyn Resh. You can check out her site at EvelynResh.com. She’s the author of the books Women, Sex, Power and Pleasure and The Secret Lives of Teen Girls. She also does counseling sessions via Skype.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time.

Two shows in a row about sex – you’re probably dying for a rest. And you’ll get one because I need a bit of time before I can put some new shows together so there’ll be a longer than usual break before the next one in July.

If you like what you hear on the show please consider kicking in a few bucks to support my work. Some of you do that already and I’m very grateful. If you can part with $50 you will get the official Broad Experience T-shirt – you can see a photo of that on the site under the support tab.

And if you can’t give just rate the show and write a review on iTunes – it’s quick and easy and it helps The Broad Experience get noticed.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.  See you in a few weeks. 

Episode 86: Work and Intimacy (part 1)

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time we re-visit a guest some of you first met three years ago. She is eloquent on a topic most of us don’t discuss – and you certainly won’t read about it in books or articles on professional women…

“Yes we’ve gained ground, and yes we have more important positions and we’re more influential. But the price is that we are working more and many of us are working for less money, and that takes a toll on people’s self-practices including paying attention to their intimate lives.”

Yup – Evelyn Resh is back to talk about the negative affect our work culture can have on our relationships, and what we can do about it.

So if you didn’t hear my original show with sexuality counselor and author Evelyn Resh I’m actually going suggest you hit pause on this show and go and download or play that original show first – it’s number 19, I repeated it as show 38, and it’s called Women, Work, and Sex. It’s a great introduction to Evelyn to why I wanted to talk about sex in the context of a podcast like this one.

But the thing with this show is it’s not just about our working lives, it’s about our lives. And work affects so many aspects of life – including our sex lives. And for the more reticent among you, no, this isn’t about to turn into the Dan Savage sex podcast. Evelyn is a nurse-midwife and she comes at this from her position as someone who cares deeply about women’s health and also women’s ability to take pleasure in life. All types of pleasure. And she says our 24/7 culture has pretty much eroded our relationship to slow enjoyment of everyday things, something as simple as sitting with your coffee rather than grabbing it on the go.

We had a long conversation and what I’m doing is dividing it into two shows. So I’ll release the next part of our discussion next week so you won’t have to wait a full two weeks for that one.

And just to let you know I spoke to Evelyn by phone which isn’t my usual practice because the quality isn’t great. Evelyn lives in a rural part of Massachusetts and there’s no cell service so she didn’t have an iPhone to tape her end of the conversation, we tried Skype a few times but there was a ringing on the line that would have driven you mad. So in the end we used her landline.

I started off by asking her to describe her work. It has changed a bit since I last spoke to her. She recently got her second master’s degree in nursing education. And these days she’s taking care of pregnant women and women needing gynecological care. And quite a few of them have drug problems.

“I have a very large percentage of people, actually 30%, who are opioid addicted and need an enormous amount of health education – and that’s just from my maternity caseload, not even from my gynecological case load. So I’m doing a lot of addiction medicine, a lot of primary care, a lot of health education, every single day on a myriad of subjects. And sexual health is tied into just all of it. And then the remainder of my practice is very mixed between professional people, working class clientele and a working poor.”

She commutes an hour each way by car. And she is pretty wiped out when she gets home. So she does understand how much work can take out of you. I reminded her of what we’d discussed last time – the fact that a lot women give too much to our work…

AM-T: “...and you talked about their sense of obligation to their jobs…and how we could all feel less responsible to work and probably not be fired, but then I know you yourself have fallen into that trap in recent years, right?”

“Yes, it’s been very stressful. And it’s been interesting to live the experience of women who’ve come to see me for care…and then write about it from my own perspective as well as have it seasoned and sprinkled and adorned by their own experience. I feel what’s happening in the workplace for professional women is yes we’ve gained ground, yes we have more important positions and are more influential…but there’s a price to be paid with that. And the price is we are working more and many of us are working for less money, even if our status has shifted and gotten higher, and that takes a toll on people’s self-care practices…including paying attention to their intimate lives. Because what women will do is prune and snip and take away from that seat of power which is their primary relationship, their loving relationship. Because they’ll feel often – and sometimes this is true but after a certain point it isn’t – that with that sturdy seat of power, they can afford to do that. But if they do it for too long and they do it too often their sense of gravity starts to shift.”   

AM-T: “Yeah, I re-listened to the show we did a few years ago and it’s still so fresh. Everything you talked about is so true and I’m sure it’s true of a lot of people listening who perhaps have jobs, and kids, and a partner, and as you said in that show, the partner gets less, they end up putting the partner last.”

“They do, and what’s interesting about this and difficult is that it impacts the quality of life across the board for women. One of the things that also gets interfered with consistently are self-care practices and I see their intimate life as an aspect of self-care. Because generally speaking women will say to me you know when we are intimate I feel so much better and ask myself over and over again why don’t we do this more often…I feel good the next day, reenergized, connected, they go off and they feel more positive, and then more and more days go by and it becomes a month and it becomes six week and people haven’t tended to their intimate lives, and the cycle starts all over again.”

AM-T: “And then – for instance, OK, I know somebody who has said…'I just, sex, it’s the last thing on my list.' She has a really busy job here in New York. She has a husband, she has two below the age of ten children, and she’s like, 'yep, I can’t be bothered, I don’t want it.'”

“I hear this from people often, then they’ll come to me, they’ll want some sort of magic bullet about how do I resurrect this, how do I want this more, how do I engage more? And I say in order to do this, you have to prioritize it. And it’s a disciplined practice. Just like your exercise schedule is or paying attention to having a sound diet or getting to bed early enough or turning off your communication device – you have to decide how important is it to you…and then they say oh, it’s very important, but it’s not as important as they identified it as being. And then they wonder 2 or 3 years afterwards why has their relationship fallen to pieces. They say oh, I had no idea, I didn’t see this coming – and I say, yeah, you did, you came to me 3 years ago, you knew this was an important piece. And this isn’t to say – in any relationship whether same sex or heterosexual – I’ll often hear from heterosexual women well that’s all he wants, he’s constantly coming after me. And I have worked with too many men to believe that’s the case for most men. Most men I have worked with who are heterosexual deeply love their partner, are not chasing them down like wild dogs, what they’re doing is saying I really miss you, I miss this contact…and I want you to pay more attention to me than you’re paying to work, to our children, to your girlfriends, to your family and oh, postscript, your mate.”

AM-T: “And I suppose I should say or we should say that for instance after the last show ran I got a comment from a guy saying, you should know it’s not just women who feel this way because of work.”

“Oh, I think that’s true and the other factor that’s involved in this since you and I first spoke is I too am older I’m 57, I’m really feeling it, and my age-match peers who are professional people are feeling it, and we often talk about how at the end of the day all we have anything left for is to come home, think about what do we want to put on our toast for dinner and then decide what we need to zone out on for an hour and a half of TV before we go to sleep and start all over again. And men are absolutely feeling this way. But what has happened in the American culture is work has taken such a central stage and the second stage is children, that American couples are living in sexless marriages everywhere. And my feeling is it’s not good for families, it’s not good for children and it’s definitely not good in terms of how we perceive our work. Because what ends up happening is people crack and they say I can’t do this any more. And you lose an entire pool of talented people because the system that they’re trying to function in is really not a system that is health promoting or joyful. It’s productivity promoting, it’s focused on getting the job done, but that’s not the only thing that’s happening in people’s lives. And when they start taking these hits at the end of the day when they come home or when they start the day and they leave the house after they’ve had so much bickering or some big blowup, it doesn’t make for a very productive worker.”

AM-T: “Right, and you know as you were talking and talking about America in particular, I have quite a lot of listeners in other countries, I mean I wonder if my listeners in Sweden have sexier marriages than American couples for instance, because of course work cultures are different in different parts of the world and they’re not as intense in France and some of the Scandinavian countries that have shorter work days and more of an emphasis on family life.”           

“Well and what’s interesting is not only do they have shorter work day and more time for holiday time, they also have more productivity. So what’s fascinating to me is we have so much research-based evidence to confirm that workers are more productive when they have more time off and shorter work weeks, and yet in the American system of work we see people put in 12, 14, 15 hour days. And because I work in the ob/gyn world and clinical medicine in general, I’m very familiar with people needing to take call.”

Meaning being on call.

“And I took call for years. And what comes on call is catastrophic, and I see my ob/gyn colleagues working incredibly hard, making life and death decisions when they’re on call. It’s very serious work, and they’re exhausted. And they do get more time off than I do because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to function at all. But even if you’re not on call and you’re working 10-15 hours a day every day and you only get 3 weeks off a year, that’s just plain wrong, and it’s unhealthy. So it’s a curious thing that goes on in the Unites States, because we have lots of good evidence from other parts of the world that productivity would improve, and family life would improve, and yet we persist with this two or three weeks off a year and people working long days and long hours.”

That discussion about European attitudes led us down a side route, talking about how much more evolved countries like the Netherlands are in educating their young about sex – the result is many fewer teenage pregnancies compared to the US. And she says that lack of sex education in America – it raises its head even when she’s working with middle-aged patients…

“These are professional women I’ll work with sometimes who are CEOs of companies, and my population is quite diversified, I still actually work at work at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, which is a destination wellness spa, a very elite population, very upper class, these people are very bright, well educated, and they’ll have conversations with me that are positively confounding. I’ll think to myself how is it you’ve had your whole life to learn this and still at 52 you have no idea really of what you’re talking about?”

AM-T: “Can you give me an example?”

“OK, so I’ll give you a perfect example. I had a woman who was the CEO of a very large company, she had a very demanding, serious job. She had been recently divorced and had reentered the dating scene and she had multiple partners now, she was taking a more recreational approach to her sexual activity than she had when she was married and earlier in life. And she was not post-menopausal so she absolutely needed contraception still and she wasn’t using a condom and she asked me well, why would I do that. And I said, well your risk of being exposed to sexually transmitted infections is significantly higher, and you could get pregnant. And she said, well I’m not gonna get pregnant, I’m 50. And I said well, that is actually not the case, and this could be a crisis for you, in terms of your heath, your wellness and the stability of your life. And she had absolutely no idea. And in that regard in terms of condom use I see a lot more wisdom amongst my teenagers than I do amongst my middle aged women who are professional people.”

And that discussion about knowledge and planning reminded her of something else…

“And you know this leads us down a different tributary around women and work and I think you’ll get considerable pushback from this statement I’m about to make but I feel really compelled to make it, because it’s really a women’s health issue and it affects work dramatically. And that is that we have more and more women who are delaying their reproductive lives, who are starting their pregnancies, first pregnancies, at 38, 39, 41 which is very complicated, and puts them at significantly higher risk. And now what I’m doing in my work is something I never imagined. Which is I’m saying to women in their 20s, what are your plans for having a family?” 

They respond, oh, I’m not gonna be thinking about that for ages. And Evelyn pushes back…

“Because I need you to consider starting your family in your mid-twenties, so a) you have time for child spacing…”

b) you can be sure your fertility is at its best…

 “And c) you’re not so exhausted. You need your stamina. And they’re absolutely stunned. And the reason I say this is that I work with professional women who have very demanding jobs, they have their first baby at 34 and they’re ready to fall over in a heap, between dealing with the responsibilities of their children, dealing with the demands of their job and trying to attend to their marriages. So there’s a planning problem here that people aren’t recognizing, because they say, well, I want to get really established in my career. And while I’m sensitive to that I also know that people can be established in their career or be reestablished in their career at pretty much any point in their lives. But they cannot rely on their eggs nor their stamina at any point in their lives.”

I’m not sure how easy it is to reestablish yourself in a career, actually – and I think that’s why so many women wait.

Now I have to admit I was squirming when Evelyn was talking about this. Not because of the career part but because not all of us have partners when we’re in our twenties. Or even in our thirties. How many of us have been in that situation where you thought perhaps you could see family life on the horizon and then…something happens, and you break up.

AM-T: “I always say this, we don’t all have neat and tidy lives that fit into this pretty box where everything’s done and dusted when you’re 29. I certainly never wanted to put off having a kid but life happens to some of us and you don’t have the opportunity to have children when you’re even 34.”

“Oh, it’s absolutely true and this is the complexity of raising this issue when I see them. But this has become a cultural shift in terms of priority also. The priority has been in educated women becoming increasingly educated and focusing more and more on their professions and less and less on motherhood or on marriages, and I’m not saying this is good or bad, I’m saying one of the consequences of that is what I’m talking about. Which is I’m seeing women at 34, or 35 who are starting their families and up against an enormous constellation of risk factors. And it’s an interesting tradeoff.

At 57 I so remember when Ms. Magazine first hit the newsstand, and the feminist movement was gaining ground. You know, what I heard from the feminist movement was not that I needed to everything I wanted to do, but that now I had a choice to do what I wanted to do. And I think what’s happened for a lot of women is the message they’ve gotten is well, you can do it all, you can do everything, and my contention is, not really, and be able to maintain the most important pieces and parts. Because it’s too splitting to us. And our work environment in the United States doesn’t help us do many things except for work. So women are faced with a really complex choice.”

I’m going to let you give the feedback on that. I’m curious to hear from people who did have children later about how that’s working out – and especially how much you and your partner divide all the kid and home responsibilities. That’s something else Evelyn and I touched on last time.

Next time, things get personal. Evelyn’s work has been intense lately, and she has not been taking her own advice about tending to her relationship. She still sends out a regular email blast to her followers about all things sexual, but her spouse is not impressed…

“Sometimes she’ll say to me really, how honest are you gonna be with them? It’s been five weeks - and you’re gonna be writing something about sex as if you’re an expert?”

That’s next time on The Broad Experience. Along with a lot of other stuff.

Evelyn is the author of two books – the Secret Lives of Teen Girls and Women, Sex, Power and Pleasure.

She and I will be back next week.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. See you then.

Episode 85: Far From Home - Women in Aid

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success.

This time…when you’re doing your job far from home, culture clash is almost inevitable. But in disaster zones in developing countries…

“You have to go into that and act as a woman, in many cases act as a manager, in situations or cultures where that’s really very rare or completely unheard of.’

Which can be uncomfortable for both parties.

A lot of us donate to charities or nonprofits. Depending on which causes you care about some of that money may go to a group like Oxfam or Doctors Without Borders -- an NGO that helps people in desperate situations, usually abroad. But how often do any of us think about the workers at those organizations? The people who work in the refugee camps or help get fresh water to remote communities? If I ever hear the words “aid worker” on the news it’s usually because one of them has been kidnapped or killed on the job.

Aid work – like other helping professions – is female-dominated. And a couple of months ago I heard from one of these women. She’s a listener and she said you know, we hear a lot about women CEOs, we even hear about women in the military, but we never hear about women in aid. And there is a lot to talk about.

We’re not using her real name because she doesn’t want to hurt her chances of landing her next job.

“I’m Jessica and I’m an aid worker. So I work in humanitarian response which kind of means working in emergency situations.”

Jessica is 28 now. She started her career in South Sudan, working with displaced people, then after a few years she went on to Jordan, then back to South Sudan, then to Sierra Leone. Sometimes the work can be dangerous – she has hidden in a bunker for hours while under bombardment – sometimes it’s more pedestrian…

“In Sierra Leone I was distributing hygiene kits to schools – going to rural villages and trying to organize how is this going to work in terms of the cars, and what we put in there, and on what days you do what.”

When we spoke she was on a break in London, between contracts. She says that’s how it works for most aid workers who go abroad for their jobs. You’re gone for 6 or 9 months. The work is intense. Then you go back home to flop for a while before starting a new gig.

“When I come back to London and I’m there for 2 weeks what I want to do is eat a lot of cheese, and lie down, see my friends and watch a lot of Netflix.”

But this time she’s taking a longer break. She’s thinking hard about what to do next. Because she says one of the tough things about this work is the utter lack of work/life balance.

“When I first entered the sector I was very naïve, it was my first proper job, I’d just come to South Sudan, and it was 2 days after independence and it was all very exciting. And I had dinner with a woman in her late 40s who basically sat me down and said, you be careful entering into this sector because what happens to a lot of women is they have a lot of fun, then when they get to their mid 30s they realize they don’t have a husband or children or any stability, and they want it, and by that time it’s too late for them to get it because by that time all the men in the sector are dating younger women. And obviously that’s a generalization and some people don’t do that, but that’s definitely a feeling, and I’m aware there are a lot of women older than me who’ve been in the sector for longer who feel that it’s challenging and maybe have enjoyed some aspects of their lifestyle but feel there is a cost.”

Jessica says because of that conversation, she’s been thinking about her priorities from the get-go. She says she’s turned down jobs because she’s put her relationship first…

“And trying to have a relationship even when you both work in this sector can be quite difficult particularly at the beginning where maybe you have fewer job opportunities available to you.”

She’s been in a relationship for three years. And in all that time they’ve lived in the same place for a whopping two months. She says she’s back in London now in part because that’s where her partner is at the moment, and she decided she had to give things a chance.

“Of course you get regular holidays. But it’s not like a long distance relationship where you can drive for 3 or 4 hours to see somebody, it’s one where you need to take a UN helicopter to go to the place where they are. It’s not something you can do regularly. And I just felt if I want to continue this and not just have a relationship via Skype, and by Skype chat because often the internet isn’t good enough to support video…then I need to really consider what I want to do. And I think a lot of people, you see they’ll have a relationship with someone in a certain location and when one or the other leaves they will end up breaking up. Not all of them. Some do manage to go to the next location and find jobs in similar locations. I mean of course for people who are not straight, cisgender people it’s much more complicated. You may be working in countries for example where being a homosexual is illegal, and that’s also something a lot of organizations struggle with how to deal with that. I’ve known people who’ve felt they have to hide that for security reasons. I’ve known lots of colleagues who are gay, and I haven’t come across any trans people and I think it’s because it must be very challenging for them. My gay colleagues, they’re fine, they deal with it but it’s more challenging and there’s also confusion to an extent about what is the policy and how much is it the organization’s…how much of it is it a personal issue versus a work issue. Because in those situations then it can bring negative things against the organization itself, etcetera…it’s a very thorny issue and I think one the sector is trying to address. There’s definitely still a lot more work to be done on that.”

What she has to contend with on a personal level is much more benign. It’s just this question of how are they going to make things work long-term, let alone with children, given the distances involved and the work they do? She says it’s not just her who’s doing the thinking.

“We sat down and each wrote down the top 10 countries we’d be interested in working in and then got together and saw which ones overlapped. We’ve done this a couple of times. It does look like a very strange list. At the moment Afghanistan is on three, Nigeria is on there, any of the countries involved in the Burundi crisis…so any of the countries where they have refugees at the moment. Myanmar, Iraq, Pakistan…and Central African Republic and DRC…”

The Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Which is perhaps not where most people might think about setting up a love nest together.”

But she says those places – that’s where the two of them both have an interest and where they’re likely to get jobs they’re both qualified for.

Given how demanding the work can be, I wanted to know what she loved about it.  

“I mean it’s very complicated, obviously I’m doing it because I have a desire to help, and I think the work I do is useful and makes a difference. I’m also aware it’s very complicated, and there are a lot of issues going on there, and that it’s not as simple as me going and helping people. But also I like the adventure, l like meeting people from new countries, I like being thrown into the middle of very difficult circumstances and always having the adrenaline of changing situations and having to adapt to that.”    

London can feel quite sedate by comparison.

So as she says she likes the difficult-ness of her job in many ways. But one of the things she mentioned when she first emailed me was what a big problem sexual assault and sexual harassment are in the aid world. Jessica says the worst thing that’s happened to her is a wildly inappropriate comment. But she says talk to female aid workers and many of them have horror stories about lecherous bosses who feel they have complete impunity to behave that way. Others have been raped by colleagues. You can check out the site reporttheabuse.org to get a sense of these stories. The URL is https://reporttheabuse.org/

Jessica says dealing with sexual harassment is trickier than it might be if you were in your home country. For one thing, the local culture could be very male-centric...

“And of course it’s further complicated by fact you’re working with so many different cultures than your own. Not just the people from the country you’re working with. The ex-pats come from all over the world…it’s not like all the expats are European, you get expats from other countries who also may have different perceptions of gender, dating, what’s appropriate, what’s not appropriate, so you have to fit into that to a certain extent. You have to be culturally sensitive to your colleagues as well. But that kind of complicates the issue.”

Because what’s normal male-to-female behavior to some is insulting to others. And the environment they all work in can exacerbate this stuff.

“I do think there’s a culture of machoness within the sector caused by people being very stressed and being like, well, we’re in this disaster zone, all bets are off. So that can make it difficult. And also you’re in a place where you’re entirely dependent on your organization in a lot of places. There is no active local police force or government that would have the capacity or laws to protect you that you might expect in your own country so you’re entirely dependent on your organization for that kind of support.”

And that support doesn’t always come. She says at least the topic is now being discussed more openly in the aid community. It’s a start.

Onto a more minor difficulty. I did a whole show last year on menstruation at work, and society’s attitudes to women’s bodily functions. Jessica says you think it’s bad having a period at your office? Try the delights of menstruating in a remote area. Local women have no access to tampons or pads. So neither to you.

“In terms of sanitary equipment you have to bring your own stuff…so if you’re packing for 3 or 6 months or you don’t know how long, then you have to bring all that with you. You often also have squat toilets, and often they’re not that clean because you just can’t be clean within that situation. When you have a squat toilet that’s, there’s no concrete walls, it’s made of grass, or maybe plastic sheeting, you are going to get flies and lizards and everything like that around. In some places of course it’s difficult to buy toilet paper. That is obviously something that people try to provide because culturally it’s difficult for some people not to have that around. But it’s also something that especially if you’re traveling around, you just get used to. And yes, having periods is difficult. And I have had the situation once where I drove two and a half hours to a field location, went to the loo, realized I had my period, and literally my only option was to drive 2.5 hours back the other way.

I guess I could have asked the women who lived there but unfortunately the reality for a lot of women in the world is they use grass or bits of old cloth. And I feel very bad that’s something they have to do, but it’s not something I think I could deal with myself. But that was very awkward telling the driver, ‘I have to go back, now. I cannot stay here for the rest of the day as planned.’ And after that I learnt to always be prepared. Because it’s not like in countries where I’m used to where there’s always some kind of solution.”

That made me think about just how different her work life is from most of her friends back home. She says she has a good, close group of friends, particularly women friends, but talking about work can feel weird.

“How can you really explain to somebody what it’s like to work surrounded by 70,000 refugees or to be in a position where you see people without enough food, or everyone around you is absolutely desperate and has had to leave their homes and has lost relatives? It is quite an overwhelming experience that does change you. And I’m sure that’s the same for other contexts as well.

Within the sector you make jokes about it, well about funny things that happen, and I think that’s kind of a coping mechanism, but within normal people conversation, or normal among the people I grew up amongst, it can seem that you’re bringing in all these giant, serious things to the conversation they wouldn’t necessarily normally think about except if they’re watching the news for half an hour they’d go, oh, that’s terrible, and turn it off. So you can feel you are bringing an uncomfortable subject into a very comfortable position. And it does feel like others will struggle to understand that aspect of you.”

She says it’s totally different with other aid workers – they get it.  

Still, despite the difficulties and discomfort that can come with the job, she says she’s learned so much.

“It does expose you to different ways of being a woman. You get exposed to all these different cultures where femininity or what that means is expressed very differently…you have to go as a woman, act as a manger, in situations or cultures where that’s very rare or completely unheard of for the people living there. What do you do if you’re a manager for a group of 20 people where you’ve tried to hire as many women as you could, but very few women applied because there’s a cultural barrier against that, so the majority are men with maybe a couple of younger women who have never married. And none of these men have ever been in a situation where they’ve ever had a woman in a position of authority over them. And you have to navigate that. It’s a fine line between you don’t want to be the random foreigner who’s coming in, bossing people about and being horrible, and not sensitive to the nuances of the situation, but also you don’t want to be a pushover. So that’s an interesting dynamic.”

She says she has had criticism from local staff, but she thinks of it as part of the job. She says navigating those social relationships is a challenge – but she likes it. And she didn’t articulate this but I will. She’s a young, white woman often managing people of a different race who are often older than her. Which surely adds to that dynamic.

She says the local staff, they’re working in their own country, and that country has undergone a disaster, so they’re stressed out, just like the people they’re all trying to help. Jessica says you have to handle each situation with sensitivity – particularly if you’re female.

“Some people do it without much sensitivity but just get respected for being leaders or for being macho. So I think some men in the sector play up to that macho-ness that might be found more in that area or in that country…that’s how then they act as a leader. But as a woman you have to go in and create your own way to try and get the work done and to solve interpersonal conflicts between your staff members, which may have strange and difficult cultural aspects that are quite alien to you, while being an effective manager. I once had to deal with 2 male staff, one of whom was accusing the other of threatening to kill him using witchcraft…which I personally don’t believe in but I have to take it seriously and not disregard that person’s feelings and fears. And also be aware that normally they probably wouldn’t be going to a woman who’s younger than them to solve a dispute between them. In that case I tried to facilitate dialogue between the two and then said that was something they needed to discuss among their families and the community.

But that’s just one example. I have lots of other examples. I had one issue where some male staff were accusing a female staff member of having premarital sex. Which was difficult obviously because that’s something me and all my friends do, and don’t think is wrong. But it’s not really my place to say that and say they’re being stupid without acknowledging the fact that accusation in their world has a very different meaning than what it does to me.”

On the one hand she wanted to be a feminist and tell these guys to stop slut-shaming. On the other hand she knew that would backfire. Again, she says she had to try to respect the local culture. So she told the men there should be a distinction between work life and private life – that it wasn’t appropriate to bring stuff about this woman’s private life into the workplace unless it affected the work.

She says to this day she doesn’t know if she handled it the right way.

And she says after all these are only her experiences. She’s a highly educated woman from the west. Women from different backgrounds will have other experiences.

She’s grateful to have lived and worked with some of them. She says it’s one of the best things about the job.

In what other sector would I spend five months literally living in the same room as a Kenyan woman in her 40s or 50s, and trying to sneak in a bit drunk on Saturday night…but also seeing her and her missing her children back in Kenya, but feeling that this opportunity was a good one for her professionally. I don’t think there’s any other sector where I could have that experience of being so close to so many people, but also so many women of different ages and different cultures to me.”

Jessica is still considering her next career move. And I’m setting up an interview with her Kenyan roommate to hear her side of the women-in-aid story.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time.

If you think stories like these are important please consider kicking in with a donation. You can do that at thebroadexperience.com/support. If you donate $50 you will receive the official Broad Experience T-shirt. You can see a photo of that on the website. And thanks again to all those of you who’ve already supported the show or support it on a monthly basis.

If you can’t donate, write a review on iTunes instead – it’s free and it only takes a couple of minutes.

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I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.

Episode 84: When Women Decide

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…women, decision making and risk taking.

“People often think a woman leader who’s made a mistake should be demoted. Whereas a male leader who took a risk and it didn’t work, out, sure he made bad judgment, but he doesn’t lose as many status or competence points.”

Coming up, women make a lot more big decisions than we used to. But even today, our judgment isn’t entirely trusted.

But first, this episode is supported by Write, Speak, Code…

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Therese Huston is a cognitive psychologist. She’s also the founding director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Seattle University. And she’s the author of a new book called How Women Decide – What’s True, What’s Not, and What Strategies Spark the Best Choices.

For centuries most women didn’t get to decide anything that happened outside the home. Until pretty recently our brains weren’t thought to be up to the task.

“So in the United States women received the right to vote in 1920, which is after almost a dozen other countries, in fact the UK you’ll be proud to hear got the right to vote for women in 1918, although it’s kind of funny, because at the time only women over 30 were allowed to vote. It took a little longer before younger women were trusted with their judgment. So that’s 1920. Fifty years later in 1970 women were still being denied lines of credit, suggesting women couldn’t be held accountable for making their own financial decisions. One of my favorite stories here is about Billie Jean King who many of us know as a champion tennis player. And she won 3 Wimbledon titles in a single year. And she brought in tremendous earnings enough to cover all the expenses for her family. Well she tied get credit card in her own name, but the banks wouldn’t give her one. The only way she could secure a credit card was if her husband was listed as the primary person on the account. Now we could point to some logic here if her husband had an income but he didn’t. Billie Jean King was putting him through law school. So this is, we have this long history of women not being trusted to make important decisions.

And there is a hangover from that history. Society still has trouble seeing women as decision makers. Therese points to a Pew Research study from last year. It found people saw men as more ambitious than women… 

“But there was an even bigger gap on decisiveness. Men were perceived as being much more decisive than women, at least men leaders. And that’s a real problem because there’s this continued perception that if you want someone decisive and you want them at the top, what you want is a male leader.”

But she says when it comes to healthy adults…

“The research actually shows that men and women are just as likely to struggle with a decision. There are certain populations, like teenagers – evidently female teenagers are less decisive than male teenagers.”

But then they’re not usually leading anything either.

A few years ago Therese wasn’t thinking about any of this. She came to this project by accident. One day she started asking her academic colleagues about their pet peeves, and one psychologist said, ‘All the books about decision making are written by men.’ Therese had quite a lot of those books on her shelves. She’d never noticed this. Then she realized not only where they all written by men – but all the decision-makers they focused on were men too. They were all stockbrokers or airline pilots…

“And they were fascinating examples but I suddenly had this lens, this realization that there was a real gap, of not looking at women as decision makers. And it’s something that nagged at me. I set aside the topic for about 6 months because I didn’t want to write about gender. And this topic wouldn’t let me go. Everywhere I looked I would see this glaring gap.”

AM-T: “Why didn’t you want to write about gender?”

“You know, my experience growing up as a graduate and as a post-doc was that it was very gendered to study gender. Most of the people I knew who studied gender were women, and it didn’t seem, this shows my own bias, it seemed the hard problems were the ones the men were studying. So I turned towards neuroscience, and I was the only female in the lab for years, and sure enough I got to address some interesting and hard problems. But it’s fascinating, it turns out writing about gender is harder than writing about neuroscience, so it’s been a nice affirmation that this is a very hard issue to study.”

AM-T: “In what way? Why has it been harder?”

“It’s harder because when you’re talking about neuroscience you can use terms that people mostly don’t have any clue what they mean. So I can talk about the hippocampus or the lateral pre- frontal cortex, that, it might be impressive, but there’s a good chance most listeners won’t have any context or frame of reference for that. Whereas if I talk about what it’s like to make a contribution in a high pressure meeting, and you’re going to propose a new idea, and how men and women might do that differently, people have plenty of experience with that, and strong opinions. So trying to explain what the research has to say about gender is stepping into a complicated set of experiences people already have, or they already have opinions and they might be more skeptical of the research.”

Welcome to my world.

But back to the way we see men and women. And the fact we don’t instinctively see women as leadership material. Therese says there’s this jargon-y academic term ‘role congruity’…

“This idea that when we think of a leader and we think of a man, those two concepts have a lot of overlapping qualities. We think of men as ambitious and action-oriented and we think of a leader as ambitious and action-oriented. Whereas when we think of the qualities of a woman and a leader there doesn’t tend to be much overlap. Women are thought to be more friendly, more compassionate and more nurturing. And we may like those qualities in a leader but they’re not the qualities we immediately want. We want a decisive leader and we expect men to be decisive and we don’t expect that of women, for instance.”

AM-T: “And also you point out that women’s decisions are questioned a lot more than men’s are. Or least least when they’re decisions not everyone agrees with. So for instance when Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer made that famous announcement that she was no longer going to allow Yahoo workers to work from home, there was this storm of media criticism over this. And then a week later something else happened. Talk about that because I had absolutely no idea about that.”

“So you’ve captured it perfectly. Most people know Meyer ended the work from home policy for Yahoo. But what people don’t know is that about a week after Meyer announced her decision, Best Buy’s CEO Hubert Joly announced the exact same decision, that they were ending Best Buy’s work from home policy.”

For those of you outside the US, Best Buy is a big electronics retailer.

“Now when Joly made this announcement it made a few headlines, particularly in Minnesota where Best Buy is headquartered. But there were headlines for a few months and then the story vanished, whereas we’re still talking about Yahoo. I’ve seen interviews this year where people are debating was it a good idea for Yahoo and Marissa Meyer to cancel the work from home policy? Now you might be thinking, well, Yahoo probably has more employees who work from home, but no, Best Buy had approximately 20 times more employees who were affected by this decision. So if we were really talking about the decision, we should be talking about Joly just as often. But for making the same decision Joly got a few sidelong glances whereas Meyer has been second-guessed for years.”

AM-T: “And why? Just because she’s a female making a decision that affects a lot of people’s lives?”

“Well this is an interesting, complex issue. When I talk about it to some people they say well, it matters more that Meyer made this decision because she’s a woman, and we expect women to be more understanding of other women who perhaps need more flexible work schedules. And that’s an excellent point, but it still shows an underlying bias that we’re judging her decision differently than we do men’s, that we’re expecting women to look out for the flock, to have a different set of criteria, whereas men in the same leadership role can make a decision based on just, what’s the bottom line?”

And get away with it. And as she says part of the problem we have with women making these kinds of apparently ‘harsh’ decisions is that we expect women to come from a different place – we expect them to care more. And we often expect them to be collaborative. And you’ve probably read that being collaborative, that’s something women are supposed do well – it’s seen as more of a female trait. And it’s usually seen as a positive thing, this business of listening to others and seeking consensus among your team.

“On the one hand it makes sense, people think they want a collaborative, cooperative supervisor. But the problem is people don’t perceive that collaborative and decisive mix. If you’re a leader and you want people to weigh in on a decision, well, one interpretation of that is that maybe you can’t decide for yourself. So the upside is you’re being collaborative, your employees are going to like you, the downside is you just lost some points on the decisiveness scale. And that’s a real problem for women because many women take a collaborative approach to decision making. That probably perpetuates this perspective that decisiveness is not a strength for women.”

She tells the story of a woman she interviewed for her book. This woman said whenever a female manager at her company had a big decision to make there’d be a line of people waiting to give input. And as this employee put it, ‘the last person who touched it’ would influence the manager’s decision.

“And when I asked her well why don’t the men have a line outside their door, she said when the men make a decision, you’ll find out. There’s no opportunity for input, they’ll let you know if they want input. And this brings us to the possible advice for women, which is that if you are open to input to make it very clear when you’re taking input and whose input you’re prioritizing and why.”

Which does sound like a lot of extra stuff for women to think about. But she says doing that could prevent people from assuming you sway like the wind…

“So you can be seen as both decisive and collaborative, and it’s not seen as an open-ended free-for-all.”

I’d love to hear from people about this – a lot of you listening have plenty of decision-making experience in a work setting. Email me via the website or better still, leave a comment under this episode or on the Facebook page so we can get a conversation going.

Making a decision involves taking a risk – by deciding one thing you’re dropping other options. And Therese found that despite the overwhelming belief that women are risk-averse, it really depends on the type of risk you’re talking about. She says when it comes to workplace decisions, men and women take equal numbers of risks.

But if women are risk-averse in certain circumstances, is that surprising? Maybe you’ve read about this research too or you see it in your daily life. I read about it in a New York Times piece a couple of months ago and Therese writes about it in her book. But when men and women were observed with their kids in the playground, the psychologist doing the observing found parents of either sex were far more protective of their daughters then their sons. They were more likely to say, ‘be careful!’ to a girl than a boy. And when a boy didn’t want to do something like climb down a fireman’s pole…the parents pressured him to try it. If a girl said she was scared to try the pole the parents were like, that’s fine. And when a girl did go down the pole her parents rushed to assist her – even if the girl didn’t ask for help.

When a boy took on the pole, his parents didn’t offer physical help, they just coached him from the sidelines…

“So it’s definitely associated with men, and our language is very telling on this…in American culture there are phrases like ‘man up’, and ‘a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’ and ‘be a man or a mouse’…the idea is you need to stand up and take a risk here. There aren’t comparable phrases for women.”

Instead we’ve got things like nervous Nellie…

“Nervous Nellie, exactly. If anything we’ve got phrases that suggest women should shrink away from risk.

In terms of women being punished for taking risks…there’s some really interesting Yale research by Victoria Brescoll, looking at when men and women take a risk and they make a mistake. Women are judged much more harshly and they lose a lot of status points – people often think a woman leader who’s made a mistake should be demoted. Whereas a male leader who took a risk and it didn’t work, out, well, there were a lot of circumstantial reasons why that was a problem. Sure he made bad judgment, but he doesn’t lose as many status or competence points. So it becomes this tricky issue. The whole point with taking a risk is you don’t know how it’s going to work out, so taking a risk inherently involves uncertainty, and women are punished much more when that uncertainty becomes a failure."

As Therese was talking I started thinking about the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. Since Therese and I spoke Rousseff has been suspended from office and she may be impeached. Now I don’t know a lot about what Rousseff may or may not have done to fiddle Brazil’s budget—the risks she may have taken. But I couldn’t help wondering if Rousseff were a HE, would HE be undergoing the exact same process of investigation and removal from office?

“I wondered that as well. I’ve been following that news story a bit, and one of the things that some of the reporters have commented on is that the corruption that’s happened under Rousseff’s political career, that’s happened recently, is that there have been previous male leaders who have had the same problems with corruption, that this is nothing new. So the question is why is she being grilled for this and why does she face impeachment when this has gone on for a while? Now other people would say there’s a level at which this has happened, in terms of her moving around funds that are particularly suspect.

But I think that gets to anther bias about women which is the assumption that women will be more honest… that’s one of the findings out there, which is that women will be more honest than men. And it makes me wonder are women then held to higher standard for honesty than men are? So a male politician who’s a bit corrupt or he’s misrepresented the facts, we can brush that aside. But it’s considered a feminine quality to be honest, so if a woman defies that and does something that’s clearly dishonest, I think it raises our hackles more than it might for a man making the same choice.”

And of course that made me think about Hillary Clinton. Her honesty and openness keep coming under the spotlight.

AM-T: “One of the things Clinton is lambasted for is that she won’t admit her mistakes [her emails, deadly situation at US embassy in Libya], and that she doesn’t really apologize…that this is one of her big failings, that she doesn’t admit that she’s done something wrong. And reading the book I wondered if that is a Clinton trait… or if her sex and her knowledge of how she’ll be judged if she does say sorry, affects the fact that she doesn’t say sorry?”

“It would be fascinating to ask her that question right? If one could have a candid conversation. I wouldn’t be surprised if even at a subconscious level that’s playing into her reluctance to take ownership for those things…because she probably hasn’t read the research but the research indicates that when women make a mistake and it becomes clear that it was costly they’re held under more scrutiny and it’s judged as a more serious indictment of their abilities, and so it’s probably easier for people to debate this out and for people to take different perspectives and make different arguments as to whether the problem is as big as other people say, than for her to step in and admit and apologize. On the one hand Americans love an apology, they love it when people take responsibility for their mistakes. But on the other hand that’s primarily been male leaders who have done that and been able to remain male leaders. And there’s a real question of what kind of competency and status she might lose if she were able to do that.”

I’d love to know if there’s a female politician we’re forgetting who’s actually said sorry publically for something – maybe she survived, or lost her job, but I’d love to hear about it if you can think of anyone.

Therese says risk-taking is like decision making in that more people need to see women as risk-takers. On that note, she has some advice.

“It’s important for women to draw attention to the successful risks they’ve taken. I admit this is never a piece of career advice I’ve received. When you’re listing, doing the year performance review, and you’re listing your accomplishments, you’re typically pointing out events that were well attended or a project that brought in a lot of capital. And one of my suggestions would be that a thing to do when discussing your performance with your boss in a one-on-one conversation would be to point out, ‘here’s a risk I took and here’s how it ended up working out. No one expected this event to work, and I pushed for it, and it ended up being the best attended event of the year.’ And the reason I think it’s important we begin doing this is that when men take risks we tend to notice it much more than when women take risks. Researchers have done studies where they give people identical descriptions of actions someone took in their workplace, and people will notice the risks the man took and if you just substitute in a female name they don’t notice those were risks when it was a woman.”

So she says if you’re in a workplace that values risk taking, try it. She says a male colleague might get credit for his risk without needing to raise it while your success could be overlooked. And if this sounds like another example of women having to do more to get what we deserve…it is.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. Thanks to Therese Huston, author of How Women Decide, for being my guest on this show.

If you’re in tech don’t forget to check out write/speak/code, their conference is coming up in mid-June.

Thanks again to those of you who’ve taken a couple of minutes to write an iTunes review of the show – I would love to get up to 200 reviews – that’s only 45 to go. If you can help, great. Having ratings and reviews does help the show get noticed.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.

Episode 83: I Did It My Way

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time, the second of two shows on generational conflict at work.

“It’s been a really uncomfortable decade for me and my friends I think. But it’s cultivated a certain amount of unwillingness to be the good girl.”

She thinks the older women in her industry are under-appreciated in spite of everything they do.

And we hear from a 40-something on what influenced her career choices…

“You know, my parents were divorced. And I remember looking at the mothers and the women around me and thinking they are beholden to somebody else for their safety and lifestyle.”

Coming up.

So I know I said we’d be concentrating more on Gen X women in this show and we will get to them, but I want to start off with Nora Mathews. She’s the 30 year-old from the last show. She knows her generation has this reputation of being over-entitled, special snowflakes. She works in media and publishing in New York. And she graduated into a recession. She didn’t get right on her chosen career path after college…it took some years of doing jobs she was overqualified for. She hasn’t had the experience in her chosen field she thought she’d have by this age. The older women she works with have had a more straightforward path; they’re excelling. But that said…

AM-T: “Do you ever feel envious of the women in the generation above you?”

“No. I feel like especially Gen X women are in a tight spot between boomers and millennials and they if anything have a lot of pressure on them to perform…”

And she says at her office they do – brilliantly. But she’s not sure they get the recognition they deserve.  

“I think while there are definite benefits to having started up the career ladder in time to be doing financially better than me and my friends are, I still see a certain amount of pressure and almost that ‘good girl’ expectation that can be crushing, where, my direct boss for instance is killing it, she’s single handedly doubled, tripled our revenue in the last 7, 8 years she’s been there. And I do think she’s somewhat overlooked because she’s a traditionally good, type A, striving, achieving woman who isn’t necessarily going to push forward and demand what she wants from her job. If anything it’s the opposite of the special snowflake -----thing – it’s that I see a lot of women of that generation performing at a very high level and having it be what’s expected of them.”

AM-T: “And as we know, that doesn’t always work out so well…”

“Exactly. And my friends and I are almost forced to opt out a little bit, we have to have our side hustle just to pay our rent here in New York. We all have at least two or three jobs. We can’t survive and be quite as polite and quite as good, because wages have stagnated and we have to negotiate for that raise or we can’t pay our rent. So it’s uncomfortable, and it’s been a really uncomfortable decade for me and my friends, I think. But it has cultivated a certain amount of unwillingness to be the good girl that I see a lot of the older women I really respect still struggling with.”

AM-T: “That’s really interesting. So tell us about your side hustle or hustles.”

“I have 4 jobs right now. I have my corporate 9 to 5. I’ve worked with an educational non- profit for several years teaching after school programs and I also teach with their corporate programs…”

On top of that she’s a qualified massage therapist – still does that for friends and family on the weekends…and then she does consulting…

“…for a female-owned and female-operated startup that helps independently published mid-list authors implement marketing strategies and provides virtual assistance for them.”

Now this is something I really admire about younger women. I launched The Broad Experience while I was studying on an entrepreneurial journalism program at CUNY in New York. And nearly everyone else on that program was in their mid to late twenties. It was pretty intimidating, I have to say. But what really struck me was how much these people did – how many different types of work they had going on at the same time on top of school and how they seemed perfectly able to cope with that.

“The whole growth of the multi job economy is happening and so frankly for both boomers and Gen Xers – like, we don’t really know that world so how can we advise on it, because we didn’t grow up in a world we you had 12 things going on at once, and how do you balance all that?”

Joanna Bloor is another Gen Xer – she lives in San Francisco, she has a background in media and tech, and she’s CEO of The Amplify Lab. It helps C-suite level women build a strategy around what they want to be known for.

She says yes, she definitely counts as a ‘good girl.’  Although she now counsels other women NOT to assume they’ll get where they want JUST by doing their job well.

Joanna used to work for Pandora, the music streaming company. And things were exploding when she was there. She had lots of 20-somethings working for her; she says they were keen and talented – and ambitious.

“So here I am with an amazing team of people but leading this organization and having to scale an organization that was doubling, tripling its revenue, the speed everything was happening at was crazy. And I just kept on going, please just come to me with ideas and solutions all day every day. And I was immensely frustrated because these people would look at me and go well, what is it that you want me to do? And I’d be like, ‘argh, just go figure it out, come up with solutions.”

So she started to think – a lot – about why the 20-somethings seemed different from her and her peers. Here’s where we go broad for a minute, and yes, there will be generalizations. But here goes. Joanna says this is how she and her friends grew up: they saw their mothers return to work in the ‘80s after years of not working, and a lot of them became latchkey kids. Back at home after school, alone, and left to their own devices. There was no structure, basically – as long as you were home by dinner, it was fine.

She says contrast that with her 20-something team and how they grew up. Parents were much more involved in their activities. They had afternoons filled with after-school programs. In short they had a lot going on. Their time was more structured, and they had more guidance.

“They have been taught, follow the rules, or here are the rules for this is what you need to get an A. So they’re like, what are the rules, what are the guidelines. Whereas my generation are basically happiest generally when there’s a blank sheet of paper, and they’re like, well give me the high level, don’t give me the guardrails. Let me just innovate from nothing. Because that’s the muscle that we’ve gotten really strong with. And you put those two together, with one group of people who are like, tell me what to do to get an A, and the other group is saying ‘it’s not the A that matters,’ and then you start having that conflict.”

She says you just need to be aware of where the two groups are coming from to pull a project off successfully. And she says they did that all the time.  

Joanna believes divorce also plays a part in her generation’s perspective. Divorce shot up in the 70s and 80s when she was growing up. And back then women often found themselves suddenly on their own, with rusty professional skills. They were at a disadvantage in the job market. Many of these women took a big financial hit.

Joanna says for her and all her friends whose parents split up…that era made them who they are as workers and parents.

“Because of my work, I work with a lot of executive women, and across the board every one of them had this moment in their early to mid-teens where they were like, wait a second, I really have to rely on myself, an almost an off the chart experience of, I am responsible for putting a roof over my head. The whole Cinderella/Prince Charming fantasy just evaporated.”

Joanna grew up in England until she was 14. At that point her mother re-married and they all moved to Texas. But when she thinks back to that time in England after her parents divorced…

“I remember looking at the mothers and the women around me and thinking they are beholden to somebody else for their safety and lifestyle. And there was one woman, one, I think she got married at 56, and then she also married a lord, so she had this incredibly glamorous life as a single person…she had this flat I London, and traveled, and I was like hang on, I want to be like her. She dramatically influenced my own story of saying I want to be so successful I can be financially independent, so there’s this almost fierceness I think, and I’m going to get backlash for this because as women we don’t like the bad words, we only like the nice, kind, lovely words. But there’s this fierceness around Gen X women of, ‘I have to take care of myself and my family.’ Not that everybody doesn’t have that but there’s a lot more color there.”

And maybe this is true for women who were children of divorce. But I’m Gen X and my parents stayed married, my mother didn’t go back to work. For years my only real ambition to be a wife and mother. I know, right? A few things changed over the years.

But Joanna says the Gen X women she knows share her mindset of ‘I’ll get this done my way.’ And it’s different to the way the young women she works with think. She says they have a much more collaborative attitude both at work, and at home…

“Like I listen to both the men and women who worked with me and there was equally this concept of the young woman taking care of the family as there was for young men. And it was unheard of in our world to have a stay at-home-dad and this concept of co-parenting really rose around it. So there’s the decisions around the concept of having children. And I am fairly dramatic with this. This is part of why I chose to be a super-auntie to my sisters’ kids but not have my own because I wanted to have that freedom. But then I also sit here and talk to you and I physically cringed because that whole voice of ‘isn’t that selfish, you terrible - you are now not feminine because you chose not to have children’ is absolutely speaking in my head. And that choice really for, I think, my generation, the Gen Xers, and before, wasn’t there – and what I hope for this generation is that it is.”

And if you too have had that feeling of being less-than because you’re not a mother, you might want to listen to a show I did on this in 2014 – it’s number 48. It’s called Professional Women, No Kids.

The approach to motherhood can still divide professional women.

Some of you may remember Rachael Ellison. I spoke to her two years ago for a show I did called The Motherhood Factor – it focused on how women are treated differently at work once they have children.

Rachael wrote a great piece for the Huffington Post recently on generational differences between women. And it reminded me of something she told me when I spoke to her for that show. She was coaching this woman who worked for a big company in New York. She was a mother in her mid-thirties, and she turned to an older female colleague for advice, a senior vice president at the company…

“She knew she wanted to have three kids and she saw this woman above her had had three kids. So she said how do you do it, you know, that dreaded question, how do you do it? And she said it’s really easy, you just get a daytime nanny, an evening nanny, a cook, and a housekeeper. Those are the four things you need. And you’ll be set. And for her, forget the financial implications of that, that’s not what she’d envisioned for working parenthood, that’s not what she wanted.”

But Gen Xer Anne Loehr -  you heard her on the last show - she says that baby boomer who had all that help at home, there’s a reason for that. She and the women older than her entered the workforce in a different era…

“Now think of it from the woman’s perspective, my mother’s perspective and all the women of that generation who we have to thank…they thought and were told you have to be like a man – you dressed like a man, wore the boxy suits, they were more assertive, they hadn’t understood they had their own value as women leaders… they didn’t understand how to use that yet, so for a woman of that generation, yeah, because that’s what the men did – the men made sure everything was taken care of at home and then they did whatever they had to do to be successful. So the women followed suit.”

Though most of them couldn’t afford a staff. Rachael Ellison says the problem is when you’re working for a big company where none of the higher-ups talk openly about how they manage their lives, it’s no wonder some women feel their only option is to imitate what’s gone before.

She was talking to a client who had a 10-month old baby. This woman had a big job, and she was going in early, leaving late. Hardly saw her kid. She was having a hard time…she seemed on the verge of saying something has to change…

“Later on in the conversation just a few minutes later she had almost, you could see her steeling herself, galvanizing herself, arming herself with the knowledge that she could do it, giving herself an inner pep talk. And she said, you know what I should do, I should do it the way, so-and-so, my supervisor, does it. She has two kids and she’s done these 10 major projects that I admire, and I should show my staff that the same thing is possible. They too can have a kid and navigate this field. Which seemed so hard for me to digest, it just seemed like she was really struggling, but because there wasn’t really transparency and she felt she had to follow the model of the generation prior.”

She then found out later that female SVP, she had a stay-at-home husband – that’s one big reason why she could pull off all those projects.

Joanna Bloor says in her world, in Silicon Valley, young women mostly DON’T want to emulate their elders when it comes to parenthood. She says they don’t want to make the choices her contemporaries have made. With her friends and largely with mine, it looks like this:

“There was the step out of work and be a stay-at-home mom, which I absolutely have a lot of girlfriends who are that, and the choices that they made, and now they’re all like, oh, crap, I have to do that whole, ‘how do you get back into the workplace?’ And then another group, it’s a small group, who said I’m absolutely going to stay in the workplace – the kind of have no life, which I think is what Gen Y is reacting to. And/or have actually found that unicorn of a partner, where the dads are stay-at-home dads, I have a lot of friends who have stay at home dads, and I think it’s fantastic that that actually started with our generation. Or there are the ones like me who say, you know what, this is my path, and I’m absolutely going to be the substitute mom for a lot of people, but having my own children isn’t part of my journey.”

Joanna has mentored a lot of women. She still does. And she thinks a lot about what younger women expect from older ones, and what older ones can actually deliver.

“And this is the piece that I am still thinking about and I haven’t completely codified, but as a woman there is this expectation constantly that you are supposed to lift up the generation behind you, the women behind you, so as a Gen X woman you’re running around doing all your stuff and trying to balance life and family and work and all these sorts of things, and a) there’s not enough of you to go around, and we all hear the Madeleine Albright thing of there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help women. But there’s a supply and demand issue in play. There’s only so much helping we can do. Plus we are all human beings and every so often we have a bad day, so we might be kind of a jerk. This is the thing I’m still curious about, is, from woman to woman, do you measure when a woman is not nice to you more harshly than a man not being nice to you? Does that color it? And I believe it does. I think about when I’ve gotten bad feedback, when a guy says, you messed up this project or you did something bad, or he’s just a jerk, I go ‘oh, he’s just a jerk,’ but when a woman does it to you you go, oh she’s not nice. And that whole thing of we’re supposed to be the mother, nurturer thing as well as these power professional business things… you almost have to be schizophrenic to deal with the whole thing.”

Yup. You heard Barnard president Debora Spar talk about this on a past show. The idea that we expect women to be nurturing so we’re more disappointed when they don’t conform to type.

“I do hear from the young women I work with this whole, well, women don’t help me move up, and I’m like, guys, there’s a supply and demand issue, we don’t have enough hours in the day to help you all – trust me.”

She says all the Gen X women she knows are trying to help the next generation.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. As usual you can comment on this episode at The Broad Experience.com, or on the show’s Facebook page – or you can email me via the contact tab on the website. I’d love to hear whether any of this resonates with your experiences.

Thanks to all those of you who’ve taken a few minutes to review the show on iTunes and to everyone who’s supported the show with a donation – I really appreciate it.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. See you next time. 

Episode 82: Generation Clash

Show transcript

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…generational conflict between women at work. We all know it’s there, lurking, even if we talk about it behind eachother’s backs…

“I had one assistant who wouldn’t even answer the phone if she didn’t recognize the number. She was so used to screening calls.”

We have different attitudes to communication and perhaps to getting ahead, as well…

“All of the women I’ve worked with have felt like in their own way, from their own perspective, are trying to help, but they’re trying based on the information they have and what things were like when they were coming up through the workplace.”

Coming up…the first of two shows on different generational perspectives at work.

So I’m starting this show with the generational expert. Anne Loehr is a leadership consultant.  She writes quite a bit about women at work and about managing across generations. And like me – she’s Gen X. I’m smack in my mid-forties, right between two much bigger generational cohorts – the baby boomers and the millennials.

Anne says in some parts of the world there will be far less of a pronounced difference in attitude between generations. But in the west, we do have this stratification depending on when we were born and what was going on in the outside world at the time. 

“And the research shows each generation is shaped by 3 types of events: political, technological, and societal.”

And because of that we each have a collective understanding, a particular way of thinking and being…

“So although yes we are all Americans…”

Well, some of us…

“We have differences. We have more similarities than differences but we do have differences in what shaped us. What shaped the boomers, impacted how they see the world and see work, which is different from what shaped Gen X, who were born between 1965 and 1980 which is different from Gen Y, who is born between 1981 to 2001. And if we as leaders, as colleagues, as people in any type of organization can understand that we can then make it be less of ‘oh my God, she’s making me crazy,’ and make it more oh, she’s just doing the Gen X or the Gen Y thing, and we can find ways to leverage those differences instead of pointing our finger at them and thinking they’re bad people.”

She says we just see the world differently. And when we don’t account for those different lenses, we clash.

Lynne Testoni was born at the end of the baby boom. She’s 53, she lives in Sydney, Australia, and she’s a longtime journalist. Right now she’s the managing editor of a trade magazine. And she says her experience of entering the workforce was just really different from her young colleagues’ experience today…

“When I became a journalist not many people did degrees, they came straight from school…they did a cadetship, sort of like an apprenticeship. So we were treated like rubbish, and we had to learn from the ground up, and everyone would correct our work and take us out and yell at us occasionally.”

It wasn’t fun but it was character building. Today the young women she works with come from the most highly educated generation in history.

“In a good way people these days are more qualified, more thoughtful, more mature, they’re older when they start, I was only 18 when I started. I haven’t employed someone out of school for 20 years…so they’re all 22, 23 at least. But I do find in some ways they’re less mature about practical things. Some young people are not good at practical housekeeping things. They don’t know how to wash the dishes or make their own lunches, or budget, or do some of those things I had to learn when I was 18 because I had to live out of home. Most people live at home with their parents till they’re a lot older and that stymies a certain amount of independence I think. And I find because they’re a bit more mollycoddled by their parents – and I’m a parent too so I totally know how that happens – I think they’re a lot more sensitive to criticism.”

She says they could do with a bit of toughening up. But she says there are lots of good things about millennials too.

“I find that particularly they’re less stuck in their ways, they’re not stuck in an old fashioned way of doing things. They can think laterally, they’re more likely to speak up, more confident, I was terrified of speaking to any of these people because as I was yelled at. Now, there’s a more open office, people are more receptive to new ideas and they take on a lot more of the suggestions the younger member of staff have.”

And she says young women just expect more from their employers – and themselves.

“Certainly in my day there were things that as a girl, a female journalist, that I wasn’t allowed to do. My boss wouldn’t let me do the police rounds, I had to do the school rounds, I did weddings, and all those real girly things back then. But now it doesn’t make any difference. And I think they have higher expectations about what women can do. And they’re more ambitious than I was when I was their age…because I thought, I didn’t have any women managers, I certainly didn’t have any women managers who were parents. So I honestly felt and believed back then, 30 years ago, that it was impossible to be a parent and a senior manager.”

Which is exactly what she ended up becoming. And she says women respect her for her experience – she was a pioneer, and she’s mentored a lot of other women, including pregnant ones. She doesn’t work with that many young men but she notices they are more likely to write her off as an older woman – to assume she doesn’t know how to use technology, that kind of thing…

“And I do find sometimes that young men do tend to treat me more like their mother than young women, who tend to look at me more as a role model or a mentor.”

Still, there are things she finds odd about this generation at the office.

“One is their reluctance to speak on the phone.”

YES!

“This is a generation that has grown up on email and I guess they’re called digital natives. And I find they’re really not used to dealing with strangers on the phone. They have a lot of connections in virtual ways but less in real ways. I had one assistant who wouldn’t even answer the phone if she didn’t recognize the number. She was so used to screening calls which is what a lot of people do now on phones, like on their mobiles and stuff. And she didn’t realize – I had to talk to her – that if you’re at work you answer the phone. You don’t wait for it to be someone you know. And she found that really hard.”

But it’s not just that some 20-somethings are nervous about talking to people they don’t know. I’ve noticed a general reluctance to use the phone as a business tool.  

So Generation Y, what is it about the phone that you find so objectionable?

“That’s a really good question.”

Nora Mathews just turned 30. She works in journalism too, but on the business side, the publishing side.

“I think when it comes to the workplace it’s about having a paper trail, I mean a digital trail – it’s easier to collaborate, share and remember if you have this external brain of everything always being documented…so if you have a conversation on the phone for a work thing and you’re trying to remember later what you said, if you’re using Slack it’s all right there…you can go back to it, hop in, see what you were talking about, make their suggestions, so as a work thing I’d say it’s an efficiency thing. And as a generational preference I would say phone is the least useful form of communication because you don’t get body language. If you’re in front of someone on video chat or in real life you can pick up on so much more. And there’s a lot that gets lost in translation if you’re only using your voice.”

Nora works for Gen X women and she likes them, respects them, but tensions do crop up.

“There’s some sort of communication breakdown that happens and I think it might have to do with people that had started their careers and had a foothold in their career before the recession, and people who started their careers during or afterwards just have a very different perspective in the workplace.”

And we’ll get into that more in a minute. Nora says she’s noticed a lot of inter-generational angst, it’s partly why she’s so interested in this topic, as well as her own experiences at work…

“It feels to me like there are a lot of generational flame wars that are happening on the internet right now where people are trying to prod people – millennials are trying to throw things at boomers and vice versa and Gen X gets caught in the middle. And I don’t know if that is very productive or very accurate. Like I haven’t met the phantom millennial who feels entitled and needs a lot of hand holding, but I also haven’t met the phantom boomer. I think all of the women I’ve worked with and maybe I’ve been lucky in that respect have felt in their own way, from their own perspective, they’re trying to help, but they’re trying based on the information they have and what things were like when they were coming up through the workplace. So I’ve noticed the women I work for maybe assume a certain level of me trying to climb the same ladder that existed when they were climbing it. And as someone who, I graduated in 2008 and I was always a super achiever, I had great grades, graduated with high honors. In any other era I would have been an immediate scrambling up the ladder person and I was a janitor for two years.”

She wasn’t cleaning out the loos at the subway station – she was working at a spa…

“But it caused a perspective shift and attitude shift as to how much emotional energy goes into my job or my emotional wellbeing or my identity comes from the work I do during the day.”

And she has this feeling that the women she works for, these Gen X women, they don’t get it. They worry that she isn’t putting enough of herself into her job…and she says it’s something…

“…that feels like a very women-on-women attitude – I don’t see it expected of other men of my generation in the workplace, and it’s not that it’s negative exactly, it’s that there’s an expectation that there’s a confluence between my performance at my daily tasks and my emotional investment in my work. So the men I work with for example are able to get raises and promotions and do a great job crushing their daily tasks and contributing to strategy, and hitting their goals, and they’re not expected to engage in the performance of being in love with those tasks.”

AM-T: “Is what you’re saying that the women you work for expect you to be emotionally invested in your work where they don’t necessarily expect the guys to be?”

“That’s what it feels like, and maybe part of that is they see a little of themselves in me or there’s this mentoring relationship and that’s what their experience has been. And in some ways especially in the industries I’ve been in, if you are starting out at the bottom of the ladder and really had to pay your dues and scramble and invest all of yourself in climbing that ladder it requires a certain amount of emotional investment. And they’ve clearly done that and gotten to a place where things are going well for them, and they want to help me through that same process. But my peers and I look – especially in media and publishing – and we see an industry that’s being radically restructured, we see like what does it mean to get on the bottom rung of a ladder that’s falling down?” 

They’re not keen to tread that wobbly ladder – at least not in the same way, making the same sacrifices.

“And it’s not that my friends and I weren’t working very hard but we saw how institutions won’t necessarily take care of you in the way that they were once expected to, and that you have to work hard at whatever it is that pays your bills, but that doesn’t have to be the thing that…”

 AM-T: “Sustains your soul.”

“Yeah, it doesn’t have to sustain your soul. And it can be that you’re a spa janitor writing a novel and bartending at night and taking some copywriting work on the side, and none of those things are who you are, they’re what you do.”

And we’re going to talk more about side hustles – that feature of millennial working life – in the next show.

I brought up with Nora something my wonderful ex-intern April told me once. She was working at a particular place and she had this problem that needing solving, but she couldn’t go straight to the top people to tackle it. She was told, oh no, you have to go to this person first, and he’ll escalate it to those people. And she just could not believe what she saw as the level of bureaucracy she had to go through to get something done. She thought this was absolutely absurd. I asked Nora if this was something she thought about too.

“Absolutely – yes, and it’s difficult to know, whether…because it does feel like the Gen X women who are my direct superiors, they are the gatekeepers and the enforcers of those bureaucratic systems. So it’s difficult to tell sometimes, where is that level of resistance? Is it with my direct superiors? Is it institutional, corporate culture in general that’s the problem? It’s hard to know where it begins. But it’s something we run into regularly and the younger women that I work with are all trying to get everyone on board with using these systems that make everything faster, more efficient, that will prevent there being silos between different departments and will get people collaborating and really doing what needs to be done to bring the industry forward. But again we are the youngest workers in the workforce, and we have the least power, and we’ve been around for the least amount of time…so it’s difficult to say to someone who is older than you and who is experienced and who you do respect, that there are some things they’re probably getting wrong.”

And talking of older people and getting things wrong, I asked Nora how she felt about the recent storm over comments Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright made about who young American women should vote for. Both women are Democrats. Both support Hillary Clinton. But the youngest female Democrats are much more likely to support Bernie Sanders.

During a TV interview Steinem commented that young women were into Bernie because quote ‘the boys are with Bernie.’ Cue outrage, derision and general nastiness.

Former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright also stepped in it at a rally for Clinton…

Albright: “…and a lot of you younger women don’t think you have to – it’s been done. It’s not done. And you have to help. Hillary Clinton will always be there for you. And just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who do not help eachother.”

“I think it was not worded well and I think it was a deep misunderstanding of how women of my generation would hear it. But I can also understand as a young woman coming from a workplace that still suffers from a lot of gender imbalance and we’re still struggling with issues that from when I was very young I was raised to think would not exist any more…and I now see they do. Where to be women who’ve dealt with that their whole lives, I can see where they’re coming from, I think that it was poorly said and poorly executed. I think the war that’s happened over it is about that same fundamental breakdown in communication and deep misunderstanding.”

The kind of breakdown that sometimes happens at her office.

Next time we’re going to get more perspective from Gen X women…and how they see themselves and Gen Y split on attitudes from getting ahead, to the approach to  parenthood…

“There’s the decisions around the whole concept of having children. And I am fairly dramatic with this. This is why I chose to be a super-auntie to my sisters’ kids and not have my own because I wanted to have that freedom.”

But she doesn’t think Gen Y women want to make that same choice.

We’ll hear more from that guest and others on the next show.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. As usual you can comment under this episode on the website or on the show’s Facebook page.

If you can kick in a few bucks to support this one woman show it’s easy, just go to the support tab at TheBroadExperience.com. If you can’t but you’d like to support me another way please leave a rating and a review on iTunes – it helps more people find the show, and a bigger audience can bring a lot of benefits.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.  

Episode 81: Money vs. Fulfillment

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…two themes from two listeners. One is about money – if you’re happy with your job, how much does it matter if you don’t get paid as much as the man who did it previously?

“For the person who says money isn’t everything I would push back and say OK, if money isn’t everything, what would you do if you didn’t get your next paycheck?”

And say you’re married to a guy who earns a lot more than you do. You see the women around you giving up work to stay home with their kids. Should you join them?

“This is exactly how women have been socialized to think – that they’re being selfish if they don’t sacrifice their career ambitions for the family.”

Coming up – two sets of views on fair pay and whether to opt out.  

But first, this episode of the show is brought to you by Write, Speak, Code. Write Speak Code empowers women in technology. The Write Speak Code conference is taking place in June in Chicago and it’s where women in tech can learn to become speakers, thought leaders, and open source contributors. You can sign up for news about the conference at writespeakcode.com.

And if your company would like to sponsor the event the organizers would love to hear from you – all the information is at writespeakcode.com. 

My first guest is Jacquette Timmons. Jacquette is an investment expert and an author and a financial behaviorist – she coaches people on their behavior around money and their attitudes to money. She was in a show I did a couple of yeas ago called Show Me the Money.  

The first question we’re going to consider came after one of my listeners heard the final show of last year – it was called Redefining Success. And in it two women talked about leaving their old, lucrative work lives behind and starting anew. In both cases they were earning less than they did before.

So here’s what this listener said in her email.  

“If I look at my current position I am very successful based on what I have been able to accomplish and the perception of other people.  I enjoy my work most days and am pleased when I can lead the university in efforts to improve the lives of students.

That said, I am grossly underpaid compared to not my most recent predecessor (female), but her predecessor (male).  I would be interested in a discussion on how far you push gender equality if you are indeed satisfied with everything else in the work environment."  

So I asked Jacquette, is it OK to rest on our laurels IF we earn enough, and we’re happy with everything else?

“On one hand the short answer to that question is yes of course you can, you can rest on your laurels if that is sufficient to you. But obviously it isn’t or she wouldn’t be asking the question. So I think in this particular case what it comes down to is have you defined what good enough is for you individually on many different levels? What’s good enough in terms of compensation, in terms of scope of work…and if you do that assessment and you walk away with everything I have here is just fine, then you don’t have to make any changes.”

But again she says that’s probably not the case here.

This particular listener isn’t the only one to have written to me saying look, with women it’s about more than money. Another woman emailed saying women care about other things, like flexibility. We’re just not thinking in terms of every last dollar.

“What I love about exploring this topic is that – while we’re not going to come up with an answer, but I like all the different things we can tap into to get to an answer or several answers. At the end of the day what I find really interesting is it’s only people who have the privilege of saying it’s not all about money can actually say it’s not all about money. So in having this conversation, for the person who says money isn’t everything I would push back and say OK, if money isn’t everything, what would you do if you didn’t get your next paycheck, what would you do currently if the money you didn’t have currently is no longer there? I think you can only say that if you know you have a cushion. It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs…once the bottom level is completely satisfied then you can go up to the next level and after that the whole idea is you get to the final pinnacle, you can focus on personal development, self-fulfillment and things of that nature. So if you’re there it’s easy to say that something that’s connected to a very basic way of living and being is perhaps immaterial, than if you’re not there. So I’d push back and say that I disagree with the whole idea that money doesn’t matter. Where I think the challenge is real and something we all have to work on is the degree to which we allow money to define who we are.”

And of course no one’s saying money doesn’t matter – but for some women it doesn’t have to matter as much because they have a spouse who earns far more. We’ll come back to that idea with the next question.

On the other hand, plenty of women either support themselves or an entire family single-handedly. Or they end up parting from their higher-earning spouse. As my next guest says, those scenarios should galvanize us…

“There was a recent Wall Street Journal article talking about how women over 60 have to stay now longer in the workforce because they realize, oh my God, I don’t have enough money for retirement. So women live a lot longer, but they make a lot less. And with the economic uncertainty we face now money matters more than ever.”

Jodi Detjen is a professor of management at Suffolk University in Boston. She also runs Orange Grove Consulting - it specializes in women’s leadership development. Some of you may remember her from an earlier show I did called Killing the Ideal Woman.

Jodi says there’s another reason women should care about maximizing our earnings…

“So money also maters because it’s a statement of our value in the workplace. So when we make less, then guess what? People assume we add less value.”

But a lot of women don’t think about that. In fact when she and her co-authors were doing research for their book The Orange Line they found the women they interviewed – all women with good careers - rationalized money actually didn’t matter that much or it ought not to. It was almost as if money was dirty and they should aspire to nobler things than chasing a higher salary.

She says another reason some women downplay the importance of money is because if money is important, that means we have to ask for more of it. We have to negotiate for ourselves. And a lot of us dread that.     

“And we know from research and from others’ research that women out-negotiate men when they negotiate for the company, but we’ve been socialized not to bring our own needs into the equation. So we’re not supposed to negotiate or ask for things for ourselves. But now there’s growing awareness of this, there’s been a lot of talk about this, so as a result it’s becoming much more acceptable for women to negotiate for their salary. It still requires some finessing but it’s a lot easier.”

She gets clients to practice negotiating for smaller, more everyday stuff just so they get comfortable with the process.

She’s not saying we should devote ourselves to grabbing that last penny above all else.

“It’s not an either or – either I focus on money or I just live with what I’ve got and feel happy about it. What I’m saying is money isn’t the whole story, but it’s still part of the story. So we still need to be paid what the role or the job is worth. But that’s the difference. Satisficing is when we’re being paid less than value of what we bring to table – that’s de-valuating ourselves. What we’ve been socialized to do is to say we can sacrifice, that’s OK…we can satisfice. What I’m saying is we need to be paid co-measureate value…so then once we get to that level then we can start thinking of the other ways we could redefine success.”

So she says if she were my listener she would tackle this – go to HR, make a case for why she should earn more, all depending on her work environment. But Jodi says she and her predecessor are and were both being discriminated against.

And even though Jodi has emphasized negotiating here, she says it’s not the ideal solution.

“The other thing I would suggest is as we move up in organizations and become better managers and we become leaders in our organizations, then we can make the pay thing a lot more transparent. Because the question I always have is why on earth do we have to negotiate salary anyway? Why can’t it be pretty clear why people make what they make? And the fact that we give people raises because they negotiate to me seems not very transparent at all. Just because someone’s a good negotiator, they get more money, that doesn’t seem to be a good valuation of their value. So I think there are some systemic challenges here but they’re not going be changed until women, who do take a wider view, get into positions of power and start making those changes.”

That idea of ending salary negotiations – that’s something the former acting CEO of Reddit, Ellen Pao, introduced while she was at the company last year.

The next question came from a listener in Silicon Valley. She works for a nonprofit. Her husband is a big player at a famous technology company. They have one child. And she admits her issue is a problem of privilege – but I’m sure she’s right that lots of other women are grappling with the same question.

She says her husband is a great, hands-on dad. But his career is on a tear. His job pays multiple times what hers does and she says they’ve had problems navigating the dynamic caused by vastly different incomes. She says he’s supportive of her career, but he’s so successful she’s beginning to feel her career doesn’t really matter by comparison. Meanwhile all his male colleagues have stay-at-home wives.

 I was telling Jacquette about this and I started to quote from the email…

AM-T: “She likes her career but she’s beginning to question whether she is selfish for even wanting a job when her husband is earning so much more money and would clearly be able to do more if he had a stay at home wife. She says she wants to support him and she’s thrilled he’s doing so well and opening up so many opportunities for their family…but she’s clearly feeling that they could achieve more as a family…she even says we could have another child if I was more available. She says should I throw in the towel and stay home to support his clearly more lucrative career?”

[Laughs] “Oh my God. When I chuckle I’m not being dismissive. I chuckle because what I hear is that they’re just not on the same page. They don’t have – from what you’ve described they’re not really operating as a team. They haven’t come together to figure out OK, as a team what is the big picture goal and strategy we’re working on and toward. As a team each team member plays a role – what’s your role going to be in contributing to that overall vision and overall big picture? So I think from what I hear her saying it’s not about we so much as it’s about I. I wonder if she were on the call to us if, and I said to her well, how would you think of this if you were looking at not doing the things you say you want to do for the next 5 years so you can perhaps expand your family and perhaps give him the space to do even more with his career which is bringing in a great deal of resources for you, and not look at this as ‘if I do that I’m giving something up’ and instead look at it as ‘in doing that, this is my role, this is my contribution into the bigger picture and the bigger plan.’

Which I must admit I was quite surprised to hear. But…

“Yeah, that’s my view.”

AM-T: Go into that a little bit more. To me she’s clearly feeling pressure. And you know these statistics, right, the women who tend to stay home tend to be at each end of the socioeconomic spectrum…so those at the bottom end and those at the very top end so some of the most educated women in the country actually end up staying home and looking after there kids and she’s seeing that all around her and wondering should I be one of those people?”

“Well see that gets to the bigger issue and I think the crux of it all for both that first question you shared and this, which is our tendency to compare ourselves to other people in other situations.  So we might feel really comfortable and competent with the decision or choice we’ve arrived at and then begin to question the validity of that as we look at other people’s choices…the problem is that we’re looking at the part of the choice we can see, but we’re not looking at all of the things other people may have taken into consideration to arrive at the choice they’ve determined is best for them.”

AM-T: “Let me just go down because I told her I was going to be talking about her problem and she wrote me a little follow-up email. Yes, she says here…

‘There is significant evidence that if I opt out, he will make more money and be more successful on his own than both of us working. My added flexibility would allow us to maximize our family income, his time off and possibly have another child. So despite all we’ve gained is it still the most rational choice for women in higher income brackets to stay at home?’”

“To me that is that is both a philosophical and very personal question at the same time. And personal aspect of that question is do you have a game plan in terms of when you return to work? So if you say alright, sweetheart, I’m going to agree to opt out and I will onboard at a later point in time…do you have a pre-determined time in mind as to when you are going to do that? and as you take care of the home are you setting aside an hour a week to keep on top of your skills, to keep on top of your networking so when it’s time to on ramp you are not starting from scratch to make that happen - it really is a matter of being able to tap into your network and saying OK, I’m ready to jump back into this thing and it’s not going to be a huge learning curve for you to be able to do that.”

Jodi Detjen agrees anyone taking a career break needs to stay connected to their industry or they’ll risk their skills becoming obsolete. But she feels very differently on everything else.  

“So first off I think, I’ll start with the either or perch women get stuck with in their career. When we look at our research we keep seeing this big assumption that women are the ones primarily responsible for home and family so career is a lower priority so I have to put my career on the back burner. The assumption of course is that the husband’s career is then primary. And we’re doing some research on men and careers and that is what men believe – their primary responsibility is career and home is secondary. But men aren’t saying they want this. We’ve got men and women assuming this is way it is and both working under this constraint. What would happen if we reframed this totally to both our careers matter and family is important to both of us? You notice I’m not even mentioning money here. I’m seeing both people want careers and family. And if we reframe it to this is the premise…and this is what my husband and I have done. The husband’s ambition doesn’t have to be swallowed and her ambitions don’t have to be submerged. It’s a negotiation. How do we make it happen? It’s about saying here’s what I need for my career, here’s what you need for yours, and here’s what we need for the family. How do we accomplish this? And you figure it out. So on any given day one career might take priority, but over a trajectory we’ve agreed both careers are important.

Let me get to the point about being selfish.  This is exactly how women have been socialized to think – that they’re being selfish if they don’t sacrifice their career ambitions for the family. And it’s such a beautiful label because we put it on ourselves and it keeps us small. Oh, you’re being selfish. Because then immediately we go, oh, I have to sacrifice myself.

If you see a woman talk about being selfish watch what happens to her body. She will scrunch in. She physically gets smaller. So now imagine what would happen if we said as women our career matters – so imagine all the ideas, energy, impact, all the ways work is already changing because women are showing up for their careers – we know having women working is good for business, it’s good for the world. Keeping our careers small keeps business as usual, it’s a mindset. So instead let’s say, both careers matter.”

She says we conflate money with worth – but she says just because he earns more his career is not automatically more important. And yes his job pays more – but say you give up yours, and then he’s laid off, or something else happens to upend your regular life with that big salary coming in…she says it’s risky for women to give up work completely.

And she says there’s another reason to think twice…

“When women give up their careers for their husbands they perpetuate this dynamic where only men and a few women make it to the top with a stay at home spouse – and that they’re the only people who can make it to the top of organizations. So it makes it really hard for people in those positions to understand the dual career dynamic. And because those people haven’t experienced it they don’t really understand it so they don’t build organizations that help dual-career families or single parent families. Deciding to prioritize a husband’s career then ends up being a problem of privilege because only families of privilege can do it.”

And that’s what my listener is seeing all around her. But what about her feeling that putting her husband’s career first would enable them to have another child?

“This is what we heard a lot in the women’s stories we interviewed and the women we’ve been working with since. It’s this deal of my career has to be smaller or we can’t achieve all these things we want as a family, yet when you look at the research on dual career families what you see is there’s a lot of happiness, because both partners are sharing in this decision – so if there’s sacrifice both partners do it together…and in the long run the family is better off because both parts of the family are contributing to it neither one feels resentment because they don’t have to sacrifice a big, big part of who they are. I don’t know if it’s true what she’s saying – we spoke to women who are very successful who have 4 kids. It’s about figuring it out. And what we we found about figuring it out is that women put rules up. Such like, well I can’t have my kids be with a babysitter because I need to be with my children. Rather than saying when you look at the data there is no data to show children in daycare are worse off, as long as daycare is good, which if she’s in this position where her husband is the primary earner and she could scale back, they have access to quality daycare. Her kids would be fine in daycare, it’s a question of how she’s doing it.

Also in stories we hear from women and heard in our research there’s this palpable sadness, and we hear it in this question as well – ‘I have to sacrifice my career. I don’t want to but I can’t see another way out.’ And this comes back to this either/orness. Either I’m the one taking care of the family OR I’m all in my career.  Rather than the nuance. And this comes right back to that first question of isn’t there more to life? So if we look at a holistic life there’s elements of career, there’s elements of family and life and there’s elements for us. And it’s all three of them together that makes a full, rich life. Sacrificing one part of it gives you a partial life and what kind of a message is that sending to our kids?”

She says so many of our expectations and our concerns – they spring from quite a new idea of what an ideal family looks like.

“So our conclusion on all this is that we have this vision of an ideal of a perfect family – and this is where the woman makes family a priority and the man makes career a priority…and that’s the ideal still even though that ideal was invented in the 1950s. It never really existed before then because women have always worked because they had to, it just wasn’t paid. They were the ones feeding the farmers, they were the ones doing all the work in the house. It wasn’t till the 1950s when the men needed to go back to work, they needed jobs, that they created this ideal woman, stay at home thing.

So what ends up happening is we’ve created this society then especially at the upper echelons where you have to be all in at work. Or it looks that way. And the only way you can be all in if you’re putting in 60, 70 hours a week So that requires someone to be home with the kids.

So if you’re looking at this as a 1950s mentality of someone has to be home with he kids, the easiest one to do this is the one making the least amount of money. I’m not getting into the argument of whether women want to stay home because that’s a totally different argument. I’m talking about the women who really enjoy their careers. There’s a lot of research suggesting women quit not to stay home but because they can’t figure out how to make it all work. The organizations aren’t supporting them. The good news is that men are really starting to push back in part because there are so many dual-career families, and the men have as much pressure. To give you a personal example, my husband is C level at a startup, he has just as much pressure dealing with family as I do…his work is closer to our house than my work so he takes a lot of the doctors’ appointment and those things, and he’s had to figure it out. But what’s happened is he’s become a role model…and he’s had young men tell him he’s a role model for them because they then realize they can figure it out too.

Why have women chosen this? Because we believe this fundamental assumption that women are supposed to take care of the kids, and it’s just an assumption. When we reframe it back to my career matters, your career matters, our family matters, let’s figure it out, then it’s a completely different conversation.”

Jodi Detjen. Thanks to her and Jacquette Timmons for being my guests on today’s show.

As usual I’m interested to know what YOU think about both these questions.  

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I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. See you next time.