Raising Daughters

I have always thought that I have learned more from raising two kids with my wife than I have from anything else I have ever done, including the study and practice of medicine. I suspect that many parents feel the same way, since it is pretty common for people to speak of the transformative impact of parenting.

A lot of my lessons have been generic – what really matters to me, what it means to take responsibility – but as my children have grown, I have also learned some very specific lessons. One such important lesson I attribute entirely to having daughters, and to having grown up in a household with a brother and no sisters. I have learned about what it means to grow up female. And as my children have become adults, I continue to learn about what it means to be female in our society and in the workplace.

Over the last year or so, this ongoing tutorial has become a more explicit affair, and I have gone from observer to discussant. A week doesn’t go by without a family email from one of us to all of us with a link to some new article, interview, book review or study about women in the workplace, which then prompts a round or two of commentary. Here are some of the lessons I have learned from all of this:

  • Women tend to internalize their failures and externalize their success, while men tend to externalize their failures and internalize their success
  • Many of the same behaviors admired in male leaders, including many that are almost synonymous with leadership (e.g., a “hard-driving, take-charge attitude”) are considered “unattractive” (a loaded term!) or undesirable in women. All too often, this double standard leaves women with impossible choices, with workplace success contingent on personal “failure”
  • Women struggle more than men with reaching a comfortable (or at least tolerable) balance of work and home responsibilities. The reasons why are complex and far from certain, but it seems pretty true.
  • Because of all of these (and many more) factors, women experience the workplace differently from men.

What is the take home message? I certainly don’t know how to address all of these challenges. What I do know is that it is important for me to work personally on acting in a way that is mindful of them, and to interpret the actions of those around me in light of them. I hope that the people my daughters work for do the same.

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Raising Daughters

  1. Ira: Being a husband and a father of two young ladies (and a young man), and having grown up without a sister, I have forwarded your comments to the women in my family to find out what I am allowed to say. This is what I have learned in 34 years of marraige. Raj

    1. Ira, As you know from the world of medicine, the glass ceiling is alive and well.

      Your story reminds me a bit of the touching interview with Dustin Hoffman on the lessons he learned about being a woman after he played “Tootsie” . You will see yet another area of discrimination which I am sure your daughters do not have face with such good genes!

      I agree wholeheartedly with point two, but point one is interesting. I have observed that many men externalize their ‘success’, are not afraid to move up the corporate ladder, can be inexperience (or worse) and are generally well tolerated by the boss. They appear to have the innate confidence to perform in a position for which they are not qualified, can talk the talk, and they tend to stay in the job much longer than an ‘unqualified’ woman in the same position.

      Women, on the other hand, are more circumspect about new opportunities and hold themselves back at times because they are not sure they can do the job. Of course, this based on my own empirical evidence and certainly is not applicable to all. I am, however, often I relieved that I raised a son and do not have to imagine the insidious types of discrimination to which a daughter, even in 2013 can be exposed. – Maureen

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