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?