Last month, I was asked to be on a career panel at an event for undergraduate women at NYU, my alma mater. The theme of the event was “Projecting Your Authentic Self,” and the panel consisted of six professional women across various industries and levels of experience.
One of the questions we were asked was:
“Do you believe that there exists a preconceived notion that women are expected to prioritize their family over their career, or is there pressure for women to put equal emphasis on career and family?”
The panelist who answered first kept it very real. She was in her late 30’s/early 40’s and shared that she had very recently finalized a divorce. The reason? Her husband expected her to give up her career after their daughter was born. They were both high-ranking finance execs, yet her husband had assumed that she would give up her career to raise their child. This eventually led to irreconcilable differences that she had not anticipated when she married him, and ultimately ended in divorce. The moral to her story: Marry someone who will support your career.
I was up next. As you may know if you read my blog regularly, I am a career woman, breadwinner (which doesn’t mean that my husband doesn’t make a good living – he does – I just still earn considerably more), and I don’t have kids. This was a conference about empowering young, ambitious future career women. The keynote speaker kicked off by sharing the staggering statistics about the glass ceiling – how few women are at C-level positions and how corporations actually benefit financially from having more women at the top.
So perhaps my response was unexpected, controversial even. I stated that, despite the aforementioned statistics, women are actually also statistically more likely to want to stay at home to raise their families. (See here and here.) And that’s okay. The point is not to condescend women who choose to prioritize their families nor judge those who choose to focus on their careers. The point is for women to be able to make the choice for themselves. Ultimately, I made the same point as the recent divorcee – if you choose to spend the rest of your life with someone, and you want to have a family – it is absolutely imperative to choose someone that will support your decision to have a career/not have a career/work part time. I completely lucked out by choosing a husband from a country that tops the charts globally for gender equality. I cannot claim this was foresight on my part!
I wondered if this advice would resonate to a room full of college students – several of them had introduced themselves to me as freshmen! Would students barely out of high school care about marriage advice from a bunch of un-relatable older women? During the networking that followed (over soft drinks, of course), I asked the students which topics from the panel resonated most with them. Several young ladies said that the marriage advice was particularly insightful because it was a departure from the usual “how to get the corner office” advice. Turns out that marriage is a much more near-term, relatable goal than landing in the C-suite. And that’s okay. But if your goal is landing in the C-suite someday, choosing a supportive partner is one important step along the way.
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