No Life? You’re Hired!
Something happened yesterday that struck me, not as a marketing story, but as one about women and work, and I just had to write.
PA Governor Ed Rendell became the most recent politician to be stung by a hot mic, when he said that fellow Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona would be perfect to head the demanding Homeland Security department because she has “no family…no life.”
As a born Pennsylvanian who’s met Ed several times, I know he’s a straight-talker, hot mic or cold, and he can sometimes be too quotable. But he was surprised that this gaffe garnered reactions ranging from sexism (why don’t we flag men’s family status when they’re promoted?) to anti-singleton (do singles have no lives because they aren’t married or moms?) to mom-marginalizing (does that assume moms are excluded from higher-pressured jobs?).
Ed was wrong, but sadly, he was right, too.
Raising the ‘family card’ is sexist because it so rarely happens with a man. The last highly public male politician I remember with a lot of kids was Robert F. Kennedy, and his 11 kids only added to his power and allure.
But I don’t see this as a knock only against single women; unfortunately, prejudice against childless women, single and married, is a dirty secret in most of corporate America, not just the beltway.
As a married but kid-free executive throughout my career, I often felt that I was expected to be available for travel and late nights when moms had to take care of kids. There’s an unspoken hierarchy of ‘what counts’ as worthy family obligations and (justifiably) kids are on top, followed by husbands or significant others, though aging parents may trump them soon. Single or married, not having kids is code for having more time to give at the office and childless women usually suffer silently, out of sisterhood or out of fear of alienating moms. And when those mom colleagues age, and their kids are gone, they, too, probably get lumped back in the ‘after hours available’ club.
Here’s where Ed Rendell was right. There are millions of women in this country with careers that squeeze the life out of their lives. As one senior women answered, when I asked if her oft-touted ‘good for women’ company actually was: “Sure, it’s great if you don’t have a husband, a kid, a dog, a plant or a life.”
As this economy tightens, and more women (and men) are forced or lucky to stay in high pressure jobs they hate, there’s less room to protest, “But I have a life, too!” I’m afraid we are far from the day when every woman’s life choice is equally respected at work…and it may be unrealistic to expect that top jobs won’t require that all-out, 24/7 sacrifice that is so humanly punishing. It’s tough at the top. And lonely. But you shouldn’t have to be alone to be there.
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