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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It’s the Women, Stupid


With this election, I’ve morphed into a political news junkie. Instead of “Dancing with the Stars,” I’m all over The NEWSHOUR with Jim Lehrer. I savor John King’s magic maps on CNN with a chaser of Jon Stewart. Goodbye, celebrity gossip and hello, and XM radio’s 24/7 POTUS on the road. And women are a big reason why. 

This presidential campaign seems fixated on how women are divided. Gen Y vs. Boomer feminists. Elitist vs. pink collar. After round one with Hillary, we’re on to the spouse smackdown. Bloggers compare Cindy and Michelle, from weddings to salaries and incite catfights, triggered by wealth or attitude. Yesterday, Michelle Obama appeared on ABC-TV’s “The View” and already the wags argue if she connected with women or acted superior towards them. Here’s my take: This smart, attractive lawyer/mom more than held her own with five fast-talking veteran co-hosts on national TV.  (I’ve been on that View couch and believe me, getting a word in edgewise is a feat.)  

Why this fixation on spousal images? According to today’s AOL poll, a vast majority of voters agree that spouses influence their choice for president. Ready or not, women are defining the candidates’ brands—both as mates and in the voting booth. Whether we’re analyzing the casting in ads or the drama on the campaign trail, women make judgments about other women. It might be uncomfortable or politically incorrect, but it’s true. Do I like her looks or empathize with her as a working mom? Is she like me or someone I might like? Yes, the big issues will drive the vote. But don’t overlook her personal litmus tests. The question isn’t, Whom are women against? It’s, Whom does she trust? Just ask.

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Dateline Spain

I am often asked if what we learn about women in the US is true for women of other cultures. Speaking this week at a major conference in Barcelona, hosted by the Associacio Empresarial de Publicitat, and doing a retail walkabout on the streets, here’s what I believe: our consumer styles may differ but we are bonded by values and spirit.  

Street chic? Score one for Barcelona. Technology at retail? They win too with a table-side credit card machine in restaurants. Love their care for conservation with public restrooms with automatic light shut-off, (though they may be blowing the savings by lighting up every pretty building facade once the sun sets!) 

But at the cash register, unlike our American appetite for ‘urgent or else’ service, the Spanish style is much more laid back on both sides of the counter. As someone said to me, “Here, the customer isn’t first.” But since customers seem to accept the pace, I didn’t see the retail turmoil so common in US stores. 

But what was the same was the emotional global head nod of women, feeling the same tug between family and work, the pride and stress of trying to do it all, the half truths and whole truths we tell about our age, our looks, our weight and our never-ending quest for a little time alone. Twice, texted audience questions (from men, I assume) asked “What about men? Don’t they have a key consumer role too?” Sure they do. And it’s not so hard. Listen. Listen to the voices of the women in your lives, in your stores and in your companies. They have the power and it’s packing a worldwide punch.

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December 2, 2021
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK


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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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