Can Women Have it All? #1
Can Women Have it All? #1
The decade between 24 and 34 is the most important in a woman’s life. It is the decade she cements her career, finds a partner and earns money that will thrust her on the property ladder. It is also the decade of giving birth. Fertility peaks and her chances of miscarriage are the lowest it’s ever going to be: 10%, actually, compared to the 35% of women over the age of 40.
But can she reach full potential simultaneously in her domestic and professional life? Definitely not, although 2012 magnifies a ‘have it all’ sentiment founded three decades earlier by the likes of Carly Fiorina. She ranked prominently in the American company AT&T and was made chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard in 1999. This made her the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company, serving as inspiration for every other woman climbing the rungs in multinational companies.
Sadly, the unprecedented success of Fiorina has remained largely ineffectual in altering the staggering odds against women. As of May 2011, a paltry 12 Fortune 500 companies are run by women, even though the statistics for men and women earning degrees are virtually equal.
It is obvious that women are equally intelligent and capable of doing the same jobs as men. So how can these statistics be explained? It’s clear that the ability – some would say gift – of being able to give birth leaves us at a fundamental disadvantage to our male counterparts. It’s a ‘gift’ that a lot of women would rather return if given the choice, or pass on to someone who doesn’t. For nine months we are bulbous and pregnant. Not only with child, but carrying the weight of juggling and choosing and deliberating and eventually, accepting, that we just can’t pick up where we left off.
The pressure of performing at a high level puts strain on a hierarchy that simply didn’t exist before giving birth: family first, job second. But in a job that requires constant concentration, often working after hours and weekends, the time for an emergency trip to the doctor or parents’ evening comes at a cost to her colleagues. Although men are equally responsible for a child in this way, the disadvantage affects women because of that crucial year long absence – if not more – of maternity leave. Companies shift and twist in that time. A return to work is a return to new industry conditions and a new in-house environment. It is inevitable that she won’t be able to do her job as effectively as before.
Of course she can hire a nanny, or put the child in boarding school, or take less hours at work, or assume a lesser role, but that’s compromising either motherhood or career potential. 21st century women are presented with an unavoidable battle: Womb versus Career. The most she can hope for is a stale mate, a tenuous tightrope act between both domesticity and ambition that leaves both sides unsatisfied, or fall into one half of the safety net entirely.
At this point everyone becomes outraged. It is ignorant, they claim, to suggest that a woman is burdened by her child. It is a Right, they declare indignantly, for a woman to succeed in all facets of her life. Blah, blah, blah. It may be a Right, but in a world where people are ambition-driven bastards, fuelled by results and profit and beating competition, it is an impossible Right.
The industry machine leaves women a year behind with the times churned in the cogs. Some resign under stress. Others are the victims of depression or insomnia. This is detrimental to both the person and company and therefore, one awkward question looms.
Should an employer be allowed to discriminate on the woman’s fertility?
We all scream no, my goodness, no.
Does an employer discriminate on the woman’s fertility?
Carly Fiorina was not able to have children three decades ago. How a family of her own would have affected her career is anyone’s guess, but one thing is an absolute fact: it would have changed – and most likely not for the better.
Part 2 of this article deals with how young women such as myself can approach this situation.