A common assumption among psychologists is that we all research our own neuroses, and I clearly am no exception. Since the 1980s at Stanford, the primary focus of both my clinical and research work has been the stresses inherent in the lives of working women. No big surprise -- I knew those stresses intimately. It was apparent to me early in my professional training that integrating a successful career with a successful family life was going to be a significant challenge -- one at which I was seriously disadvantaged by the lack of relevant advice and counsel available to those of us contemplating this particular course in life.
A WINDOW ON MY FUTURE
My first experience with the difficulties inherent in venturing down my chosen professional/personal path came as a freshman in college. Having been felled by a bout of flu during finals, I was permitted to take a make-up on, ironically, my first psychology exam. My instructor for the course, a young assistant professor, and the rare woman on the psychology faculty at the time, invited me to her home to take the exam.
Showing up at her door, I was greeted by a woman in obvious distress; a woman whom I had previously seen only as the consummate professional in the classroom. In one arm she held a screaming baby; with the other, she blocked the exit of a tear-streaked toddler. She apologized for the chaotic scene, pushed aside a pile of unfolded laundry so that I could work on my exam, and went off to attend to her two children. Her husband (now ex-husband), also a faculty member, was nowhere in sight.
I do not remember anything about the exam, but I will never forget the image of this woman, who, despite extraordinary talent and ambition, was so valiantly and painfully struggling to cope with all the demands competing for her attention. It was one of those apocryphal moments in life, and one that was indelibly etched in my mind. Clearly, it influenced my thinking about having children for more than a decade.
It was not until several years later, during time spent in Latin America working on doctoral research, that I was able to observe a different way of integrating personal and professional priorities.
As an American woman who had experienced the pre-1970s, pre-women's movement biases in our own country that excluded women from most professional positions, I was pleasantly surprised, indeed fairly shocked, to find so many Latin American women holding professional degrees and working at highly respected posts in government and private industry. Not only were these professional women (and the authority they wielded) accepted in the workplace -- a surprising circumstance given the infamous "machismo" ethic -- but these women were also able to adroitly manage a fully involved, highly satisfying family life. How did they do that?
The answer was as simple as it was unfortunate. Their success in doing both was predicated on the existence of a servant class that freed women professionals from the usual household responsibilities. These women were able to spend all of their nonwork time with their children and their families and still maintain highly engaged professional careers.
Obviously there were problems with a servant class -- not the least of which were the devastating consequences for the migrant women who often had to abandon the care of their own children to secure work -- but the idea of a support system that allowed professional women to fully accomplish their personal and professional ideals was an intriguing notion. Clearly, only if women could secure the necessary support would they be in a position to do both things. So, short of inventing a servant class, how does one go about accomplishing this end?
Answering that question is the task of this book. Let us begin by taking a look at the women in our Stanford survey.
WHO ARE THE STANFORD WOMEN?
In the late 1990s, I was invited to address a conference for alumnae of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. My bargain with the business school was that I would address their alumni if I could do for that group of female alums what had been done for other reunion groups -- namely, survey them on a variety of issues of importance in their lives. It was an extraordinary stroke of luck to have access to an exceptional sample of women professionals going back over 60 years. I would only hope that the business school would be equally pleased with the outcome of our bargain.
To survey the women of the Stanford Business School, a questionnaire was designed by myself and two recent women MBA graduates. We sent the questionnaire to all women graduating before 1975 and a random sample of women from the graduating classes of 1976 through 1995. In all, over 300 women responded to our survey.
DEVELOPING THE QUESTIONNAIRE
Much like the women we set out to study, from its inception our questionnaire suffered from hyperambition. Our committee of three came up with an endless stream of interesting questions that we wanted to pursue. It took incredible discipline to keep the questionnaire under 10 pages, but the concern that too lengthy an instrument would discourage participation was a relatively compelling deterrent.
One of my worst fears in creating the questionnaire was that we would learn a whole lot about very few women, that the amount of information we were asking of our sample was simply too great. What actually occurred, however, could not have been further removed from that concern.
Although we had estimated that it would take between 1.5 and 2 hours to complete the questionnaire, many of those responding went well beyond that estimated time to tell us about their experiences. In many instances, the survey evoked far more information than the simple 5-point scales had requested. Letters and other documents often accompanied the data contained in the surveys returned to us. We were literally besieged with information.
In designing the layout of the questionnaire, we thought that we had left ample room for comments. More than a few women, however, admonished us for not providing enough space to elaborate on their experiences and thoughts. Often, the questionnaires were annotated with scores of helpful comments and insights, and quite regularly, they arrived with all available space covered in writing, including the margins.
On several occasions, the questionnaires were accompanied by drawings made by children who drew along with (and sometimes on top of) their mother's work. Several women apologized for stains on the survey, reflecting the fact that they had completed the questionnaire while balancing a sandwich at their desks or preparing a meal at home. Others apologized for water marks caused by children or grandchildren splashing in a nearby pool. Illegible handwriting was often explained by the fact that the questionnaires were filled out in cars, trains, and planes. Clearly, multitasking was the operant mode.
These were busy women, and many precious minutes were dedicated to providing insightful answers to the questions posed. For that, we were extremely grateful. It was equally clear that the issues raised in the questionnaire touched a nerve for these women, and the generosity in their thoughtful replies forms the basis for much of what follows.
Even in the way they filled out their questionnaire, these women were demonstrating their remarkable capacity to get things done. As one woman, a busy executive described her life:
Generally I manage pretty well with sixteen balls in the air at work and absolute chaos at home. Imagine how dangerous I'd be if I ever got a full night's sleep!
The questionnaire we designed covered a broad range of topics. We asked the women about their experiences at business school, as well as about their personal and professional experiences since graduation:
- How had they handled the challenges they confronted in their careers?
- What kinds of choices had they needed to make?
- How had those choices affected other parts of their lives?
In a section on careers and families,
- We asked about the problems that arise when a professional woman decides to start a family.
- We solicited their insights on the impact of children on a professional career.
- We solicited their opinions on the right time to start a family.
- We asked about what things helped or hindered when children were introduced into the equation.
- We sought advice and strategies on how to manage the conflicts that exist for working parents.
In the final section of the questionnaire,
- We examined the values these women found sustaining in their attempts to create an integrated life.
- We asked about what was important in their lives.
- We solicited whatever advice they might have for professional women just beginning the journey.
- In our sample, we found that most of our respondents were very enthusiastic about filling out the questionnaire, and more than a few indicated that the questionnaire helped them to think about issues of importance to them in very different ways than they had previously done.
THE WOMEN WE STUDIED
Far exceeding our wildest expectations, the sample of women responding to our survey was truly astonishing. Of the more than 300 women who returned completed questionnaires, our oldest respondent was 86 years old and our youngest was 26. Our earliest respondent graduated from the Stanford Business School in 1931 during Herbert Hoover's presidency, whereas our last group of respondents graduated in the postmodern world of 1995. All told, their educational experiences spanned over 60 years, and they accounted for fully three generations of professional women.
The women we studied did just about everything in terms of work, from CEOs and corporate executives to small-business owners and sales managers. Our women worked in engineering and high tech, sales and marketing, education, accounting, investment banking, consulting, law, medicine, and a variety of other fields. Some had worked on oil rigs; others had managed lumber plants, produced films, had run large and small family businesses or were among the earliest players in the then-emerging online fields. One of the women in our survey had more than 15,000 employees working for her, whereas another managed to work as a physician throughout her time at business school. Our women counted among their number business executives, engineers, physicians, attorneys, teachers, authors, entrepreneurs, and homemakers.
Most of the women in our sample worked full time, and nearly half of them worked more than 60 hours per week. For their efforts, they earned, on average, about $100,000 a year. Over two thirds of them were married, and nearly 40 percent of them had children.
Although the ages of the children ranged anywhere from under 1 year old to 56 years old, the majority of the women with children in our survey had children under the age of 2.
Pioneers, Settlers, and Successors
Women who graduated from the Stanford Business School at different points in its history have obviously had significantly different work and life experiences. To better appreciate these differences, we divided the women we studied into three groups: Those women who graduated before 1976 we called the Pioneers. The women who graduated between 1976 and 1985 we called the Settlers, and those women who graduated between 1986 and 1995 we called the Successors.
AT A GLANCE: DEMOGRAPHICS
Predominant job type: Various
Work 40+ hr/wk: 52%
Have children: 67%
Predominant job type: Self-employed
Work 40+ hr/wk: 60%
Have children: 54%
Predominant job type: Large corporation
Work 40+ hr/wk: 80%
Have children: 31%
Prior to the late 1970s, each graduating class at highly selective business and professional schools like Stanford included less than a handful of women. One of the women who graduated in the early 1970s recalled her admissions interview:
When I appeared for my admissions interview with the dean, he looked over my application and inquired, "You're from Rochester? And what part of the Eastman family are you from?"
Although the applicant was not related to the Eastman family of Kodak fame, the dean was simply acknowledging a reality of the time. Most women who applied for admission to the elite business schools in those days were principally the female heirs to family fortunes -- family fortunes for which no male heirs were available to run the business.
The Pioneers who graduated before 1976 were clearly unique in many other ways. Often they were the only woman, or one of very few women, pursuing professional degrees at a time when such an educational opportunity was principally the purview of men. For example, between 1960 and 1970, only 24 women earned MBA degrees from Stanford Business School.
The Pioneers who graduated in the 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s often were the only women in many of their classes, and as a result, they were highly visible. Wrote one 1950s Pioneer:
With only one other woman in my MBA class, it was clearly hard to blend in. Because we stood out, it was necessary to be better and smarter. There really was a feeling of being a pioneer and setting an example for other women.
For many Pioneers, their rarity as professional women in the halls of academia guaranteed what one woman described as "a benign neglect." Other pioneers questioned whether neglect could ever be described as truly benign. Wrote another 1950s Pioneer:
I objected to being called Mr. X over and over again in classes. I knew the dean was none too happy to have women in the school. I tried very hard to scholastically prove myself.
In general, the women of the Pioneer group reported that they were treated well in business school, despite the fact that the opportunities open to, or envisioned, for them were often quite limited. An early 1960s graduate sent us a copy of a letter of recommendation she received from a faculty member when she was applying for a job after receiving her MBA. It read:
To whom it may concern:
Mrs. X was a student in my business policy course given at Stanford during 19 -- .
In this rather intensive course each student was required to prepare twelve written reports analyzing in detail the present position of a firm in its industry, and recommending a future course of action for the firm.
Among 20 students, Mrs. X's work was outstanding, and received one of the two A's given in the course....
Mrs. X is a very capable, personable young lady who would be an excellent addition to the staff of any firm.
Were I a business executive who needed an administrative assistant, I would hire her like a shot.
Dr. -- -- --
Professor of Business
Quite an outstanding piece of American cultural history!
In general, Pioneer women found employment in occupations and industries that traditionally had been more accessible to women -- that is, government, nonprofit, and educational organizations and family-owned businesses. Despite their lack of widespread integration into the workforce, the Pioneers blazed a path through uncharted professional waters and laid the foundation for those who came after them. For the Pioneers, the defining issue appears to have been "let me do it."
Today, this group finds itself the most satisfied overall. The majority of the Pioneers either are retired and managing their investments or have comfortably worked themselves into the executive positions that had been their goal all along. Sixty-one percent of these women are married, and nearly 70 percent of them have children.
Settlers (Between 1976 and 1985)
The Settlers, who graduated from the business school between 1976 and 1985, were among the first women in business and professional schools who represented a sizable minority of their graduating classes, approximately 25 percent. Following on the heels of the Pioneers, the Settlers were among the first women in a variety of previously all-male occupations -- investment banking, management consulting, venture capital, and so on. Like their sisters in medicine, law, and engineering, in most instances these women had few, if any, role models and mentors to guide them in their professional development.
Interestingly, in many instances, the women in the Settler group reported having to fight even more battles for acceptance into occupations and work organizations than did the Pioneers. Because there were so few Pioneers, by and large they were seen as less threatening to the all-male professional workforce. Although clearly the Pioneers fought their share of the battles, Pioneers, for the most part, report being treated more like odd ducks than genuine threats.
As greater numbers of women began graduating from business and professional schools, however, these Settlers began to challenge their male peers for professional ascendancy. The hostility and resistance confronted by the Settlers in attempting to open corporate doors frequently left an indelible mark on their experience of the workplace.
Aspiring to a range of business and professional opportunities previously unavailable to women, the defining question for the Settler group was "Can I make it?" One Settler, an early 1980s graduate who worked in sales and trading on Wall Street, recounted:
It was hard not having female role models and always feeling like I had to be "one of the guys" -- but that's what it took to be accepted. As a woman I was seriously disadvantaged by not being part of the inner circle of male managers. No matter how good I was, being a woman changed things.
Most of the Settlers in our survey currently work full time, and over 60 percent of them work more than 40 hours a week. Over 80 percent of these women are married, and more than half of them have children. Given these statistics, it is no surprise that, as a group, the Settlers report the greatest stress between work and family demands. They are the highest wage earners but also the most likely to be self-employed, a fact that may account for some of the twinges of dissatisfaction these women report. As one Settler wrote:
When your income is based solely on what you can produce, there is no slack. You always have to keep your eye on the bottom line.
Most of our Settlers are right in the early and middle stages of their child-rearing years. Many of these women see independent employment as the most viable way of remaining in the workforce while coping with the challenges of career and motherhood. For many, self-employment allows them to fulfill both professional and personal goals. As we shall see in later chapters, although this option is not without its attendant stresses, by and large these women report that they are very satisfied with this arrangement. As one Settler describes her choice:
I love working at home on my own as a freelance consultant, analyst, and business writer. I make less than I did in industry, but the balance and freedom working on my own affords is great. I'll never again take a "real job"...(never is a long time...!).
Because the Settlers are the ones who are in the midst of creating some semblance of balance in their lives, what they have to say about their current experiences in combining work and motherhood is particularly relevant to the theme of this book.
Successors (Between 1986 and 1995)
The Successors, the women who graduated from the business school between 1986 and 1995, often benefited from the experience of the women who went before them. Although the novelty of women attending professional schools clearly had diminished by the time these women entered business school, prior to the fall of the year 2000 the number of women at Stanford, as at the other elite business schools, had never risen above 30 percent of a graduating class.
Although often not the first or only woman in traditionally male occupations, the Successors still encounter few role models ahead of them to provide relevant professional guidance and advice. Although they have the advantage of knowing that women can and do succeed in high-profile jobs in such traditionally male fields as finance and high tech, the fact that few, if any, of their role models have risen to the most senior levels of management is not lost on them.
For the Successors, the question of whether women could be investment bankers or venture capitalists is essentially moot. For the most part, few question their ability to do the job. These women know that they are competent because they had worked as investment bankers, technical specialists, engineers, and managers before they went to business school.
Unlike their earlier counterparts, the critical issue for many of the Successors is "Do I want to do it?" Many of them question the viability and soundness of trying to combine a high-profile career with the compelling demands of a balanced life, particularly one involving children. Even those who are not currently contemplating families of their own, question the wisdom of dedicating so much time to their jobs at the cost of their own well-being.
One investment banker who regularly spent more than 80 hours a week at work wrote:
Work has taken over -- I like to go to the theater with my fiancé, but we never get to do that. I have no balance in my life; I survive on stamina and drive. It's been OK up until now, but I really can't take much more of this. It's a dumb way to live.
The intrusion of career on personal life is of particular concern for this group, as over 80 percent of the Successors spend more than 40 hours a week working, and for nearly half of these women, a 60- to 80-hour work week is typical.
These women tended to be the youngest respondents to our survey. Most of them do not yet have children, and slightly more than half of them are married.
Although it has become far more acceptable for professional women today to want to have children, the concern these women share is whether they can successfully integrate all the things they want to do in life -- and at what cost. Although few, if any, of the Successors would give up the range of opportunities available to them, many legitimately question how their careers will fare once they begin to have families of their own. Whether one can have a truly successful career without sacrificing the well-being of one's self and family is the great unanswered question of the day.
A WORD ABOUT THE IDENTITIES OF THE WOMEN IN THIS STUDY
Before we move on to what we learned from all of this, a word about the identities of the women cited in this book. As you will see as we proceed, the examples in this book draw on the women in our Stanford survey as well as the women professionals I have seen in clinical practice. As a clinician, I have an ethical responsibility not to reveal the identity of any of my patients. This is a responsibility that is central to the work I do, and it requires that anything I say about patients must be sufficiently disguised so as to avoid personal identification. In conducting this research, we made a similar pledge to our subjects: that we would do nothing to reveal their identities. As a result, certain identifying and/or demographic characteristics of the women cited in this book have been altered to protect their privacy. I have attempted to do so in a way that does not significantly alter the substance of the material under consideration. Similarly, certain quotes had to be modified for confidentiality and/or editorial purposes.
A WORD ON HOW THIS BOOK IS ORGANIZED
Because many of us are too busy to read books from cover to cover, I have tried to organize the material of this volume in a way that is most useful and accessible to us as we go about our demanding lives. Even though as an author I feel strongly connected to all the mate-rial in this book, I have italicized what I believe are particularly important findings for the speed-read at midnight. I have also organized each of the chapters in the following way:
Experience: In this section, the question or problem of the chapter is defined, discussed, and illustrated with examples drawn from the Stanford Business School research, clinical experience, and other sources.
Lessons Learned: This section focuses on the lessons that can be derived from the research and clinical experience.
Action Plan: This is the how-to part of the book -- how do we apply the lessons that we have learned? The Action Plan contains strategies and advice as well as worksheets and checklists that can be effective in dealing with the issues raised in the chapter.
Copyright © 2001 by Laraine Zappert, Ph.D.
How Working Mothers Successfully Take Up the Challenge of Life, Family, and Career
Getting It Right
How Working Mothers Successfully Take Up the Challenge of Life, Family, and Career
Leading Stanford University psychologist Dr. Laraine Zappert draws upon her twenty years of clinical and research experience to answer these questions and create a road map of innovative solutions. Through her findings from a landmark study of more than three hundred female graduates of Stanford's Graduate School of Business, Dr. Zappert addresses such critical concerns as:
- choosing between career and family
- handling the job stress and the demands of parenting
- the best time to have children -- and what effect they'll have on a career
- keeping relationships healthy
- feeling confident about the decision to tackle the challenges of home and work.