Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Women as professionals

I was reminded (as if I needed reminding) at a recent conference I attended that being a woman and a professional at the same time carries special burdens that men don't deal with.

I know there are emotional differences between men and women that can cause us to respond to professional responsibilities differently. I know that there are institutional and cultural barriers to what some would call full equality in the workplace. I don't even know, given our different temperaments, if full equality is totally possible. I think full opportunity ought to be, though. I appreciate the recent discussion in the news from Sheryl Sandberg (CEO of Facebook) about discussing these concerns more openly. I like that she said this: We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents and interests.

I know that a lot of progress has been made in terms of men taking on some of the traditional jobs that women have taken care of (house cleaning, cooking, child care, etc.). I see that most noticeably in my children's lives, but I see it, too, in the ways my husband has taken on household responsibilities to accommodate my work schedule and work loads. But at the conference, I was reminded, in a very visual way, that there are just some differences still.

A young woman, scheduled to speak in that session, carried a baby in a carrier to the front of the room as the session began. As she was introduced, she rocked the carrier, and we could all hear the baby--not happy. She stood to speak, carrying the baby still in her carrier to put it on the floor behind the podium. As the young woman began her presentation, though, it was evident that the baby was not going to be happy (or quiet) with this situation. The woman apologized, told us she was unable to get a sitter, then picked the baby up (which immediately quieted her), and gave her talk. We were all charmed, of course, by the darling baby who pretty much just looked around at us for the twenty minutes her mother spoke. It was handled just right. But I have to say that I have never seen a man in the same situation. And that is my point. No matter what, we still do it double in many situations.

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