I’ve been thinking about the things we tell girls about their place in the world. About the beliefs that girls have about themselves and their worth. Mostly I’ve been thinking this because as a mother of two (!!) teen/tween daughters, I am confronted every day with doubts about what they need to learn and how I need to teach it to them in order to find success.
There is a struggle between reality acceptance and a fierce desire for them not to experience the things that I have as normal.
On my last day at a law firm, one of the partners (and I truly believe that he thought this was a compliment) told me that it was a shame I was leaving since they “were just starting to believe that I was serious about the job.” This after seven years, countless billion dollar transactions closed and managed almost on my own. This after having round the clock nanny’s on payroll so I could work until 2 in the morning several nights a week.
On the day my daughter was born, I conducted a conference call from the delivery room before my c-section. I turned changes to a document during my maternity leave. I left my toddler daughter and my husband on a vacation in Dubai so I could attend three days of meetings in Abu Dhabi “since [I was] in the area anyway.”
All that. And they were JUST starting to believe that I was serious about my job.
I know this is because I gave birth to two children while working as an associate. I became a mother twice while working for them. The thing is, my husband became a father twice and no one doubted his commitment to his firm. One of my co-workers had three children during the time I worked for the firm and no one doubted whether he was serious about his job.
I wanted to look at him and laugh. Laugh or scream. Laugh or scream or point out that this was why I was leaving. I knew there was no way they would ever make me a partner. I knew that, as the mother of two young children, there would be no benefit of the doubt. There would be no assumption of commitment and ability.
I would have to prove that which was assumed of my husband and male colleagues.
So I struggle because I know this is true now for my daughters. They have to show up and show more prepared than their male peers do in order to be taken seriously. They will need to be early to meetings that their male colleagues can arrive at on time in order not to be seen as scattered or disorganized. They will never be allowed to show emotion at work. Cry and you’re hysterical, get angry and you’re a bitch. Never mind the male partner who screamed at his associates and threw things when frustrated.
So it’s hard to balance my desire not to perpetuate this status quo that women have to work harder than men for the same results with the need to prepare my daughters for the reality of work. I want them to advocate for themselves and on their own behalf, but I also know that they will need to function in the world of work they seek to enter. I am hopeful that they will find a different reception when they work and have families than I encountered and certainly the men I worked with and for (of course there were no female partners in the corporate law firm group in which I worked) were good people and tried to be good managers and supervisors. There is also my own belief that arriving early and being more prepared is just good practice and what anyone should do – male or female.
But that might also be my anxiety talking.