"Why don't more women get to the top?"
That is the question posed on the cover of this weekend's New York Times magazine. The answer, according to many professional women turned moms, is: "They choose not to."
Lisa Belkin, the contributor who wrote "Abandoning The Climb And Heading Home," spent time investigating why women groomed for the boardroom are heading for the nursery instead.
Two such women are Sally Sears, a full-time mother with an Ivy League degree, and Liz Williams, also a full-time mother with MBA.
In "Abandoning the Climb and Heading Home," Belkin opens with the hopes and dreams of the 1970s feminist, who, in her words, "were supposed to achieve like men." She points out women are heavily represented in graduate programs and 16 percent of corporate officers and just eight Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs.
She tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler, "What's going on is it's not working out the way we thought it would 34 years ago when the whole revolution began. The thought was, the reason women aren't represented at the top is because they can't get in at the bottom. And so if we open the Ivy League and if we open corporate training programs and if we open Harvard Business School, then they will go and achieve like men and what's really interesting and what this whole article is about is that they don't make the same choices as men. Women act differently than men. A simple statement, but it took a lot of people by surprise. And there are huge ramifications for the workplace."
Belkin draws cues from workplace statistics and anecdotal examples from women in Atlanta, San Francisco and her alma mater, Princeton University. One crucial fact stands out: Women no longer feel desperate to dominate the workplace, especially when it may mean a significant lifestyle sacrifice.
Sears, for example, entered Princeton University in 1971, two years after the school began to admit women. She was one of the test-subjects for men and feminists,alike. Sears went on to run a newspaper and then became an on-air news reporter in Birmingham, Memphis, Dallas and, finally, Atlanta, where she met and married anchor Richard Belcher. Today, she is the full-time mother of her 12-year-old son, Will.
She says being in the workforce was great fun, and she plans to go back. Sears adds, "But you've got to have the choice to make, which is one thing. A wonderful supportive good-looking husband is a good idea. And a family that says this is what I want to do. It's important to keep pushing the balance of the workplace so you can get there and maybe have the job when you're ready to go back, or come back at a different level. That's what I'm enjoying, doing lots of little pieces now. And someday, I'll go back."
For Sears, the decision was hard to make. She says it felt like she was letting down the movement when she decided to be a stay-at-home mom.
She says, "I was given wonderful opportunities. And Princeton had a lot to do with it. Of course, the women who were there with me at the time, some of them have done this long before I did, stay home, and many of them have gone ahead and doing wonderful things, but to stop and say, a little bit less now, was something that gave me great pause."
It wasn't as hard as a decision for Williams, 32, who has her bachelors degree from Smith College in Massachusetts and a MBA from Harvard Business School. She was in the workplace for 7 years and is now a full-time mother of 19-month-old boy.
"My career is taking a back seat to my wonderful son," William notes. "He's very important to me and very important to my husband and our extended family and the career right now is taking a back seat and we're very happy. We have a very happy young son."
So, for her, things really changed when she got married. She says, "Early on in my career, I was single in New York, didn't have a family, and I decided to pursue my MBA to jumpstart, accelerate my career and that was a choice I made then and I was very happy. I was very invigorated and challenged by the workplace, but that was then and this is now. I met my husband in Harvard Business School and we both decided collectively that it was more important to stay home with our son."
Belkin fits somewhere in between. A mother of two boys and Princeton grad ('82), she has also modified her career goals to care for her family.
She points out doing this is wonderful, if you can afford to do it.
Belkin notes, "It's the third paragraph of the story. It's the second sentence of any conversation, is these are women who have a real choice. But you can't just dismiss it as they have husbands who make enough money. They can stay home because these are the women who we expected to be running corporations now. These are the women we expected to be partners in law firms, the women who have this education, who have these resources who can make this choice and the choice they're making is fascinating. It's not a real choice if you can't afford to make it."
"And these women could do either thing and they are choosing to go home. And they're choosing to go home in fairly large numbers and it's also a generational thing. Sally is sort of the generation that was soldiers. That they went out and they were going to storm the work place and they were going to achieve like men. And for Sally to quit was a huge decision, not just because, I think, it was less personal as much as it was, am I letting down the women's movement. I spoke to them, the women of the '80s, my years, where they quit, there was no feeling of deserting the movement. It was more failing themselves. And then there is Liz's generation, who did it far more easily," Belkin explains.