These past few days, I’ve been sitting here at my first cubicle job (a short stint of Chinese corporate life), alternating between revising agreements, checking out the corporate culture in China (post to follow) and skimming whatever websites the Chinese firewall has not blocked. My online wandering has led me to this website. This kind of blog dedicated to the modern professional woman has been a growing phenomenon recently. While these women are younger than my mother’s generation, they are just a few years older than me – I’d say 5 to 10 years older so while I’m not quite their age or status, I can relate 100% to what they’re saying because I know that I’m going to be there in the near future. And it scares me.
For a short while, before my last job really started to pick up, I would get weekly dinners with two of my girlfriends from high school – one working at a big publishing company and another at E&Y. Topics would range from the latest gossip to our latest dating distaster. Soon, our work schedules got so hectic, we could only manage dinner every few months or maybe drinks for a special occasion and the topics also began to change. They became more, well, we could say “adult”. One of us will be thinking of going back to school, another about switching jobs, one will lament the recent wave of layoffs or the measly bonus. Boys? Who has time to date right now? Not us. 3 margaritas later (Mexican food is our standard rendez-vous dinner), we always find ourselves pondering the same question: Can you have it all?
clawing climbing our way up the corporate ladder, attending all of our non-corporate friend’s weddings and get-togethers, and attempting to prevent becoming victim to the corporate 20 (that’s the 20 lbs you gain post-school sitting at your desk drinking red bull and coffee), how do we entry-level, SFS wannabe’s view our idols – the women who are top dogs at their firm, glam, successful but most often than not single? Is there anyway we can get there without sacrificing well, our personal lives? We’re not even making six figures yet but we already don’t have time to date. Can someone please tell me why some of my 20-something friends are on online dating sites? I have nothing against these sites but aren’t we supposed to be young and active enough to be “out there” “meeting people”? Apparently not. Is it bad that I can relate to this post?
Truth is, I’m not really sure if we can have it all. I mean to say, not sure if we can have it all at the same time. This is why and I’ll lay it out for you through an example via the law profession:
Graduate college at 22 and go to law school (this is assuming you don’t take any years off in between, though many, Mag included, do). Spend your first summer interning as a clerk or summer associate after you’ve busted your ass as a 1L. Spend 2L busting your ass if you’ve managed to make law review. Second summer is spent slaving away at another firm, hoping to secure a job post-graduation in a crappy economy. 3L makes life much easier but as soon as you graduate, assuming you’ve found a job, you spend the summer studying for the bar. You are now 25. Start work, pulling multiple all-nighters and sleeping under your desk. You want a successful career so maybe you want to make partner. That means you must bill more hours than any one else. Life proceeds in this manner for the next 8-10 years until (if) you make partner. You are now at least 33.
So, where in that timeline do you see an opportunity to, oh I don’t know, meet a guy, go on more than 3 dates before he gives up on you because you’re too busy, get married, go on a honeymoon, get preggers and start a family? Yeah, I don’t see many openings either. But what if it went like this:
You do the entire law school thing, start work, but because you don’t WANT to make partner, you don’t put in as many hours, thus having time to date, meet Mr. Right, work for a few years, getting married at some point while you’re a lower-level associate, then quit when you get preggers, then have a family!
Is the latter option cheating? Will you be selling yourself short simply because you didn’t go all the way? Herein lies the problem, the conflict-of-interest (COI) if you will. No matter what any one else says, the corporate world is not a female-friendly environment simply due to biology. Guess what, when a man’s wife get’s pregnant, he can and probably will take paternity leave, but he’ll be back a lot faster than his wife who’ll be recovering for quite a while since she just pushed a baby through her who-ha. Not to mention, science has shown that women NATURALLY want to spend more time with their children. They say, the bird that returns early and bills the most hour gets the promotion, I mean, worm. Unless your company is very understanding or has different standards, evidence shows (and by evidence I mean all the single, divorced, or mother MIA female partners I know) that a stable family life and becoming top-dog at your company aren’t compatible. Perhaps at some point, you do have to choose. Maybe, you’ll be one of the lucky ones who has an understanding boss or is at a female-friendly company but for all the others, it’s very possible that there’s no other way around it but to prioritize one thing over another.
Or perhaps we need to be more proactive. Instead of waiting or wishing for a company that understands this COI, maybe, by working our way up, we can institute these policies, create the environment we need so that we can indeed have it all. Our biology may lead us to crave more of a domestic life at times but our intellect and drive do not have to suffer and be held back as a result. What’s that phrase? “Be the change you want to see”. Yes, instead of pondering the question, let’s just make it happen.