Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Women to Watch

Yesterday's WSJ was devoted to women in business. Along with a special insert featuring the top 50 women to watch for 2006, the paper ran an interview with six top business women and devoted its leadership column to the subject. And what are the most successful businesswomen in the world saying these days?

Frances Aldrich Sevilla-Secasa, president of U.S. Trust: ""I have two teenagers and a 10-year-old. I have a husband. I have elderly parents. And I travel probably 90% of the time. So I have often not been there for very important events at school, sports tournaments and plays my children were in. I probably missed about five of the past 10 anniversaries with my husband, whom I've been married to for 22 years. I'm not there often in the mornings to wake up my children, to have breakfast with them, to take them to school. So I missed out on a lot of those things, and so have my children.

So there are a lot of sacrifices and choices you have to make along the way. But I don't think it is all bad. I think you make those choices because there are trade-offs. What I've done to the extent that it's possible is incorporate my children and family into my career."

Color me unimpressed. Lost in these interviews is a sense that not all sacrifices are of equal importance. It's not exactly an honor when a mother says that she's done her best to incorporate her child into her career, as if the child were extra baggage on the road to success. Or, as Ursula Burns, a corporate senior vice president of Xerox, and mother of two teenagers, puts it, "We have to let go of external expectations of what it means to be a successful mother, wife, and business person, and each define that for ourselves. No one will die if you don't show up at every business meeting or every school play."

No. Your child won't die if you don't show up at his school play. It takes a lot to kill a child. As far as I know, with the exception of a few instances in the toddler years, equating success with merely keeping the kid alive means defining motherhood down, far down.

"Ultimately, it's a juggle," says Nancy Peretsman, managing director and executive vice president of Allen & Co. "I think what your family, friends, partners, and clients have to understand is that when it is really important, you will be there for them. If they believe that, you get to maneuver a little bit more." I'm not certain about the dynamics of Ms. Peretsman's family, but at my house if I constantly tell my children that I'll help them draw pictures in just a few minutes and then keep starting other tasks, they eventually stop believing that I'm going to help them. If my husband tells me every night that he only has a few minutes of work to do and then sits all evening in front of the computer, I don't believe him when he says he's taking the weekend off. If a friend is always offering to watch my kids but is never available when I ask her, I'll turn to someone else when I have a pressing need. Trust is built up through small actions.

All of the women interviewed pan the idea of "balance" as a myth. That's not surprising -- I have the same problem myself at home. Some days, if I get the laundry done, the dishes suffer. If I do all the dishes and clean the living room, we can't get to the library. I do try and juggle different tasks, such as writing a blog post and nursing the baby at the same time, but something's always going to be left undone. But my actions show where my heart is. I can't claim that education is my top priority if I never make the time to read to my children. I can't claim that time with my husband is a priority if I'm always going off on "Girls' Night Out".

And on that note of "Where your heart is, there will your treasure be", comes the now much-derided interview with Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, in the New York Times.

How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.

Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?

No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

At least the business women in the WSJ seem to think that raising a family is a worthwhile thing to pursue, even if it does conflict with a hot career. Bishop Schori gives us to believe that the idea of having children is slightly dirty and best left to the unwashed masses. Guess I'll just have to remain a Stoopid Kathlik (TM), even though I don't have enough schooling to understand the theological reasons for my constant breeding. Then again, maybe Kate's on to something there -- Pope Benedict has a far better education than she does, and we notice that he has no children. Must be for theological reasons.


PB said...

There just isn't time to spend with my children, but I balance that out by giving them expensive gifts like ipods and cell phones. That's why they love me.

Kate said...

As I've said probably a hundred times now when people ask if/when I'm going to get a job - I wouldn't have children if I didn't intend to raise them! I can't really imagine bringing a child into the world and then going off and leaving schools, daycares, and sitters to raise them while I pursue 'a career'.

Note that I also think this sort of 80 hr. corporate ladder climbing workweek is unhealthy for men with families too. It is no success for women that we've bought into some of the same lies men have bought into for generations.

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

I picture the Christmas cards these women send out as being photos of them holding bi-annual reports and sales forecast charts in front of a fireplace.

But, seriously, a life like that is so incredibly exhausting and ultimately hollow. It's amazing what people will do to feel important (as society defines it).

Kevin Whiteman said...

Then again, maybe Kate's on to something there -- Pope Benedict has a far better education than she does, and we notice that he has no children. Must be for theological reasons.



kipwatson said...

Well done! You and the woman you quote both got a gratuitous cheap shot in at another religious denomination.

Karl Marx and Osama Bin Laden each get an hour off their eternal torments whenever that happens!

Steven said...

Dear Mrs. Darwin,

No. Your child won't die if you don't show up at his school play.

No, but part of you does--the part that really matters. Every time I have to mss something, be it half a dance class because we have one car and have to wait for Dearest to pick me up or piano lesson, I'm missing out--and sometimes I really resent it.

As much as I really love my job, my boss, and my coworkers, I think frequently about what I am missing out on.

But the recompense is that through my labor, my wife can be there and see it all. Some stranger is not experiencing the very best moment of my son's life--his family gets to do so. And if that isn't a major formative factor in his development, then nothing is.

Sam probably wishes I was a little less involved--that I would buy him his X-Box or whatever wierd thing he's asking for. But, instead he gets me and his mom--annoying, I'm sure, but ultimately, I hope, the support he needs to be a successful citizen and a loving person.

Thanks for writing this entry--powerful and a little sad.



Anonymous said...

No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

They are going to "steward" their church right into oblivion. They only way they'll be able to swell their ranks is by welcoming womynpriests and other disaffected Catholic dissidents.

Anonymous said...

I entirely share your sentiments. If more people did, especially more women, our society wouldn't be quite such a mess. Some women do, but unfortunately not the majority of the more educated ones.