Why are 40 percent of women professionals ‘hanging on by a thread?’
It appears that America’s female professionals are having extreme difficulty holding it together. According to a survey of 1,000 professional women by career strategist and author Megan Della-Camina, 70 percent are struggling with their overall well-being, and 40 percent describe themselves as “hanging on by a thread.”
70 percent of these women “believe the concept of success at work and home is a myth.” In fact, 16 percent are very satisfied with their lives overall. The interesting fact is that Della-Camina’s results were true for both parents, non-parents, married, and single women.
Della-Camina’s book “Getting Real About Having It All” is released in the United States this week. She said about her studies:
“More than 55% of women continue to have an issue with doing what’s best for themselves and provide favors and service for others first, even when it’s not in their best interest. They report a feeling of being on a treadmill and running so fast they’re scared to look to the left or the right, so they just keep running…
We have this big perception that working mothers have it harder than men, but the stats I’ve looked at recently don’t support these traditional myths. That’s something for organizations and cultures to really think about. It’s not a discussion that’s just about women anymore, but about men as well. What do today’s professionals need? What new levels of permission do they need to show up? It’s good to take the gender out of the equation. That’s the ultimate conversation.”
Della-Camina also noted that “we need better leaders, and better workplace cultures.” Not so fast. Employing better supervisors and bosses is not going to eliminate the problem and to increase women’s happiness. A better leader can’t be in a woman’s home, helping her to better her parenting skills and to be sure that her children’s needs are met. If supervisors reduce the amount of time a woman is required to be at the office, as Della-Camina suggested, that will certainly allow her to spend more time caring for her family – but then her career might not flourish or rise as much as she wanted.
A 2009 study, “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, revealed that despite the fact that women have made gains economically and in the workforce, their happiness and perception of their own well-being has been declining. Again, the study’s results were true across all demographics. It isn’t a paradox at all. This mentality of achieving success in the workforce no matter the cost and putting family life on the back burner has been detrimental to women since the rise of the liberal feminist movement – and it affects all women, regardless of their career or family status.
Conservative authors and leaders Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly unpack this issue in their 2011 book, “The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know – And Men Can’t Say.” Liberal feminism confused women by insisting that they must succeed in the workforce, and that choosing between family and career meant they weren’t being true to their identities.
Taking gender out of the equation, as Della-Camina suggests, is not the best way to help these women. Instead of pushing women to improve their well-being while still struggling to meet the demands of both family life and career, we should be telling women that it’s okay to make a choice. As Venker and Schlafly documented, women actively chose one calling or another for decades; many women chose to make their focus their family, and those who didn’t often regretted it, like Barbara Walters, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Joanne Woodward.
One British mother thought she could have it all, until weekends at home spent crying during the little time she had with her daughter made her realize she couldn’t:
“My mother was an active feminist. I had studied her copy of ‘The Female Eunuch’ at university. But what for… I felt as if society were telling me I had to try to be the perfect worker Monday to Friday, the perfect mother every weekend, and toned, healthy woman all year round.”
Katharine Hepburn also recognized the necessity of making a choice in a feature in “Ladies’ Home Journal,” according to Venker and Schlafly. When asked why she never had children, Hepburn said:
“Well, I’m not dumb enough to think I could have handled that situation. If your mind is on something else, you are useless. If someone needs you, they need YOU! That’s why I think women have to choose. I remember making the decision, ‘well, I’ll never marry and have children. I want to be a star, and I don’t want to make my husband and children my victims.’”
A change in perspective rather than a change in leadership is what’s needed to make these unsatisfied women more content with their lives. For most women, making the active choice between work and the home will mean better success in the chosen area than failure in both, and it will reduce the amount of those women who feel like they are only barely hanging on.