Mothers of invention
The parallels and differences between two generations of female executives
Betsy Holden was vice-president of strategy and new products at Kraft, a giant food company, when she became pregnant for the second time. “No one has ever done the job with two children,” her male boss worried. “How many children do you have?” Ms. Holden asked. “Two,” he replied.
This double standard is only one of the barriers that female executives face, as recounted in “Power Moms”, a new book by Joann Lublin, a former Wall Street Journal columnist. The author focuses on two waves of female leaders. The first group were the baby-boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. These were often the only women in upper management at their firms. They faced a lot of pressure to be hands-on mothers, had little support from their husbands and were reluctant to ask for reduced schedules for fear of not seeming committed to their jobs. The stress for these women was immense, especially as they felt unable to discuss their parenting problems with male colleagues.
The second wave of women, born between 1974 and 1985, had female colleagues in upper management, expected (and usually received) support from their spouses, and benefited from employer perks, such as maternity leave and flexible working. They were able to be more open with colleagues about their parental duties. This later generation has mastered the “work-life sway” in which they move back and forth between their personal and professional lives in the course of a day, conducting a meeting before taking their children for a check-up and then returning to the office.
The earlier generation, by blazing the trail, made it easier for those behind them. A Harvard Business School study shows that adult daughters of employed mothers are more likely to hold supervisory responsibility and earn higher incomes while sons are likely to spend more time caring for family members. And companies are now much more willing to promote women, who make up more than a fifth of senior executive positions in American firms, compared with just 10% in 1996. A few are exceptionally accommodating, for example providing rooms where mothers can express milk, sinks to wash the breast pump and even courier services to deliver the milk when they are away on a business trip.