Social Norms That Hold Women Back

Women often feel they have to choose between personal (family) dreams and career aspirations. Why? For lots of reasons. First and foremost is that not all men are as supportive and truly egalitarian as these women need them to be – either in supporting their wives or in condoning non-traditional family/work situations. Here’s a case in point: a friend of mine heard a male coworker describe another man’s situation as being “emasculating” when his wife out-earned him and they needed to make a decision about who would take the lead child-rearing role. Should she (the better earner) take a backseat and have the entire family rely on a lesser income or should they reverse the traditional roles? Obviously, the guys in the office thought their co-worker’s taking a backseat to his wife would make him less of a man.

Men who share the thoughts of those mentioned above (and therefore feel that it’s “best for the family” if the woman takes a lesser financial role in exchange for a larger commitment to husband and/or children) hold women back. They are an unquantifiable and unspoken impediment to our obtaining leadership roles. It’s safer to promote those who you think will play in the do-whatever-it-takes workplace than those who may not – typically men. Who knows which women will play and which won’t? Many women who had achieved a certain level of status in the workplace were horrified when the idea of the mommy track – the lifestyle of women who choose to leave the workforce (typically in white collar career positions) in order to pursue childbearing and the converse of the fast track – was first introduced. They were afraid of being relegated to the mommy track whether they wanted to be there or not.

However, women also have their own internal conflicts that hold them back. Some choose to only aim “so” high because of the negative stigma attached (by society) to role reversals – being called she-man or labeled as too competitive. Some men are not intimidated but rather jealous of their female peers who are on the fast track and make their life at work difficult. Sometimes it just feels easier to do what society is asking of us. To make matters worse, many women will not even discuss these issues with other females due to their own guilty feelings about giving up career… or children. How many of us know women who have given up personal dreams of society’s typical family situation in order to achieve career ambitions? Was it worth it? How many of us have mothers, aunts or cousins who gave up career for family and will honestly discuss their feelings about the decision? Or how about having a family and continuing with a career? What are the pros and cons? If the women answering these questions had to do it over, what would they do differently and why?

We as women must talk openly about our choices – how we made them and whether or not we’d make them again — in order to help the next generation of aspiring businesswomen plan their futures.

By Erin Wolf

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