I’ll bet that headline got your attention. Is your blood boiling? Eyes rolling? Twitching a bit? How about all three? That pretty much sums up how I felt after first seeing this, and learning that the title of this recent article by Axios was subsequently changed to a watered-down version you see now. http://bit.ly/axiosarticle. For those of you who haven’t yet heard, Jane Fraser is blazing trails as the first female CEO of a “big bank” and she’s been in the press a lot this past week. As she should be. This is huge for the advancement of women in the workplace. But let’s be real here.
As a female who works, and who has dedicated her professional life to helping women advocate for themselves in the workplace, I’m not quite sure what’s happening with this story. Probably because I’m just not really sure what the article is saying. “Women Cannot Have It All “(the original title of this article) or, “Citi’s New CEO Managed Her Work Life Balance.” Wait, what? I’m confused. Can women or can women not have it all? Did she, or did she not find the elusive and overplayed “work-life balance?”
First – let’s start with this new, edited, vanilla and politically correct headline. How or more importantly WHY was the article headline changed to “How Citi’s new CEO Manager Her Work/Life Balance.” Because…um… she didn’t. She even says this herself when she states that it was the “toughest thing she has had to do” and that she’s felt “exhausted” and “guilty”. I don’t really hear anything about balance there – do you? While we’re at it, are any male CEOS out there on record as saying they’re “exhausted” and “guilty”? Nope. Not one. I checked.
Fraser is also quoted as saying she has the support of a great partner, and everyone would agree this is key. But what about the women who don’t have a great partner? What if their partner isn’t so great? What if their partner is working too (unlike Mr. Fraser who left his job to run the family)? Or…brace yourself here, what if the female executive doesn’t actually have a partner? Then what? Who helps? The village? The nanny? Her mother? She certainly needs and gets help (translation – pays for help because she can afford to pay for help) so there’s strike two for the illusion of work/life balance. This issue of privilege was raised back in the day when Sheryl Sandberg first started talking about Leaning In. You may recall she was vilified and blasted at the time as I’m sure Jane Fraser will be now for the privilege of having a partner who could stay home, and for having the means to hire an army of supporters. What about the other 98%?
Last, let’s talk about the 3am emails referenced in the article. Nothing says work/life balance to me like banging on my keyboard in the middle of the night. Sometimes I’ll even pour myself a cup of herbal tea and crank some Enya to really get in the zen-namaste-email-at-3am mood. I’m kidding, of course. How would you like to be on the receiving end of one of those emails? Am I supposed to respond at 3am? Respond first thing when I rise? Keep my phone under my pillow so I can get back to the CEO immediately? There goes any hard-fought balance I might have had.
The image of the super-mom, rolling up to soccer practice in her SUV, with her wireless earbuds on the phone, groceries in the back seat, looking not only presentable but professional, skillfully managing multiple children, deadlines, dinner, travel schedule, neighbors, the household and of course late-night emails has got to go. How is this balance? It’s not. Period. I’m calling bullshit here and I respectfully request that Axios revert back to the original headline for this article. Because it’s the truth. Research shows that the key issues such as gender-based pay inequality, the disproportionate burden of domestic responsibilities on women, and the number of U.S. companies offering paid family leave — remain largely unchanged.
So, …which is it? A woman can have it all? A woman can manage work/life balance which presents as emailing at 3am, feeling exhausted and guilty, and having their partners stay home to work fulltime? Or, if we’re really being honest here…Women Cannot Have It All.
Which headline would you choose?
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