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That’s Why Few CEO Offices Are Decorated In Pastels

Mar
7
2006

Hey, guess what? Women don’t achieve high-powered work positions because they have babies. This is true whether public policy provides more direct support for being a mother (some European countries) or practically none (the U.S.). Thus, biology is destiny, so deal with it ladies.
That at least is the message I got from this Newsweek International article. It looks at how there are lower numbers of women in powerful positions in Europe compared with the U.S., points out how some European countries provide more time for maternity leave (and other incentives to stay home, including a tax structure that penalizes the second spouse working), and concludes that these supposedly cushy benefits are a trap keeping women from reaching the top.
Now, the problem is, someone forgot to send me an e-mail letting me know that women in the U.S. have it made. Because while the picture is better than in Europe, women are still not reaching top positions in accord with their numbers, particularly at the highest levels – even without the cushy benefits to blame. And some of those U.S. women would like some of the European-style benefits, which apparently will only handicap their careers further. So the answer is: be a man?
One of the solutions Newsweek floats, presumably because it was suggested during the reporting of the story, is to cut back on maternity leave. Naturally. More family stress, no guarantee that women will get better positions, but at least it will make employers happy. (They’d also be happier if we took care of plants instead of babies. Green stuff fits quietly in the corner of any cubicle. Or corner office.)
The cushy bennies trap is supposedly that employers don’t want to hire women who will take a lot of time off for babies. But wouldn’t employers assume women would take time off anyway, even without legislated long maternity leaves?
The problem exists as long as child care is primarily women’s responsibility, and is seen as being that, rather than a shared family or even societal concern. (One interesting solution mentioned in the story is requiring that a portion of baby leave be for fathers; it would certainly help change attitudes, although at the cost of restricting families’ flexibility.)
Alas, the old country still has lots of old-school sexism (as Newsweek also discussed). Until that changes, you can make laws to hold women’s posts after maternity leave, for example, and they’ll return to a position that’s “comparable” but crap, as can happen in Spain. That sexism combined with the fact that European economies are less flexible are the real difficulties for women (and men).
Plenty of working mothers don’t want a high-powered career (I was pointed to the article by Expat Mama, some of whose commenters made the good point that not everyone does). But most of them (shall I be daring and say all of them?) prefer their kids to a plant.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 5:54 PM | Permalink

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