Have you ever searched “Working Mom” on google images? You can imagine the results – countless images of stressed out moms with a laptop in one hand and a crying baby in the other. Usually there is some sort of vacuum or laundry involved and the majority of them will have the mother pulling out her hair. How does she accomplish this with just two arms? Well, most of the images have her as an alien woman with 2-3 extra limbs, because only something from another planet could possibly be able to handle a job and a family.
The confusion about how balancing all this is possible isn’t limited to stock photos on the Internet. A recent interview by The Today Show’s Matt Lauer with GM’s newly appointed CEO, Mary Barra, stirred up debate over whether or not women can effectively be good CEOs and moms at the same time. When I first saw this I was infuriated about the double standard of questioning. Lauer interviewed Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota, the previous year and didn’t question his plans to balance his career and being a father. But as I took my fury to the Internet to write mean comments in blogs and dislike the hell out of it on Facebook, I stopped and asked myself – “Why is this such a terrible question?”
Before you take away my feminist card, please hear me out.
The fact of the matter is there are amazing women everywhere who juggle life and their families while still dominating the work place. From business to government to entertainment, these moms are at the top of their game, and they can teach men and women a thing or two about trying to balance their home and work life. A powerhouse whom we admire is our very own U.S. Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. Carrying the stress of worldly diplomatic issues along with being a loving mom and wife. She manages to help her daughter, Chelsea, with wedding preparations while discussing foreign policies abroad. Despite having a demanding job as the CEO of PepsiCo, India Nooyi never fails to pick a phone call from her kids even during business meetings. Even the busy Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, leaves exactly at 5:30PM everyday to come home in time for family dinners.
How do I know these intimate details about the lives of Hilary, India and Sheryl, you ask? Because someone asked them, and they answered. Everyday women do extraordinary things, solve problems that the rest of us are struggling with and change the way those around them view women in the workplace. However, unless we talk about these challenges and solutions we will all remain in our isolated worlds thinking that the only answer is to get those extra alien arms we saw on the internet. Ignoring the questions and hiding behind political correctness will never get us any closer to equality.
I fully understand the power of language and the social implications one sided questions like Lauer’s can have. The backlash to his question was impactful and I know that many people took note and re-evaluated their own thoughts and language. In the near future, my hope is that these questions are asked of everyone rather than no one. Who knows, maybe Jim Lentz also manages to coach his daughter’s soccer team or perhaps has a secret to folding the perfect fitted sheet. We will never know unless we ask. What I do know is that the amount that we can learn from each other is immeasurable and the only way we are going to be able to start is to have the conversation.
Comment below and let us know your reaction to Matt Lauer’s comment. Learn from the powerful insight our own female executives have shared by watching a sample mentoring session here
Photo source: Modified. Happy Family by David Amsler, Flickr.