To say “It’s an honor simply to be nominated” has become something of a cliché, but that’s how we feel to be considered as a finalist for the PIttsburgh Technology Council’s annual Tech 50 awards. To be counted among such amazing tech companies and talented CEOs is a reminder of how far we’ve come and what we’ve been able to achieve. Even without winning, we feel like winners.
This post is not only meant to express the voice of women in business, but for every man and woman who understands that a better society is when both genders are represented and treated equally.
It’s not easy to be a woman in business, especially in the technology business. The dream of feminism is that we’re supposed to be able to have it all: family and a career, in equal measure. We thought we had achieved that dream. But I can’t help but reflect on Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, and her argument that, as much as we hate to admit it, we still haven’t achieved this dream. Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi has expressed a similar sentiment, saying in an interview "I don't think women can have it all. I just don't think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all."
The Problem with Superwoman
Entrepreneurship and technology remain male-dominated fields. While women make up 51% of the US workforce, according to the US Census Bureau, they represent only 30% of the tech industry. What’s more, the situation may be getting worse. In a recent article that appeared in the Huffington Post, the number of computing jobs held by women has declined over the past 23 years.
According to Nooyi, the opposite scenario was expected. When discussing the number of women that hold top positions, she said "These numbers are all the more striking when we look back to the 1980s, when women now in their late 40s and 50s were coming out of graduate school, and remember that our classes were nearly 50-50 men and women. We were sure then that by now, we would be living in a 50-50 world. Something derailed that dream."
The problem with the “have it all” mentality is that it sets the expectation that a woman can be all things to all people at all times. That’s a lot of pressure for anyone - male or female. While we all struggle with managing the demands of life and the competition for our time is very real, if we use this mentality to drive our expectations, that puts us in a very dangerous place.
As Slaughter points out, there may be real-life “Superwomen” that we can look up to, but “these women cannot possibly be the standard against which even very talented professional women should measure themselves. Such a standard sets up most women for a sense of failure.”
So let me say this, I don’t fancy myself superwoman. However, I’m empowered by the people that have paved the way and enabled my success. I’m thankful for the women that came before me, shattering ceilings and opening doors for things to happen that were at one time impossible. Furthermore, I’m fortunate to have a husband that has allowed me to focus on my career and family, who took equal or more responsibility in the home. However, not every partner is ready to share the load equally or at least, proportionally. Not everyone has that and I’m lucky.
So, rather than striving to be superwoman, why not aim to be a super woman based on each day’s unique demands?
“We Can Do It,” But Maybe Not All of It At Once
In the famous words sprawled across the World War II era posters featuring Rosie the Riveter, “We Can Do It.” We just have to be realistic about our priorities and what is realistic to accomplish on any given day. A little dose of realism and a big gulp of self-love will go far in allowing us as women to recognize our accomplishments, express gratitude for our opportunities, and get ready for that next big leap.
That said, “Having it All” is not necessarily a lie, but it is more of a half-truth. “It is not about the lack of ambition,” Slaughter says, “It is the obstacles that keep women from reaching the top that are rather more prosaic than the scope of their ambition.” As a matter of fact, technology can be a big help, if implemented correctly.
Slaughter summarizes this beautifully when she says “Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.”