I remember my early career aspirations and the belief that I could do anything I wanted to do and I could be anything I wanted to be. One thing that would spur me on faster than anything else was to tell me I couldn’t do something because I was a woman. In fact, that’s probably how my passion for advocating for the advancement of women began.
I can remember it as though it were yesterday. I was eight years old and visiting my grandparents. My grandfather returned late in the afternoon one day after cutting firewood. As soon as I heard his truck pull in the driveway I rushed to put on my shoes so I could go help him unload the wood. By the time he parked his truck in the back yard, I was already there waiting excitedly to lend a helping hand. When he realized what I had on my mind, he told me I couldn’t help him because I was a girl.
That was the first time I can remember being indignant at someone telling me I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl. I got so angry and told him I could unload wood just as well as any boy could, and I was going to help him whether he liked it or not.
Well, help him I did. When we finally unloaded the last piece of wood, well into dark, my butt was dragging with exhaustion. But I dare say that the feeling of pride and sense of accomplishment I felt that day far outweighed the pain that surged through every muscle in my body for the next two days. I proved that a girl could unload wood just as any boy could.
When I read the Forbes article that talked about what the Gen Y and Millenial women wanted from their career experience, I was filled with hope and despair at the same time. I pictured the young women in the survey as intelligent women ready to take on the world, and no one was going to tell them they couldn’t. The thought that being a woman might be a stumbling block on the way to achieving their dreams had not yet occurred to them.
As I read I was filled with hope because more and more women are demanding a solid career experience while not being willing to have it take the same form as careers did for the generations of women who came before them. Long hours, excessive travel and sacrificed family time were (and perhaps still are) the norm that they claim they won’t stand for. Hope also comes because more men are singing the same tune. In this new generation the typical family consists of two working parents and not one, and together they must figure out what’s best for the family. And hope because the article says that this just may be the generation that is able to turn things around as more and more baby boomers take their command and control values into retirement.
Despair, however, looms heavy in my heart for future generations of women. I remember feeling invincible when I was eight, and even more so at eighteen. I believed the world was a fair place and as long as I worked hard, I would be rewarded. Sound familiar? By twenty-eight I knew that the world was not that way at all, and being young and female presented many obstacles for me, especially since I was already a mother and doing the 5:00pm daycare dash. Despair because I don’t believe the world has changed all that much because for every one of us who wish to make a difference while integrating family and work, there are a handful more who are willing to sacrifice the present for rewards the future.
The problem as I see it, is one of numbers. There seem to be far more people who are willing to sacrifice family time for face time all in the name of the almighty dollar. I’m not very hopeful that any significant change will happen in the next fifty years.
So should you and I give up? Not a chance. The job of people of all generations is to continue to work towards positive change for all women so that some day, someone can say that the playing field has levelled. As for the gender ambition gap, we all start out believing that if we really want something we can get it. Glory be the day that the day that the dream actually lives in the hearts of our working mothers.