I spent my entire adult life not wanting to have kids because of fear.
Not the fear you think of – not having a safe delivery or a healthy baby – but fear of impending misery. Fear that I would lose myself completely.
I chose a career path that is abusive to women’s identities and happiness. Instead of evolving corporate culture to be inclusive of the physical and emotional demands of motherhood, these companies force women into the molds of their paternalistic structures. Structures that as the world evolves around them with technological progress and shifting gender roles, haven’t changed themselves in 50 years.
Companies might say they have an evolved and inclusive culture, but the fact that they still have a Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm routine shows they haven’t. Or that only 7% of top executives are female, 3% are people of color. Or that there are time limits to maternity leave. Or that women have to pump in little closets on conference calls.
I look around my workplace, and the women are not okay. They seem exhausted. Mothers aren’t given the freedom to balance their schedules in a way that makes sense for them. The fact that we have to spend 8 hours a day in an office, where everyone knows that we are not productive those entire 8 hours, makes no sense.
Families have to pay for additional childcare and aren’t with their families for the bulk of their days. To only show up around dinner time seems strange to me. To only be able to go to key performances or sports games (since they’re always during work hours) makes no sense to me. How do you help your kids with homework when by the time you get home, you rush to make dinner, and you also have work you brought home to do?
But we’re all frustrated. Because our workforce is 80% women, yet there are no senior female executives in our org. It’s hard to voice the injustice because it flags you as a ‘deviant,’ lessening your chances for advancement. Because one wrong move as a woman strikes you out. We women have to wear the masculine mask, and it doesn’t fit well. We dress and appear in a way that is non-threatening, we behave strong and intelligent– but within reason so we’re not labeled, and we dedicate the hours we need to, to show that we fit in. To try to climb the ladder, to make more money to support our families.
And herein lies the challenge: I haven’t once mentioned ‘her self.’ What do women want to do with their time? They aren’t just wives-and-mothers or managers, but people. When do they have time for themselves? To exercise self-care – meditate, exercise, take a bath – or pursue hobbies? The current structure doesn’t lend itself easily to that.
I realize that this is a sweeping generalization that I’m sure doesn’t apply to everyone, but most women I work with aren’t able to prioritize time for themselves. They want to work out, they want to learn a language or cook more, but they just don’t have time. And that isn’t fair.
I’m hyper-aware of my body and its limitations: I’m not a night owl, I have to remove myself from situations that make me anxious, I’m an introvert. I haven’t met one woman I work with who makes me having a kid in this environment seem like a good idea.
I didn’t recognize until now how devastating that is. I cannot ‘rise to the occasion’ or be ‘selfless’ because I know I need balance, and I like my self. I shouldn’t make family decisions based on the lifestyle limitations of my career structure. Maintaining the structure isn’t what’s important, I’m what’s important.
To prioritize my self means I have to make decisions on what’s best for me, and to sacrifice nothing. If a company or career doesn’t allow me to live the life I want to live, then I leave that life.
And I don’t hide why. We have to share our stories.