Today is International Women’s Day.
More than a few people – men and women – will decry the necessity of such a day. They’ll try to convince you that singling out a day to recognize the contributions of women does more harm than good.
As Amy Jo Martin noted in her post “Dear Fellow Women: Own It,” being a woman in business isn’t a handicap. And, while we shouldn’t play the “woman card,” we do need to fight against ingrained societal norms that diminish the ability, capacity and potential of women.
I know what you’re saying – it’s 2012. Aren’t we beyond this?
We’re not. Let me share two quick stories …
• • •
Last year, I was meeting with a prospective client. The conversation was going smoothly, and then she asked me if I had plans to get pregnant in the next year. Clearly implying was that if a child was entering the picture then she’d have to reconsider working with me.
Dig a little deeper: She was actually implying that a kid would prevent me from doing my job. (Never mind the fact that I have a team of people who work for me. Never mind the fact that countless women before me have effectively balanced running a growing company with a growing family. Never mind the fact that my husband and I had no immediate plans for kids. Never mind the fact that that’s none of her business. Never mind …)
Anyway, a woman implied that if I had kids I couldn’t do my job.
If there are women out there operating under these misconceptions, I am 100% sure that there are men who view women with kids differently than women without kids.
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Have you heard Sheryl Sandberg’s take on this issue? During an interview with Fortune, the Facebook COO shared this story:
And what I saw happening is that women don’t make one decision to leave the workforce. They makes lots of little decisions really far in advance that kind of inevitably lead them there. So, what happens is, they start thinking about having a child. They start thinking about it kind of early, sometimes when they get married, sometimes before that. One woman came to see me and started asking me how to balance like work and a child, and I kind of looked at her, it was at Facebook, she looked really young, and I said, are you and your husband thinking about having a child? She’s like, oh, no, I don’t have a husband. She didn’t even have a boyfriend. And she was there thinking about.
And that sounds like a good idea, but it’s really not a good idea because what happens is, the moment you start thinking about making room for this child you don’t even have is the moment you start leaning back, or you don’t really start leaning forward, because you start thinking, oh, I might get pregnant, and you don’t go for the promotions … We need to teach women to keep their foot on the gas pedal, and then if they want to stay home with a child, great, that’s work our society needs to value. But don’t do it until you have to make that decision.
Too often, women get in their own way. They’re taking themselves out of consideration for career advancement opportunities because they might have kids. At some point. Down the road. And, I’ve witnessed women turn down career opportunities because of a child on the way – without even considering if the opportunity could be performed while still allowing her to spend the desired amount of time focusing on her family. Instead, she just bowed out of consideration.
• • •
So, why do we need International Women’s Day? For starters:
- To shine the light on women who have figured out how to balance family with career.
- To highlight women who are doing amazing things, inside the home and out.
- To applaud women who deserve recognition – even if they don’t realize it themselves.
- To remind people that while women in the US have come a long way, the same can’t be said for women in other countries. It’s our job to stand with them and help them work toward equal rights, equal pay and equal power.
We need to set aside a day for this purpose, because we spend too many of the other 365 days getting in our own way.
All that said, I hope you’ll take a moment to celebrate the women in your life. A couple ideas to get you started:
- International Women’s Day eCards. Go send one to a woman who has inspired you!
- Customizable International Women’s Day award, created by Oxfam America. It’s easy to give to a woman who has inspired you. Just fill in the fields, save it as a PDF or JPG file, and upload it.
- Oxfam America’s International Women’s Day 2012 toolkit, which has a few other suggestions for ways you can celebrate this day, including a print-size version of the International Women’s Day award
What women in your life will you celebrate today?