I thought it was my choice. Thought that I was exercising my freedom to live my life as I chose. I believed I was lucky to be able to downshift my career, consult from home, and give my children more of my time and attention. And I was lucky we had enough resources to give me options, which is something a large percentage of American women don’t have. And yet, it is only now, all of these years later, I see it wasn’t really a choice. There was no way for me to be successful in my chosen career and be confident my children were getting the care they needed. I couldn’t be like my boss. I didn’t have a stay-at-home husband.
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My husband’s job in the technology industry required long hours with extensive travel, and although I had the more senior title and managed a larger team than his, Bill’s salary and bonus trumped mine by more than $75,000. If one of us had to pull back, there was no question it was going to be me.
Because I didn’t understand the larger dynamics in which I was operating, my “choice” undermined my sense of self-worth. I faced deep doubts about my path and my future employability. Like the women Professor Stone interviewed for her book, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t good enough to “have it all.” It never dawned on me that I lived within a workplace construct that was stacked against me and all women, for that matter first for being female, second for being mothers, and third for needing the flexibility to be an engaged caregiver to those we love.
The reigning narrative around my “choice” was that what I was doing was risky and would make me professionally irrelevant. And worse, I believed the underlying message that focusing on caregiving was not worthy of my human capital. All that education and you’re spending it on your children? What a waste.
Enter one of my professional heroes: Ann Fudge.
An African-American woman and mother of two, Ann managed to rise to prominence in the packaged goods industry to become president of the beverage and desserts division of Kraft Foods (a $5 billion business). In 1998, Ann was named by Fortune magazine as one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business.”
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