Tag Archives: societal pressures

Does Anyone Care About the Lack of Women in Leadership Positions?

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An article in The Atlantic magazine entitled “Why Women Can’t Have It All” has spread like wildfire through my Facebook and Twitter feed, and with good reason. The article is long, so give yourself some time if you decide to read it, but it is a chilling account of the difficult choices that women face when deciding where to focus their energies between career and family.

Some might say that chilling is too strong a word to describe this issue, but I would bet that people who would say that are not 40 year old females. This article raised more issues than I can describe in a short blog post. But I will give it my best shot.

It seems that my generation of women has been set up in some ways – entirely unintentionally, but set up for failure nonetheless. Whatever choice a woman makes about where to focus her energies, she pays a price in other areas of her life. And she frequently feels guilt regardless of which choice she made.

Many of my friends focused on establishing themselves in their careers in their 20s and early 30s, which are prime child-bearing years. By the time these women turned their focus to starting a family, after becoming more established in their careers, their biological clocks have frequently run out.

I cannot tell you the number of women I know who have had to turn to medicine to enable them to have children. Aside from the financial expense of taking this route, the emotional toll on a woman and her partner is substantial.

This article argues that if companies and organizations want to have women in leadership positions, things have to change. In addition to the author of the article, who held a high-level position in the State Department, it highlights several other prominent women, including Mary Matalin and Karen Hughes who both made the decision to leave high-level positions because they could not achieve the work-life balance they needed. I applaud the author for her courage in choosing to speak out on this complex and highly-charged subject.

I remember applying for a high level, stressful job several years ago. When asked how long I would expect to stay in the position,  I told the interviewing panel that I would likely stay for a long period of time if I could achieve a good work-life balance in the position. I was the last of two candidates – guess who did not get the job?

This is a fundamental cultural issue. We must begin the conversation now. Perhaps if we start the conversation, younger women will not be faced with the same choices that women of my generation have faced. Companies will have more women in leadership positions and be able to take advantage of the human capital that comes with this. Sounds like a win-win to me!

Some highlights from the article:

The best hope for improving the lot of all women, and for closing what Wolfers and Stevenson call a “new gender gap”—measured by well-being rather than wages—is to close the leadership gap: to elect a woman president and 50 women senators; to ensure that women are equally represented in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders. 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.

Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier.

What do you think? If you are not from the United States, do you feel like women face these same pressures in your country? If not, why not? What ideas do you have to change this dynamic? How can we make corporate and organizational leaders think differently about the lack of female talent in leadership positions? How do we help people understand that there are options that will keep talented individuals for longer periods of time if we just allow for a little more flexibility? Have you or your family faced these challenges? How have you handled them?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.

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Filed under Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, equality, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, International, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, Women, Youth Leadership

What is Happening in Europe and Who is to Blame?

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I am no economist, but I have been doing my best to understand the economic problems currently plaguing Europe. Cocktail party conversations have been enlightening, but have only confused me more.

People have strong opinions on whether Greece or Germany is a bad actor and about whether either of these countries, or any other, will leave the euro zone.

In the past week, two articles on this topic have piqued my interest. The first was written by Thomas Friedman for the New York Times, entitled Two Worlds Cracking Up. This is an interesting examination of the economic crisis in Europe, contrasted with the spike in violence in the Middle East.

The second is an article by Paul Krugman, also for the New York Times, entitled Greece as Victim.

While there are many opinions about what has caused the current crisis in Europe, there seems to be general agreement that the euro zone’s lack of a strong, cohesive governance model has contributed to the problems.

The financial problems in the euro zone are a shame. The US economy is also in a state of chaos, and opinions differ on what caused our financial meltdown as well, but at least our entire governing model is not in jeopardy.

Most of us will recall the optimism which accompanied the announcements when the euro zone was established. The concept that the European region would be more powerful if countries gave up some of their sovereignty in order to band together, on its face, was strong.

But as in most things in life, the devil is in the details.

What do you think? What do you see as the future for the euro zone? Do you believe that the lack of a strong governance model contributed to the problems? Do you see a way to remedy this issue or do you think that countries are too unwilling to give up their sovereignty to make this work? Do you think that the euro zone has helped or hurt Europe in the long run? What about in the short run? If you live in Europe, how has the euro zone benefitted or harmed you personally?

Again I am no expert on this – just an interested observer. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

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Filed under Culture, Economy, Income inequality, International, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, Stereotypes, travel

The Price of Slowing Down: What Has Caused the Increased Interest in Buddhist Practices?

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An article, entitled “Buddhist’s Delight” is the number one most e-mailed article in the New York Times this morning. This is fascinating to me.

We live in a time where technological advancements have required us all to become multi-tasking masters, enslaved to the pings of smart phones and e-mail. But clearly, many people seek new ways to regain a simple focus on the here and now.

The irony, of course, is that the focus of Buddhist practice is meditation, whereby people sit in silence and attempt to empty their minds to listen to the voice within. There could be nothing less technological than this. And yet people are willing to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars, to go on spiritual retreats to work on cultivating this silence and emptiness.

I, too, seek the peace that comes from meditation and yoga. I savor the moments at the end of a yoga class when we lay still and listen to our bodies and feel the softening of the mind. But soon after I return to my everyday life, this peace quickly dissipates.

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We live in a fast paced world where instant gratification has become the norm. Perhaps this is what causes many of us to seek a religious philosophy which encourages us to slow down.

Imagine a long distance relationship, where you run to the mailbox every day to see if there is word from your far-off lover? Or disconnecting from work every night and waiting until you get back to the office to see if there is anything pressing which needs attention? Really, would this be so bad?

What do you think? How do you explain the interest in Buddhist philosophies and practice? Do you think this is related to the hectic pace of everyday life? Do you practice meditation or yoga or otherwise find ways to try and remain aware and present? Have you found any strategies that help carry this peaceful state into your everyday life? Do you think that interest in these practices will grow or do you think that this is just a fad?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

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Filed under Culture, Health, International, Peace, Religion, Technology

Give Me A Break: Why Do the US Jobs Offer So Little Vacation Time?

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Last night on Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher’s final “new rule” was related to the fact that the vast majority of jobs in United States offer little to no vacation time, especially in comparison to the rest of the world.

To see the youtube clip, go to: Real Time With Bill Maher – New Rule June 15th

This really struck me in 1999, when I spent four weeks travelling in Guatemala. I thought I was fortunate to be able to build up enough comp time to take such a long vacation break, until I spoke with people from other countries who expressed their sympathy that my trip was so short. And most of my jobs since then have only had two weeks of vacation time.

It is hard for me to understand why the United States vacation system is so meager compared to the rest of the world. I can only assume that companies are trying to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of workers.

But I can’t help but wonder whether expectations that people will not take a vacation, or the fear that a person could lose his or her job simply because of using vacation days, actually leads to less productivity in the workplace – and to more sick days.

I believe that the low number of vacation days in the United States also likely contributes to rising health care costs and to increased obesity rates as we all sit on our rear ends for at least 40 hours every week, only to go home so exhausted, that all we can do is sit on our rear ends for a few more hours in front of the television. I can’t believe that this is actually good for any of us.

What do you think? If you are working now, or when you worked previously, how willing were you to use your vacation days? Did you feel pressured not to use your days? Why do you think the United States is so far behind the rest of the world on this issue? Do you think that this will change? What do think it is about the American culture that perpetuates this problem? If you are not from the United States, how many vacation days do people in your country start with when they start a job? And how many vacation days do you have? Do you use them?

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Filed under Career Planning, comedy, Culture, Fitness, Health, Income inequality, International, Politcs, Role of Government, social pressures, travel

Say it Ain’t So, Lance: For the Love of the Game

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I was sad to read an article in the Wall Street Journal about Lance Armstrong facing doping charges by the US Anti-Doping Agency. As a cyclist – heck, as an American – Lance has been held up as a role model for so many reasons, his cycling being just one.

I have no idea if Armstrong is guilty of the charges, but the allegations presented in this article are severe. I can’t help but wonder what has happened to sports?

When I was little I went to Orioles baseball games all the time with my family. I could tell you the position and team of almost any baseball player and had a huge number of baseball cards, which I was sure would finance my retirement.

Our family friends who were even more baseball-obsessed than we were ended up trading all of my valuable baseball cards for  cards of players on whom I had girlhood crushes, but I didn’t mind. (Now that I have hit 40, I have started to second guess that decision, but that is a subject for another post).

When we went to baseball games when I was younger, we would never see a score of 13-8; it just didn’t happen. Today, these scores are typical. I can’t help but think that easy access to performance enhancing drugs is a contributing factor.

It seems like weekly we hear about another athlete who is being charged with doping or who is found guilty of the charge. It is disappointing.

What do you think? Why is drug use so prevalent in sports today? If these drugs had been available in Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio’s time, do you think they would have used these drugs? What does this say to our kids, who look up to these athletes? What do you think could be done to curb the use of these drugs? Do you think that the penalties are harsh enough for drug use? And why do you think these charges are coming against Armstrong now, when the criminal investigation has recently ended?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

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Filed under Culture, Fitness, Health, International, social pressures, Sports

What Makes Amelia Earhart So Captivating?

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What is it about Amelia Earhart that continues to inspire and intrigue so many? There have been a number of articles lately in honor of the 75th anniversary of her disappearance and, personally, I can’t get enough.

For me, her disappearance is not what interests me, but rather her remarkable life. I am interested in learning more about women throughout history who have bucked societal trends and accomplished great things. Why do we not learn more about these inspiring women in school?

I had a teacher in high school who made a point of teaching us about women’s history. I believe that she faced some challenges from the school administration and from other teachers and students as a result of this emphasis, but I have always appreciated the fact that she was willing to face those challenges in order to ensure that we learned about both the great men, and the great women in history. To this day, I would credit this teacher with helping shape my sense of right and wrong and understanding of social justice.

But what is it about Amelia Earhart that makes her so universally admired? It probably helps that she was not a political figure and did not politicize her activities, despite the fact that her very life challenged conventional paradigms.

But I think there is also something about the fact that she appeared to be fearless and we worship such bravery in this country. Many can understand that Eleanor Rossevelt, who is one of my heroes, was also required to be fearless in her activities. But Amelia Earhart’s brand of fearlessness, being willing to risk her life to acomplish something that had not been done before, was something that eveyone, men and women, could relate to.

I am glad that Amelia Earhart is so celebrated and the more I read about her, the more fascinated I grow. And, I hope that more women heroes in our history are recognized for their bravery and sacrifice.

What do you think? Did you learn about women’s history in school? Why do you think this is the case? Why do you think Amelia Earhart is so celebrated? Who are some of your female heroes in history?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

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Filed under Culture, Politcs, social pressures, Stereotypes, travel, Women

What Was I Saying? What are the Consequences of our Multi-Tasking Society?

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An article in this week’s Wall Street Journal, entitled “How to End the Age of Inattention,” provides some excellent food for thought.

We have all heard much discussion about the recent proliferation of multi-tasking in our everyday lives, as many of us text while walking, read e-mail while on the phone, or update our Facebook status while on vacation. This article explores whether the trend of constantly divided attention may have contributed to some of the issues that have been in the media this year, namely the JP Morgan loss and the secret service scandal.

The article highlights a fascinating class, which has been woven into the Yale Medical School curriculum, called “Enhancing Observational Skills,” where students visit a museum to look at classic paintings. They are then asked to describe health related aspects of the people depicted in the artwork.

Apparently, some version of this course has been instituted in a number of schools across the country. According to Linda Friedlaender, the Curator of Education at the Yale Center for British Art:

“We are trying to slow down the students. They have an urge to come up with a diagnosis immediately and get the right answer.”   

This is fascinating to me, as I am generally more likely to see the forest than the trees. To link increased multi-tasking and a reduction in attention spans to the JP Morgan and secret service scandals is intriguing.

While I agree that shorter attention spans, which have clearly become a fundamental component of our society are troubling, I am not sure that this is what led to the scandals the author cites. Scandals like these, especially the secret service scandal, have been a constant, at least in my lifetime. And I am quite sure that any historian could highlight some juicy scandals from the past.

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But the author raises an interesting point. Courses such as the one highlighted at the Yale Medical School serve a need. They enable students to step away from all the technological innovations that have been developed over the past 50 years, and forces them to depend more on skills that have been there all along – skills of observation and attention.

Personally, I think this may be a promising new type of progress.

What do you think?  Do you think that there is a correlation between the reduced attention span and recent scandals, as the Wall Street Journal article posits? Are you concerned about the shortened attention spans cited in the article? If you have kids, are you doing anything to try and increase their attention span or to encourage uninterrupted activity? Do you have any tools you use to help yourself with this? Do you use any specific exercises to help you or your kids pay more attention to details? (I could use advice on that last one – in fact on all of these – myself!)

I hope you will take a time to share your thoughts. Thank you for reading!    

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Filed under Career Planning, Education, Health, Parenting, Social Media, social pressures, Youth Leadership

Meet the Jetsons: New Ideas for Innovations

The New York Times posted a list of innovations that are currently in concept mode. The introduction of the article describes the original failure of the electric light bulb and points out that most innovations and successes are the result of much trial and error.

I have heard it said before that most successful people do not see a failure as an end, but rather as an opportunity to try another path. I like that mindset and try to think that way whenever possible.

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The list of innovations in the article sounds so futuristic – I guess it is, by its very nature, futuristic. The list includes things like electric clothes that enable your body heat to power gadgets and video games on subway straps that people hold when they ride the subway.A sampling of the ideas – there are 32 in total – includes:

Turning an entire room into a computer monitor and doing away with computer screens

Clothing that will track your activity level and report the information to a computer to encourage exercise

An in-car system that would alert paramedics to possible injuries in a car accident

A mind-reading shopping cart (I like this one, although if it really read my mind , who knows what would end up in my cart – but I may not mind if it would actually shop for me!)

A tooth sensor that would identify plaque and alert your dentist (I like this one a little less)

Edible food packaging

These ideas seem far-fetched, but when I think back to my college days in the early 90’s, e-mail and iPhones would have seemed pretty far-fetched if you had described them to me; in fact, the internet would have sounded the most far-fetched of all!

Sometimes I wonder what changes will occur over the next decade and how I will adapt. Things change at such a rapid pace and at times I find it difficult to keep up. I have to admit that I don’t even understand what Pinterest is! (Feel free to educate me in the comments section, as I know many bloggers are very skilled in this area.)

I also wonder whether a failure to keep up with technological innovation has become the dividing line between who is considered employable and who is considered an unskilled worker. What will this mean for kids who do not have access to much technology? Students leaving college now grew up with this type of rapidly moving innovation and have learned to adapt to the changes. What will that mean for those of us who are running to catch up?

What do you think? Do you picture yourself using any of the technologies listed in these articles? What changes have occured in your lifetime that you never thought were possible? Do any of these ideas make you uncomfortable? How do you try to stay up on the latest innovations? Do you have an idea that is not listed here or any suggestions for budding inventors who may have an idea they would like to create? Have you ever had an idea that failed spectacularly but then led to something that succeeded? Do you think that an understanding of how to use a wide range of technologies will become as important as a college degree? Or do you think that this will just be one of many characteristics that employers will be looking for?

I hope you will add your thoughts. And thank you for reading!

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Filed under Career Planning, Education, Fitness, Health, Parenting, Social Media, Youth Leadership

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? Dividing Women Does Not Serve Anyone

There was an opinion piece in the Opinionator section of the New York Times, which is their online commentary section, entitled “Mommy Wars Redux: A False Conflict.” This article includes a critique of a book that was recently translated into English called “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women,” by Elisabeth Badinter.

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As a woman, I can’t help but feel that all of the seemingly-fabricated conflicts trying to pit stay-at-home moms against working moms or against working women who are not mothers, feels like an intentional effort to divide women along class lines.

The truth is that most women do not have a choice whether or not to work outside the home in order to provide for their children. And some women who do have a choice, make the choice to work because they believe that outside intellectual stimulation can help make them better parents.

While the article in the New York Times is fairly academic, I appreciated this statement, which rings true for me:

…under current social, economic, and cultural conditions, no matter what one chooses, there will be costs: for stay at home mothers, increased economic vulnerability and dependence on their spouses, which can decrease their exit options and thus their power in their marriages; for working mothers, the high costs of quality child care and difficulty keeping up at work with those who either have no children or have spouses at home taking care of them, which exacerbates the wage gap and keeps the glass ceiling in place.

While I realize that every woman’s experience is different and every life decision requires couples to make difficult choices, I quickly tire of the rhetoric trying to divide women. This is a critical issue that needs examination, but the divisive rhetoric does not help move this issue forward.

What do you think? Wouldn’t all women support more family friendly policies in the workplace, including policies that enable men to spend more time with their children or policies that make quality child care more affordable? Why do you think people try to divide women like this? Do you have any tips for moms who are trying to work and take care of their kids to create a better work-life balance? Or are you a stay-at-home mom who has tips for other stay-at-home moms about how to manage those stressors? What do you think it will take for Congress or State Legislatures to finally do something to encourage or require more workplaces to establish family-friendly policies?

This is a complex issue and I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

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Filed under Career Planning, equality, Health, Income inequality, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, social pressures, Stereotypes, Women

Is Facebook Too Big to Fail? What is Their Business Model?

There have been a plethora of articles, opinion pieces and water-cooler conversations about Facebook over the past several weeks both in anticipation of, and in a post-mortem of, the company’s initial public offering (IPO). Some would say that any press coverage is good press coverage, but I am not so sure.

Two articles this week raise interesting questions. The first article, published by New Yorker Magazine, is entitled “Why I am Leaving Facebook.” Fellow blogger The Policy Thinkshop alerted me to this article, which tells the tale of yet another disgruntled Facebook customer choosing to leave the site.

This article made me wonder: Is Facebook Too Big to Fail? Facebook has become such an integral part of our culture, with people of all ages and backgrounds using the tool to connect with friends and family across the miles.

In a culture as geographically dispersed as the United States, Facebook serves to help us maintain relationships. Judging from the number of worldwide Facebook users, it seems to serve a similar purpose around the globe.

Facebook has changed how we build and maintain relationships, for good or ill. It seems to me that Facebook  is like Pandora’s box – now that we have all seen what can be, could we even put it back into the box if we wanted?

But the article in New Yorker Magazine does give reason for pause. The author reminds readers about who is at the helm of the company. Regardless of your thoughts on Mark Zuckerberg’s personal integrity, the author points out that a 28 year old responsible for making decisions about how to use your personal data can be a significant concern.

The author points out that young people can make reckless mistakes without an understanding of long-term consequences. I am no ageist, and believe that young people are capable of more than they are traditionally given credit for, but I so think the author provides food for thought.

At this point, the lure of keeping up with friends and family has led most of us to acquiesce to allowing our personal data to be used in whatever way the company chooses. It makes me nervous but, again, I am not sure that we can go back to a time before Facebook – I know that I would not want to do that.

The second article, an opinion piece in the New York Times, entitled “The Facebook Illusion” raises another interesting question about Facebook. Essentially, the article highlights the fact that the Facebook business model is not very sound.

To investors, Facebook promises access to billions of customers for online advertising. But I am an avid Facebook user and have never once clicked on an ad through Facebook. Who clicks on those ads? Judging from what we learned about General Motors pulling their advertising, very few people.

What do you think? What is the business model that Facebook uses to attract investors? Is it actually access to our personal data? What do you see as the future of Facebook? How attached are you to the program? Do you have concerns about the leadership having access to your personal information? Did the IPO experience make you think more about this? And how much of a services is Facebook providing for you and your family and friends? Would you be willing to leave Facebook or are you too enamored with the connections it enables you to establish and maintain? Do you see changes coming in the future? Where do you see Facebook in this future? Will it continue to be the market leader or will a different model come along and bump Facebook from its top spot?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

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Filed under Parenting, Relationships, Social Media, social pressures