Who, moi? Why on earth would I sabotage my own career? Unfortunately, many of us are oblivious to the life choices that can undermine our success. Let’s remove our Chanel shades for a moment and take a hard look at a few of the self-limiting moves we make.
The Dutiful Daughter
The dutiful daughter is an archetype explored by French writer Simone de Beauvoir and American poet Adrienne Rich. In a 2013 interview with The New York Times, legal powerhouse and business titan Amy Schulman spoke of the expectations for young professional women to take on the “dutiful daughter” role at work. Although doing support work without credit is common early in one’s career, it can be easily become a role where women get stuck.
The transition from dutiful daughter to equal partner requires the assertiveness and confidence to not always be quietly obedient. A woman will feel the risk of being perceived as, dare we say, pushy. ‘Lean in’, Sheryl Sandberg, CFO of Facebook, would advise. Some women find switching firms helps them ascend to a leadership role more readily than spending years trying to shake off entrenched perceptions of a dutiful daughter persona.
The Marriage Trap
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of 20-first, one of the world’s leading gender consulting firms, wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “Professionally ambitious women really only have two options when it comes to their personal partners — a super-supportive partner or no partner at all. Anything in between ends up being a morale- and career-sapping morass.”
Sheryl Sandberg said: “Who you marry is the single most important career decision you will make.” While Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox, attributes her success to having a husband who retired and dedicated himself to full-time dad and house duties.
The fact is, two big careers within one family are tough to balance. Someone must keep the household running – organizing children, meals, cleaning, cars, bills, holidays, social lives and so on. Typically, these time and energy consuming duties default to the wife, even when she is every bit as fully-employed as her husband.
While this feels shockingly antediluvian, it’s not really changing. A 2014 survey of 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates found that “high-achieving women are not meeting the career goals they set for themselves in their 20s. It’s not because they’re ‘opting out’ of the workforce when they have kids, but because they’re allowing their partners’ careers to take precedence over their own.”
The Long Game
Never underestimate your long-term career resilience. Wittenberg-Cox’s research found that when women’s careers were derailed during the so-called earning years, all was not lost. “Talented women, forced by their husband’s attitudes to downgrade their aspirations, bide their time. After their children leave, often so do the wives. About 60% of late-life divorces are initiated by women, often to focus their energies on flourishing careers post-50,” she wrote in the Harvard Business Review.
Ditching the husband is not a requirement, of course. As a man’s career heads to the golf course and children head to university, the family balance might shift quite naturally, and a woman finds she can be more focused, passionate and successful in her work.
As Wittenberg-Cox suggests, it behooves us all to shift our mindset in terms of career planning: “One partner could run the 30-to-50 sprint, the other a longer marathon.”