Young working women like me were inundated with career advice in recent weeks and I'm having trouble sorting it all out.
Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg says "Lean In," while Erin Callan, the former CFO of Lehman Brothers says slow down if you ever hope to have a family. New York Magazine says it's OK to fulfill 1950s gender norms and stay home with kids (as long as you have a husband with a low six-figure salary, of course). Even men offer advice on what I should do with my life.
It's hard to get anything done when I have a mini Sandberg and Marissa Mayer in my head telling me what to do. "Did I just leave that meeting with my boss without asking for a raise because I'm subconsciously stepping back from my career in order to fulfill my motherly instincts years down the line?" I wonder. "Am I more or less productive when I work from home and what does that mean if years from now, I have to miss work to take my future kid to a doctor's appointment?" I ask myself.
These are the weights you have saddled me with dear blogosphere.
In order to make sense of it all I decided to turn to the perennial working woman in my life -- my mom. She wasn't one of those "Super Moms," who rushed home from work to prepare me dinner (my dad did most of the cooking), but she accomplished an impressive feat nonetheless. She worked long hours as a lawyer, but never missed a swim meet or violin lesson and cleared her schedule of work and work-related distractions when she was with me.
So what was her advice on how to weed through all the opinions? Ignore them and follow your gut, she told me offhand, during a recent dinner. As much as it pains any child to admit when their mother is right, her advice resonated with me.
Don't get me wrong, I'm happy everyone is more aware of the plight of working women, but all the advice isn't helping me overcome the real obstacles to my success in the workplace and frankly, in life. In fact, from my perspective, the discussion and debate is shifting the focus away from structural inequalities at the office and at home and instead putting the onus on women to address them.
Women get paid less than men for equal work, according to a variety of measures. And they make up just 4 percent of S&P 500 CEOs. They're subject to unconscious stereotypes -- like that they don't need to make more money because they're not the primary breadwinner -- that can limit their potential. They also hold just 6.2 percent of the jobs that make the most money.
Studies have shown that women are less aggressive in the office. But the fact that women aren't raising their hands as high doesn't excuse their bosses from paying them less than inferior male colleagues or stalling a promotion when the most qualified candidate is a woman who wants to spend a reasonable amount of time with her kids.
So how can all you famous working women (and men) help me face the obstacles ahead? Shut up and do something. Create cultures in your own workplaces that not only encourage women to stand up for themselves, but force the powers that be to recognize their strengths even when they're not shouting as loud as the men. Advocate for legislation making it easier for women to get equal pay for equal work and laws that require employers offer paid maternity leave.
But until you put the books and media tours aside and take some action, the only working woman I'm listening to is my mom.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Erin Callan's name.