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What We Can Learn from Moguls, Moms and Maids in the Middle

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After barely staying one breath ahead of a panic attack all week due to too many work deadlines, two homemade Halloween costumes and a fourth grade book report, I had a meltdown Friday night. My son was teasing his sister, my daughter was whining and my husband jumped into the fray. Knowing the whole scene was going to end badly, I guaranteed it by screaming at every body to go to bed. My whole family went to sleep upset, especially me.

Saturday morning at the soccer field, my anxiety levels remained high. I still felt bad about the night before and I still had work to finish. I need to pull it together, I thought to myself.

My friend who runs a business sat down next to me on the sideline. She was stressed because she couldn't find her daughter's mouth guard; the one she liked her child to wear to protect some necessary, and expensive, dental work.

"Am I a bad mother?" she said. "This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't waited until this morning to unpack the soccer bag from last week's game."

"My daughter asked me last night to wash her uniform," another mother said, "I said sure and then just sprayed it. She'll never know."

We noticed one of the players wasn't at the game. "Her mother called us for a ride this morning," said the coach's wife. "She had three games at the same time. But we were already on the highway when we got the message. I wish she had let us know sooner."

One of the players showed up without her uniform. It was in her mother's laundry room, but the little girl was spending the weekend with her father. The mother arrived with it just before game time, and then left at the half to go to work.

"Mogul, mom and maid," one of the mothers said about the lot of us. She was referencing the book I've just written, about the challenges of working women. Even though in the past year so much has been written about women who work outside the home, I didn't feel like the headlines and the statistics were telling the whole story. After all, are we leaning in or opting out? Is it the end of men and are we the richer sex? Can we have it all, or are we asking for too much?

The truth is, more and more women today are breadwinners, and we're struggling. We are caught in a perfect storm of male-dominated culture at work and traditional social norms at home. Yes, men are doing more at home than ever before, but they were starting from a very low percentage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Time Use Survey, women still do approximately 30 percent more housework and child care than their spouses, regardless of their work status. Even in homes where couples split chores like cooking, cleaning and yard work, women tend to shoulder the burden of invisible tasks like scheduling doctor's appointments, arranging carpools, finding uniforms and organizing play dates. In fact, it was a conversation with a good friend that sparked the idea for my book. She told me her husband complained when he got home from work at night if dinner wasn't ready or if the kids' school papers were all over the kitchen counter. This woman worked at least 30 hours a week, arranged her schedule to meet the school bus, helped with homework and prepared dinner every night. Our conversation made me realize that a working woman's career challenges start at the kitchen table, and then spill over to the conference table.

While researching my book, I spoke with women from all across the country, in all different professions and stages of life. And while I met women who were fully engaged in their careers and striving for the corner office, I met twice as many who were just trying to make it in the middle, and maybe even duck the next promotion.

It's not surprising when you consider the workload women carry at home and the challenges they face at work. I interviewed an attorney who pumped breast milk in a parking garage, another whose male coworkers excluded her from team lunches, an executive who confronted her boss about getting paid less than her their male counterpart and was told, "You have just got to stop talking about this women versus men thing."

We most definitely cannot stop talking about it. We need to talk to employers about how they can better embrace and support women as a vital part of the workforce. We need to talk to spouses about what we need and why they have to commit to doing their fair share at home. And we need to talk to each other, at the soccer field, or anywhere we can, and share the challenges we face and our strategies for success. Because while we certainly can, and should, learn from the women at the top of the corporate and academic worlds, there is so much value we can extract from both the successes, and the struggles, of the would-be-moguls, dedicated moms and too-often-maids -- women just like us.