I’ll be honest: When I got married 14 years ago I never thought that we would be a “career family.” Ideally, I imagined that one of us would stay home and take care of kids and the other would be the breadwinner. But when it came right down to it, that wasn’t what was going to work for us.
We both wanted fulfilling careers, and living on one salary wasn’t a desirable option. But even so, months and years after the decision to become a career family was made, this question kept creeping up in my mind: “Would my life and my family’s life be better if I was a stay-at-home mom?”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 65 percent of all married-couple families with children in the U.S. have two parents in the workforce, with almost all relying on both incomes to support their household. Additionally, Pew Research indicates that mothers are the primary source of income in 40 percent of households with children. Sometimes having a parent working outside the home is a choice; often it’s a necessity.
If so many women work outside the home it would seem like the playing field is level, right? Let’s examine the statistics.
In higher education, women reached the 50/50 mark in the early 1980s and now earn 57 percent of all undergraduate and 60 percent of master’s degrees in the U.S. But the inequality story is the same in almost every sector — elected officials, Fortune 500 companies, government and private industry. Less than 20 percent of the highest-level (and highest-paid) positions are held by women. So why are there still so few women in leadership roles 30 years after leveling academic achievement?
The Census Bureau reveals that male and female employment is almost equal at 52 percent to 48 percent in Walla Walla County, but the median man earns almost $10,000 more per year than his female counterpart. Women continue to occupy entry- or midlevel positions, while higher-paying leadership and decision-making roles are most often in a man’s job title.
Why? And how does this relate to that question that kept creeping into my mind?
The high-tech halls of Facebook and Google might seem a long way from Walla Walla, but Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has written a book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” which transcends the corporate world and addresses my personal question and other questions important to women and families in the Walla Walla Valley. Questions like:
» Do you think it matters that men hold the majority of leadership positions?
» What role do gender beliefs and expectations play in the kinds of aspirations boys and girls are encouraged or discouraged from having?
» Can you think of any movies or TV shows that feature happy, successful men who have both careers and families? What about women? (Think “I Don’t Know How She Does It.”)
» Do you feel that women judge one another for making different decisions?
» Have you pulled back from seeking challenges in anticipation of having to carve out — or someday having to carve out — time for family life?
» What can men and women do to help create more equal workplaces and families?
If you grow wheat, apples or grapes, are involved in education, health care, finance or tourism, or are returning to the workforce after staying home to help raise a family, your issues are addressed in this book. You might not even be aware of the internal and external barriers women face at work, home and in society that make it more difficult for them to reach for paychecks and aspirations.
This book gave me meaning in my work life again. It inspired me and laid out all those reasons why I can love my family, earn a living, build a career and not have to “do it all” or feel guilty for the choices I’ve made. If you haven’t read this book, please do.
If in reading the book you find inspiration like I have, I want to continue the conversation by forming a Blue Mountain “Lean In” Circle. Please contact me by email.
Carrie Spradlin is a professional forester in Walla Walla who enjoys camping, triathlons, good books and chocolate.