Outlasting the Moms.
by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Way back in 1990 during my first week of business school, a second-year male student I’d met at the campus pub was ruminating – obnoxiously -- on his future career. For those not familiar with b-school students, we can be obsessed – with ourselves, our careers, our future prospects. Pretty calculating, self-centered and generally nauseating overall. Of course I listened carefully – with similar self-interest, in case I might learn something that would help ME.
“The first few years are key,” he mapped out, sipping his beer. “Getting the best job in the most highly compensated industry before graduation, getting promoted within a year, establishing myself as a killer, you know, living and breathing my work. No dating, no family, no vacations, nothing. After about five years it will get easier.”
He didn’t give a reason. I went for the bait. “Why then?”
“All the women will have had kids by then. I won’t have to contend with you anymore. My competition will be cut in half.”
His world view reminded me of the joke about two business school students who go camping, only to have their tents attacked by a bear. The second year b-school student starts lacing up his sneakers.
“What are you doing?” the first year screams. “You can’t outrun a bear!”
The second year laughs. “I don’t have to outrun a bear. I just have to outrun YOU.”
But the student talking to me at the pub clearly wasn’t joking.
Within five years, I found out he was right. I had two kids myself and had voluntarily put myself on the mommy track at Johnson & Johnson so that I could breastfeed, pick my kids up from daycare, have time to feed and bathe my family and myself before midnight. Many of my Wharton female classmates – even the most ambitious ones – had stopped working completely. Like myself, Michelle Obama, and most of the highly-educated, ambitious 40-something women I know, we married men who matched our drive and ambitions. Only to discover, once we had kids, that our husbands didn’t have “stay-at-home dad” in their lexicon, and Jesus, someone had to stay home with the children. The companies who had hired us workaholic women saw no benefit to flex- or part-time jobs just because we’d popped out a baby or two. So by choice or default, a lot of b-school and law school and med school moms of my generation left fulltime work soon after having children. Maybe not for good. But to my fury, that arrogant second year student had turned out to be dead right about his competition at work being halved.
Unfortunately, about this time, my husband organized an outing at a prestigious country club for his Wall Street firm. Five hundred investment bankers came. My husband was raving about the incredible networking grandslam the event turned out to be. I asked how many women were there. He looked at me sharply – he’d clearly not asked himself the same question. He thought for a moment.
“None,” he said.