If someone said that to you, my guess is that you would have an arsenal of replies. You would probably accuse them of antiquated thinking, reminding them that women now complete college and graduate school at higher rates than men. You might even offer that there is ample evidence that having women in leadership roles and on boards is directly correlated with an organization’s financial success. This is an easy conversation. The evidence to refute that a woman’s place is in the kitchen is easily found. It isn’t really a conversation in the modern age.
But what about the conversation women often have in their own heads? The one that, despite all the evidence, invites doubt. The one where we ask ourselves whether we do indeed belong in the kitchen … at least more than we have been in the last few months when our families have survived on take-out or toast? This conversation manifests itself in insidious ways. It starts with a crippling “what if”
And, most unnervingly: What If I Fail? We listen to that inner voice – consciously and unconsciously – more than any other. And when we do, it keeps us from being fully committed to taking our place not only in our professional lives, but in our family lives as well. In effect, the kitchen becomes an either/or place in our minds: either a safe place where trade-offs don’t need to be made and we simply stand still, or the bogeyman whispering that our families will be the losers if we strive for something more.
We need to invite that inner voice into our consciousness for a real dialogue that starts with a simple truth: we belong wherever we decide to be. From that truth, we can move to commitment and have a productive conversation about the choices and trade-offs we will make today and in the future.
As managers, we need to set the table for bringing these unspoken fears to the surface by providing a safe environment for women to be authentic and to explore their choices, trade-offs, and implications without judgment. In some cases, that will require us to navigate unfamiliar territory as we coach them on how to frame their time at home as a legitimate step in the 21st century career path. In others, it may mean helping them to face the fear of failure and providing the encouragement to be present and committed to their current path.
It’s a fitting time to talk about these issues. March 1st marks the start of Women’s History Month and this year’s theme is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.” I think that’s the point, really – all of us, women and men, are the sum of many strands of life experience and we bring the “whole cloth” to the workplace. The goal is to find the pattern that feels right and works best for each of us, professionally and personally.