This morning on the Today Show, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, about whether she can do her job and be a mother, and I could not believe my ears.
Never mind that she graduated with a degree in electrical engineering then proceeded to get a Masters in Business Administration from Stanford. That she serves on the General Dynamics Board of Directors, as Vice Chair of the Kennedy Center’s Corporate Fund Board, or that she is a member of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council and the Kettering University Board of Trustees. That she has been with GM since 1980, and has worked herself straight up the corporate ladder. She has a uterus, so let’s ask her about whether she can handle the pressures of her job and being a parent.
How sad it is that the media can still choose to ask questions that perpetuate the century-old stereotype that women are somehow less able than men to be successful both in and out of the home. That women who shatter the glass ceiling are doing so at the sacrifice of their children. To make matters worse, he mentioned her being a parent more than once. As if being a parent is some sort of corporate handicap.
Sure, for any working parent there will be moments and days when there is an emotional tug-of-war between home and work. Does it mean that a female CEO is any less able to do her job than a male CEO? Hardly. Parenthood is an incredible learning experience. If anything, it has made me personally even more aware and even more competent.
Besides, women are not the only ones who feel that tug. Perpetuating this stereotype does no justice to men either. It implies that men cannot be both effective leaders and effective parents, and that those in positions of power have drawn a line, choosing their careers over their families. What a disservice that is to men, to their companies, and to their children.
We women are a multifaceted bunch. We can excel at more than one task at a time. We can do our jobs and raise well-adjusted, confident, happy children. We can be parents and use our intellectual abilities. We can be effective leaders in the workplace and at home. We can raise our daughters to be effective leaders too, and raise our sons to respect their sisters as equals. We can, because we are awesome like that. The world is a stronger, more productive place because of us. Instead of questioning that, you should commend it.
Of course, this is not just about Matt Lauer’s poor choice of questions for Mary Barra. This is also about the types of questions posed to the likes of Marissa Mayer and to Hillary Clinton. This is about all the parents who tell their daughters that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up, and who mean it.
If we are being honest, perhaps somehow we women are also perpetuating the stereotype by judging more than we encourage, by sometimes bringing one another down more than building one another up. We are more than capable of making choices that serve us, our families, and our careers. We can decide whether we want to stand tall, to lean, or to jump with both feet. And no matter what choices we make, we will rock them because we are women, not in spite of it.
We will continue to shatter glass ceilings. We will continue to create our own paths. We will continue to be successful both in and out of the home. So you can keep on asking us about it, or you can simply get used to it.