I enjoyed the letter that Alexandra Chang wrote to you in the latest issue of WIRED — it has inspired me to write one of my own. I want to tell you what I think about your enlightening new book urging women not to shy away from ambition and leadership. But first, a little bit about why I’m writing you…
Since my teenage years, I’ve felt strongly that women had something particular to contribute to a healthier world. For my undergraduate studies, I choose Mount Holyoke College – a beautiful, rural all women’s college – in hopes of finding role models that would inspire, create, and contribute to a more feminine world. I hoped these role models could help me figure out how to find the freedom to be my best self and support other women to do the same. While studying Biochemistry didn’t exactly get me any closer to that goal, it was a part of my path to naturopathic medical school and midwifery, where it seemed I’d finally found a feminine paradigm for medicine that supported women to be free of the beliefs that don’t promote self-love.
Now that I’ve just finished reading your book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, I must say that I’m heartened by many of your suggestions and glad to see you open up a new chapter in the ongoing conversation about women, work, and family. As you point out, thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. And so, I think it’s important that you are encouraging women to “sit at the table,” to seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals.
That said, I don’t think it’s enough to offer strategies for women to better succeed mostly by acting like men in a man’s world. Rather, for women to be better represented in government, higher education, corporate boardrooms, and public life, I think we need to reimagine what work looks like.
We need a paradigm shift that will often require reimagining the work environment and perhaps even the jobs themselves. We will need smart, soulful, women-powered businesses that emphasize results rather than hours logged at the office, that champion collaboration over competition, and that celebrate the unique skills and strengths that women bring to the table. We need HR policies that recognize the value that women and working mothers bring to work, even when that might mean accommodating unconventional schedules. We will need not only husbands and partners who share their load of the household management but partners who may themselves need more flexible schedules at their own jobs in order to make room for needs of their families. As lawyer, academic, and foreign policy analyst Anne-Marie Slaughter noted in her New York Times review of your book:
“For both the women who have made it and the men who work with them, it is cheaper and more comfortable to believe that what they need to do is simply urge younger women to be more like them, to think differently and negotiate more effectively, rather than make major changes in the way their companies work. Young women might be much more willing to lean in if they saw better models and possibilities of fitting work and life together: ways of slowing down for a while but still staying on a long-term promotion track; of getting work done on their own time rather than according to a fixed schedule; of being affirmed daily in their roles both as parents and as professionals.”
And yes, we can leverage technology in ways that encourage efficiency and essential time for unplugging, and we can do this in a way that encourages telecommuting, exercise, and working alongside one’s children. But we will also have to place as much value on long-term career accomplishments as we do on short-term ones by creating more opportunities for women to resume their careers after dialing back when their children are young. We will need to follow the lead of some progressive employers who offer quality childcare at work. Let’s also actively acknowledge and remind others of the invaluable point of view that working mothers bring to the work environment while acknowledging the value it can bring to the children who observe them.
Many of the tasks we’re faced with will require much of us. We’ll need to plan cities and neighborhoods in ways that promote walking, exercise, clean air, ample green space, and vibrant, self-sufficient, tight-knit communities. We will need child friendly workspaces that create ways to involve our children in our work lives (recognizing that some jobs make that easier than others) while being supportive of businesses/paradigms where women work with their children alongside them. And we will have to consider how many of these suggestions – which are easier accomplished by women with power and money – can be implemented for the middle class and the poor.
In my own way, I’m trying to do this with my life and in the lives of the women that I employ. It’s refreshing to find your book because it shows me that there are other women thinking about these issues and looking for concrete immediate ways to make profound change. I urge you to not only Lean In to the (mostly) male-constructed corporate world in which we live, but also to use your influence to help create a more feminine and healthy working world.
Dr. Kate Naumes, ND runs a Holistic Wellness practice just off the Katy trail. She believes that healthy, happy, and fulfilled women are essential to a healthy, productive world. Learn more at naumesnd.com