In fact, the study found that at the time of their 15th college reunion, fewer than half of the female MBAs reported having children and working, compared to two-thirds of the female MDs. Top jobs in finance still require longer hours — for both sexes — than even other highly skilled professions like medicine and law.
The choices women make have costs — salary must be weighed against time spent with family, time for other personal activities, etc. But the costs are the result of a woman’s free choice, not an injustice imposed on her by society.
Many traditional feminists, however, view these decisions as a sign that society — and especially the workplace — remains hostile toward women. They don’t believe that women should have
to make the choice between, say, investment banking and law — or between investment banking and motherhood.
I recently appeared on a television panel with the president of a leading national feminist organization. I shared with her that when I worked on the Hill I accepted a lower salary than I had originally asked for because my husband and I wanted to start a family. I valued my time as much as, if not more than, the money, and I wanted to be in a strong position to negotiate flexible working hours when the time was right. My co-panelist couldn’t understand this. She said, “But you shouldn’t have to choose.”
Really? Why should my employer be forced to pay me a high salary and give me flexible working hours? Why should someone else take responsibility for my choices? Perhaps a higher salary with flexible hours is something I might earn if I do a good enough job; but the employer still needs someone to get the job done.
What’s more, men make similar decisions all the time. Some men, like some women, choose to be on a partner track at a big law firm, where they are expected to work demanding hours and have little time with their families. Other men with the same degrees choose to serve as counsel for a government agency or a smaller firm, where they make less money but also spend less time in the office.
It’s hard to know what makes women more likely than men to leave the workplace in order to care for young children. Is it societal pressure or perhaps just biology? It doesn’t matter as long as women — and men — are able to make the decisions that reflect their needs and wants, and those of their families.
Choices are difficult. But after all, it’s the ability to choose that makes us human.
— Sabrina L. Schaeffer is a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum and managing partner of Evolving Strategies.