2014 – Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection

On October 28, John J. DeGioia, President of Georgetown University, hosted a book signing and reception for Debora L. Spar, F’84, President of Barnard College.  Catherine Tinsley, GUWLI’s Executive Director, interviewed Dr. Spar about her new book “Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection”, which discusses the challenging life-work balance women still face and offers valuable career and personal advice.

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From left to right: John J. DeGioia, President of Georgetown University; Debora L. Spar, President of Barnard College; and Catherine Tinsley, GUWLI’s Executive Director

Dr. Tinsley opened the interview situating Dr. Spar’s book as a middle-way between Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic and Sandberg’s book Lean In.  Dr. Spar advanced that most work-life balance problems women cope with stem from the unrealistic goals that are set upon them, needing to be a perfect mom while juggling a demanding work schedule.  Moreover, most child care years for a woman also coincide with the time women need to demonstrate early competence at work.  She invited women to stop being so hard on themselves when it comes to setting expectations and to stop relying on unrealistic myths that may be promoted in the media and elsewhere about “having it all.”  Echoing advice offered by others as well, Dr. Spar highlighted the importance of finding the right partner and establishing a joint division of labor that works for both parents’ careers and home lives.

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Attendees during the book signing and reception for Debora Spar, held at Georgetown University’s Riggs Library

As women choose their careers and their companies, women were advised to pay attention not only to a company’s diversity policies but to their actual diversity metrics—are women making it to the top of the ladder?  Notice, too, that some career paths (for the same training) offer more flexible than others, such as surgery or ER work in medicine or being in-house counsel in law.    Other jobs such as investment banking, corporate litigation, and consulting can be structurally inflexible, demand client face time, and working in groups and may thus be harder for someone whose spouse is also working full time.  Spar also advised attendees that once employed they should try to find people they can trust and begin to build their own network. She added that finding a way to promote yourself that feels real was very important for women in the workplace.

Both Dr. Tinsley and Dr. Spar agreed that men’s active and eager participation will be key to unlocking innovative future solutions for dual-career households.  Most men are open to understanding more about solutions but often may not feel empowered to own the conversation.  Dr. Spar offered that women may need to invite men to the table.  And on the homefront, long term change will be enabled by not only socializing girls to expect to succeed at work but by socializing boys to expect to succeed as hands on parents.  The conversation ended on a hopeful note that although progress may be slow there are opportunities for women, men, and organizations to all move the needle forward.