Applauding every choice that a woman makes

This week after being overwhelmed with articles on womens choices from one end of the spectrum to the other I decided to take this Monday to write my thoughts on the subject.  A substitution for the Woman Entrepreneur of the Week.

I started thinking about this when I caught a glimpse of the front page of New York Magazine
this past week and was looking forward to reading the top story; The Feminist

The timing could not be more perfect for this article.  The past month have been filled with
endless articles about Sheryl Sandbergs book, Lean In.  The weeks before was the conversation on
Marissa Mayer and her policy changes at Yahoo. 
The chorus was singing, rise to the top, be the woman we all can be,
break through those glass ceilings.  You
can do it all even if you get blasted from the press and everyone around you. 

Bottom line is nobody can have it all if you are a man or a
woman.  It is not possible.  No matter what choice you make as you go down
the path of life there are always compromises to be made.  Being honest about them is a whole other

The article about the Feminist Housewife was
interesting.  It portrayed women who have
made a conscious decision to stay at home. 
Some women depending on their generation believe that these women, who
are educated with solid jobs that are seeing an upward trajectory in their
careers are making a mistake by opting out of their careers.  We worked so hard to get here how could you
possibly decide to stay home like a 50’s housewife? 

The answer is simple. 
We live in a fast paced world that is very different from the land of
Ozzie and Harriet.  Years ago when I was
running a company in garment center I would hear the same story from many of
the women buyers over and over again. 
They worked incredibly hard with serious long hours and so did their
husbands.  They would get home and most evenings
just bring something home for dinner to make life easier.  The kids would either be picked up at daycare
on the way home or they were teenagers who were doing whatever they wanted in
the afternoon with zero supervision or guidance.  Dinner would be stressful as the night was
filled with angst of homework, household chores and catching up.  The night would end and they would all go to
sleep and do it again the next day.  On
the weekend the majority of Saturday would be spent running errands in order
for the weeks to run semi-smoothly.  It
was terribly stressful on everyone including the kids.  So if one of the parents salary is just
covering childcare, if they even have that, then the idea of having one parent
run the household and the other person bring in the cash makes for a less
stressful environment of course if both people have bought into that
concept.  What would be wonderful is if
half the people who choose to stay home and run the household are men.  Maybe some of those men are better at keeping
schedules, doing laundry, making dinner, helping the kids with homework and
organizing their lives.  Then nobody
would even have the conversation about women opting out of their career to stay

Here is the other challenge, once you get off the train, for
lets say 10 years, how do you get back on. 
Sheryl, Marissa and others have been groomed their whole lives just like
Jaime Dimon (Chase), Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs) and Robert Iger (Disney) to
graduate from college then go on to on to graduate school and run a largely
traded companies. These are not people who started their own companies with an
idea but run these companies. 

I stayed home for four years when our kids were young. We
went apple picking, we baked chocolate chip cookies, we spent plenty of time at
play dates and parks, I even ran the soccer division (the only woman on the
field ).  I managed our lives and for a
time it worked for me until it didn’t. It didn’t because I wasn’t happy doing
that anymore.  I mentally needed
more.  I wanted to think about growing
businesses instead of what was for dinner. 
I still think about what I am making for dinner but I wanted to do that
while thinking about business.   I was
able to get back on the train and reinvent my career. 

There are more choices now than ever for everyone. More
women are starting their own businesses and more men are too.  There are opportunities to work in flexible
situations where you can be a bit more balanced.  Technology has changed the workplace but it
has also changed the home life.  You can order
your groceries on line yet we are also running at a very insane pace.  I get the reason why someone in the household
wants to stay home and be the constant with their kids.  I also get the reason why someone does not
want to stay home but figure out how to have their career and kids too.  I understand both sides.

At the end of the day, it is all about what works for you
and what works for you and your partner. 
I was sitting at the playground at my nieces school this week watching
the 4-10 year old kids running around the playground.  As gender issues are the constant hot topic
these days, I zeroed in on the boys all over the basketball court slamming into
each other trying to get the ball in the basket and only one girl joining in on
that fun.  Across the court was the
swings where most of the girls hung out and played while chatting.  Is that nature or nurture?  I am a believer that most of it is
nature.  So, the beauty for women is that
we have options galore, actually more than men. 
We can get educated and lead the charge like Sandberg, we can get
educated and choose to take a different career path, we can stay at home, we
can go in to non-profits, we can become anything we want.  We can leave the game and we can come back to
the game.  But at the end of the day that
one thing that we have zero choice in is that we all need to applaud each other
no matter what choices we make.  I want
to stop reading about other women disrespecting choices that women make.  We are women and we can make any damn choices
that we choose to.  Life is long and we
should each do what makes us happy in our own personal life without anyone
passing judgement on the choices we make. 
Bravo to the woman who choose to leave a career of law and stay home and
bravo to the woman who choose to start her own law firm when she has three kids
under 4 at home.  It is her choice and we
should applaud the fact that we get to make those choices. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Sharon

    I agree with all you say 100%; Just to add to the mix of perspectives– I went to a lecture at Harvard Club last week (different MC this time :-)) by Kay Hymowitz– she spoke about the Alpha Female and the unintended consequences of feminism. Essentially she believed that there is a “motherhood gap” and that women who are mothers want to “lean-out”. Becoming a mother changes everything– and she postulated that the ideal job was a part-time job, that pays well. And yes– senior roles in organizations today have become all consuming– and even with good support from spouses– and help at home–the wear and tear adds up.

    1. Gotham Gal

      the wear and tear in life always adds up so we should applaud what ever decision works for any of us. everyone is different, everyone has different bandwidth, everyone has different drive, everyone has different capabilities and desires. support it all.

  2. SallyBroom

    The reason I love this blog more than any other is that it regularly expresses things that I so often cannot.This topic has been on my radar every single day this year. It seems like there is this crazy culture shift happening and I just hope it’s going to lead us to a more equal, more accepting place.In almost every single meeting I’ve had recently with investors/busienss mentors this comes up. It has never cropped up before, so why now? As the female founder/CEO of this company, I’m not that much older than I was a year ago for this suddenly to be a key conversation topic!But I find myself asked daily what my plans are for building a business plus a family life. Maybe I should feel angrier than I do that this question asked all the time. But I can kind of understand – it’s in everyone’s mindset.The thing that DOES get me incredibly angry is when the question comes with a judgement of what I should or should not do.If you invest in or support my Company in some way it’s because we have a good relationship and you trust me to give you a significant return on that investment – be it financial or otherwise. How I do it is up to me and my team. I’ll take your advice and I’ll make it work, but I won’t build the company or my life around anyone’s opinions.And I completely agree that you have to do what’s right for you and your partner/spouse. We talk about this a huge amount at the moment (again, because it keeps coming up in my work life and it can get quite stressful). I got really similar advice from Wendy Tan White (co-founder of Moonfruit with her husband) recently and it struck a massive chord. Wendy said “support each other to be the people you fell in love with, which includes being able to make the decisions and compromises you need to make. Then celebrate them as positive choices and the fact you’re doing what’s right for you”So my partner and I we talked about that and realised a couple of things. First we realise every couple is unique and we are just going to do the right thing by us, not by anyone else and certainly not by convention!Second, we realised the biggest benefit of entrepreneurship is that it’s easier to ‘get back on the ladder’ after starting a family. There are tons of great case studies (including Gotham Gal!) of women AND men who have started a family then a/nother business afterwards. You don’t have to worry so much about the time you’ve taken out of the corporate system and working yourself back in again. You make your own rules.And you’re bang on, it all starts by supporting each other’s choices – as a family, as friends, as a community.Thanks Gotham Gal, yet again you hit the nail squarely on the head.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks Sally. Wendy is a perfect example of making it work for her.Investors should not be asking those questions. If they do, the answer is, this is my business and I am going to do whatever I need to do to build something big and that is why I am sitting in this room today. End of story.

  3. Leslie

    I didn’t really understand why someone would want to stay home until I had a child and realized that, if two people have demanding, high-pressure jobs, it takes its toll on your general happiness. I took a year off for a project of my own, and am now working part-time–but even with my part-time gig, they immediately asked me for more of my time. I’m making my way toward something that I enjoy and is not as high-pressure, but honestly, the only reason I have that luxury is that my husband can support me. If we weren’t in that position, I’d still be scrambling every day.I agree that we need more viable options for people to maintain skills and not work crazy hours, and we also need to make it just as acceptable for men to stay home as women.

  4. Suzan B

    Great article as always. I’d also add bravo to the women who choose not to have children but chose to nurture other things like businesses, pets, nieces and nephews.

    1. Gotham Gal

      absolutely. each decision is our own.

  5. Kathleen

    Thank you for this: love the comment about how staying home worked for you until it didn’t. I’ve felt that way a number of times, when being an attorney worked and then it didn’t; when working part-time worked for me and then it didn’t and when traveling all the time for work worked and then it didn’t. I also think back to my mother’s generation (and frankly, for many in mine) who viewed the outward embodiment of financial success as being able to stay home with their children. Good for them.Sometimes my spouse and I argue (only semi-seriously so) about who gets to stay home with the now one kid – well, teenager. I’m at a place where the unknown looms and where my spouse is the more settled of the two – but frankly, I’m up for something new. I am incredibly mindful that I have a whole bunch of options and choices available to me, in large part because of the hard work I’ve put in over time, but in some ways, because of a whole bunch of things that my parents did and their parents did. So yes, I applaud and support the vast diversity of choices and will continue to fight the good fight to ensure that more men and women truly have such choices.

  6. TanyaMonteiro

    I agree with @SallyBroom:disqus, Joanne, you express thoughts that I so often cannot. “the beauty for women is that we have options galore, actually more than men,…..we can make any damn choices that we choose to.” I did not grow up with this mantra but I know deeply that it’s true. Some how we need to help educate more and more kids to believe this early on. Thanks again, you give me words where I had none

  7. Lisa Abeyta

    I started to reply to your post, and when it got to about five hundred words, I realized you’d actually inspired me to write my own post. Thanks for championing the vital necessity of creating an environment where women are choosing to thrive on their own journey, whatever that may be.

  8. CCjudy

    What you said is marvelous and again I say Write a Book!Judy

    1. Gotham Gal


  9. Morra

    Joanne, I am so grateful for you for this piece. Amen- and thank you for calling out the beauty of women’s choices!! I do believe women have more choices for how they want to live their lives than men do.

  10. Marjan Ghara

    I also agree that women actually have more choices than men. It might be harder to make those decisions but any combination of work, and stay at home, is doable and acceptable. What is hard, is getting back into the work force when you have been out for awhile. But I think this is where blogs like yours specially help, and women networks and mentors can inspire and help women to find their way back in, when they are ready. I for one, have found great inspiration and support from your blog and other virtual communities.

  11. Tereza

    “But at the end of the day that one thing that we have zero choice in is that we all need to applaud each other no matter what choices we make.”Word.Life ebbs and flows, and these choices are just not that binary.I’m reading Bruce Feiler’s “The Secrets of Having Happy Families” right now, which is interesting. One of the realities is that families themselves go through constant change, some where it gears up, some where things gear down. So each kid is evolving and each parent is evolving and then there’s the whole external business environment, which is undergoing disruptive change now too. All aspects of our lives are high velocity and complicated, and we as individuals are complicated. The older you get, the higher standards you have for whom you’d work for, what work you want to do when you’re away from the family. And yet, you have really large bills to pay (even if you pulled back your expenses). The general work world is not ‘manufacturing’ jobs in meaningful numbers which enable people to ‘have it all’. We have to prioritize, pick our shots. I think if we spend the time thinking hard and realistically about we want and need right now (and DON’T want and need right now) and then work hard to make those choices reality — it doesn’t leave a whole lot of extra room in the day to criticize others’ choices. It’s one of those cases where a little more selfishness would be good for all. Work on meeting your needs, and support others while they try to meet their needs.

    1. Gotham Gal

      totally agree. kids and families are like start-ups. they change over time, they need more nurturing at times and less at others. at the beginning everyone needs a hand to hold but later they don’t even realize that they need that hand. life is just a big ebb and flow.

  12. dana

    Love the post. You can have anything but not everything attitude. We live longer and our motivated skills, roles and responsibilities keep changing. I say “If it works for you and those around you … it works!” If you want more evolve. Applause to you Jo. Well done.

    1. Gotham Gal

      You can have anything but not everything attitude. Nicely put!

  13. Denys

    Thank you for writing common-sense and not hyperbole. In 2000 when we had our first child I left a great career leading project teams developing computer-based training. It was so new, no one knew if it would work! Some days I wonder where I would be if I had stayed in the workforce. It has been really emotionally hard staying out of paid work, doing all volunteer work, and homeschooling the past 5 years (I prefer to think of it as “customizing education”.). I miss the men. I miss project teams. I miss the pushing the boundaries of corporate culture to do what matters. But I only have one set of kids, and we have no one else to love them and take care of them the way we do.

    1. Gotham Gal

      and it works for you and that is all that counts. one day you will return or maybe not but it is your choice.