Facing the critics’ gallows, bra in hand

Women in the business world have been getting some heat lately. (Men, don’t stop reading.)

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. Via Flickr user Sit with Me.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. Via Flickr user Sit with Me.

First, there’s Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo! who decided that staff would no longer be able to
work from home. People say this will hinder working mothers. And on Monday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg came out with her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. People accuse her of blaming women for problems they face in business.

I don’t have an opinion of either woman’s actions. I don’t know if not being able to work from home would put moms at a disadvantage, and I haven’t read Sandberg’s book.

But these women are somewhat unjustly under fire because no matter what they did or said, they would still face the critics’ gallows.

Take Mayer. She’s a CEO of a major internet company (or at least, it was in the ’90s, but Yahoo! is trying). She has become a symbol for working mothers everywhere who are trying to ascend the corporate ladder. If she had expanded the company’s work-at-home policy, people would have accused her of giving women an unwarranted advantage. But now that she got rid of it, she is accused of stymieing women.

And if Sandberg had condemned men for women’s troubles in the workplace, people would have accused her of pointing fingers and being a bra-burning feminist (a practice which, by the way, never actually happened).

These women can’t win, no matter what course of action they take. They are held up to an impossible standard because they have been dubbed “successful working mothers,” though I’m not sure who is doing the dubbing. People believe that they are role models. They pave the way for others.

A man who holds an executive position like Mayer’s or Sandberg’s, and also cares for his kids in all the traditional motherly ways, would probably never face this level of pressure. You don’t hear about male CEOs who are role models because they do their job and go to their kids’ school plays. This type of thinking — that women must bear a cross if they have a high-level job while men don’t — is counterproductive.

When we hold the CEO of Yahoo! and the Facebook COO to different standards because they happen to be female, we do everyone a disservice.


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