Is it sexist to ask career women about their kids?
As more women work their way up the corporate ladder, or start businesses themselves, some are questioning whether it’s ever appropriate to ask high-powered females about motherhood and their family lives.
Recently at the Dreamforce Women’s Innovation Panel in San Francisco, CBS Morning anchor Gayle King caught some heat for focusing much of the discussion with Honest Company CEO Jessica Alba and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki on their experiences raising kids.
Journalists like Lauren Hockenson from The Next Web noted that there was much less talk about their businesses or their career goals. In fact, Hockenson highlighted a particularly odd question King directed at Wojcicki:
“Susan, you know something about babies,” King said during the panel. “This is what I love about Susan: she has five children.”
Wojcicki smiled, and confirmed King’s statement. When pressed, Wojcicki said that her eldest is turning 16, while her youngest is 8 months.
“By the same husband?” King inquired.
15 minutes into the panel, and Gayle King had asked one of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley if all of her children have the same father.
As if that question wasn’t strange enough, Hockenson points out that stereotypical “girl talk” ensued on the panel, when it was supposed to focus on women in tech.
“Talks about lipgloss, diapers and anti-aging serum were only sometimes punctuated by unanswerable, borderline-offensive questions designed to put Wojcicki in particular on the spot,” Hockenson wrote.
Alba was asked whether she began her company because her days in Hollywood are numbered. King didn’t ask the question as bluntly, but it was certainly implied when she uttered, “People seem to think there’s a beginning and an end to a Hollywood career. Were you thinking ahead about that?”
Although I agree with Hockenson that some of King’s questions were outrageously out of touch (who the hell asks whether someone conceived all her kids by the same father), there seems to be growing backlash against asking successful career women about their family lives, and I happen to disagree with the critics.
As with anything in life, it’s important to strike a delicate balance in inquiring about a woman’s success and family obligations. Unfortunately, people like King have failed to do the work necessary to strike that very balance. However, asking how female CEOs manage to be extraordinary professionals who also take on the challenges of being mothers is important to women like me.
Obviously when a family is incredibly wealthy, they have the resources necessary to hire help. But what if a woman is an aspiring entrepreneur who also wants to start a family? Also, there’s a great deal of pressure on all women to have kids at some point, and frank discussions about how difficult it is to “have it all” rarely take place.
I’ve been told by multiple people that I shouldn’t over-analyze the impact of children on my career. But I know the “everything will work itself out” mentality isn’t realistic when it comes to the competitive line of work I’m proud to be a part of. I want honesty rather than patronizing crap about how I’d be smart enough to figure it out. I can’t even figure out how to cook a simple meal after a long day of work.
Of course I want the bulk of the discussion to revolve around how these impressive women developed their businesses and what types of obstacles they conquered to get to where they are today in their careers. I don’t care who they’re married to, whether they’ve been divorced, or what kind of lip gloss they wear. But the reality is that women face challenges at work and at home that men don’t necessarily have to think about. Addressing those unique challenges is vital.
As a career women with multiple jobs and a six-day work week, I want to know whether or not I can juggle a family. I want to have a family, but sometimes I get discouraged about my own ability to make it happen. I want to know how other women do it.
Those who happen to be mothers and successful career women inspire me. We don’t need to shy away from the fact that they’re moms. In fact, we should celebrate the heavy load of work they have to deal with in every aspect of their lives.
Gayle King did a pretty terrible job in striking a balance, but I do believe questions about motherhood could be beneficial in this exciting age of female independence.