Women don’t want the “top jobs” — and that’s ok

With Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In came a fresh round of debate over women in leadership, and it seems the louder voices have been in favor of women climbing the corporate ladder regardless of how they choose to prioritize family. So I was interested when a study came out recently showing that just 15 percent of young women aspire to the top jobs.

Most of the 21-to-33 year old women surveyed by the Zeno Group said they didn’t want the No. 1 job at a large organization. They don’t want to be Cheryl Sandberg, as much as they might respect her. The women said the job wouldn’t be worth giving up personal goals like children, with more than half saying they felt the sacrifices made by women leaders aren’t worth it.

That part was interesting enough, but what really caught my attention was the way these results were treated. The story by BusinessNewsDaily went on to quote Zeno Group CEO Barby Siegel, who addressed young women’s reluctance to sacrifice personal goals as a failure of recruiters.

“We need to think about doing things differently when helping millennial women develop their careers and weigh the sacrifices that may or may not be required,” Siegel said. “We do not want to risk losing this talented generation of professionals.”

Let me be clear. I don’t have a problem with women choosing to pursue a career. I don’t think moms working while their kids are little is a bad thing. It’s an individual choice, and I’m not about to say all women should be stay at home moms.

What I do have a problem with is a culture that discourages motherhood and family to the point that a woman’s desire to give up career goals for personal ones is considered a problem for job recruiters to fix.

Much of our culture has lost the idea that motherhood is even a vocation. Stay at home moms are viewed as antiquated or prudish, while working women are viewed as liberated and modern. We celebrate the achievments of women with desk jobs, and sneer at the food stains and ponytail of the mother of toddlers, thinking how nice it would be “not to work.”

But motherhood is a vocation — an absolutely essential one. A mother may not spend her day running companies or negotiating deals in the board room. It’s not usually so sexy. But whether she’s cleaning up spilled juice or reading fairy stories, a woman who spends her day with her children is shaping human souls.

Previous generations had a firmer grasp on the value of motherhood. Author G.K. Chesterton described it as the duty of enlightenment — explaining the whole world to a new human being.

“How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe?” he wrote in What’s Wrong With the World. “How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.”


About Michal Conger

I’m a reporter and digital editor, a cooking and whole foods fanatic, a runner, a music lover, an Anthropologie devotee. I'm an avid reader of G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and anti-modernist novels. Lately you’ll find me freelancing about education policy and local economic issues to support my horseback riding habit. I am married to my best friend. And above all, I am committed to bearing the testimony of the Lord Jesus, giving an answer for the hope that is in me.
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10 Responses to Women don’t want the “top jobs” — and that’s ok

  1. Rebekah says:

    I love this. Sometimes, when all I have in front of me is one more load of laundry, a stack of last night’s dishes, and a cranky baby, I wonder if I should be occupying myself with something more important. But this is my vocation– for the forseeable future, at least– and it is immeasurably important. It just depends on HOW I do it.

  2. Rachel Duke says:

    Nailed it. Doesn’t get better than this. Loved how you were so encouraging and how you handled this issue without bashing the other side, even if they sneer at those who choose to be stay-at-home moms.

  3. Tracy says:

    Very interesting article, I think it is great to have support all around. I grew up with a lovely at home mother, and my grandmother actually worked and did not stay at home and both had wonderful intentional family life. I think what interests me at this stage in life is how to utilize gifts for the various callings we experience. There can be different stages, and I think in the past my “cop out” was that I wanted to just stay at home in the future, and did not try to work or grow in vocation. Maybe that will or will not be an option, but I would love to grow where I am, and try and understand and respect those who do so as well. (PS I read Sandberg’s book and enjoyed it, though with anyones life advice, it must be taken as her individual experience.)

    Thanks for writing this!

    • Thanks, Tracy! I totally agree. I work right now, and I have friends who are raising kids both ways — some at home, some part time, some full time. I think the biggest factor is, as you said, intention — the amount a mother pours into her kids and is aware of the huge part she plays in shaping their lives.
      I’m reading Sandberg’s book right now, and I like it. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I agree with some of it and I respect her position.

  4. Heidi says:

    No matter how steep the salary or how attractive the job, recruiters need to understand that for many moms, if a job means their kids lose out, won’t do it. At least, that’s where I’m coming from. There are jobs out there which look very attractive to me, but if taking a job means that Callan doesn’t get enough time with me at home, then no way. Simple as that!

  5. Love your picture and your Chesterton quote of course 🙂
    Also while I’m sure I’m not the first person to think this, I realized it doesn’t make any sense that some people don’t count being a homemaker/stay-at-home mom a “job” yet being a housekeeper, nanny, or working at a day-care DO count as jobs. A little bit backwards isn’t it?

    • Such a good point! Nannies here can make significantly more money than I do, and yet if I were a stay at home mom many women here wouldn’t consider me a working woman. I’ve been so encouraged to be in a church where moms stay home with their kids– it reminds me that motherhood is still a vocation!

  6. Jamie Coffey says:

    Hello Michal,

    My name is Jamie Coffey and I am the Special Assistant to the President of Barnard College, Debora Spar. I am writing to you today regarding your blog and your knowledge as to the importance of women in leadership. I see you have already posted about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and I’d like to bring a unique perspective from a new book on this important topic to your attention.

    My colleague Debora’s new book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, hit the shelves just a few weeks ago. Throughout Debora’s personal and professional experiences, she has asserted herself as a proponent of women’s education and leadership, which she highlights both in her new book and this recently published post here: http://wonderwomenthebook.com/2013/09/17/women-despite-being-leaders-are-still-not-wonder-women/

    The ultimate goal of Debora’s work is to reach audiences just like yours with her message. Please consider sharing this post on your site and continuing to spark the important conversation that needs to be had for the benefit of women everywhere.


    • Hi Jamie,

      Thanks so much for the note. I’d love to read and review Debora Spar’s book. Do you have review copies available? (I’m a working journalist, and have written and edited reviews for The Washington Times before.) I’d enjoy sharing the post you linked to in a review of my own, and discussing the book– as you can tell, this is an issue I’m quite interested in.

      Thanks so much!


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