Liz O’Donnell’s new book, Mogul, Mom, & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman (Bibliomotion, Nov. 2013) looks at the choices women are making, both at work and at home, as they struggle to make ends meet and still take care of their families. Based on interviews with women around the country, the author explores themes like how couples divide housework, the media influences that shape us, and how women are redefining success. In this guest post, O’Donnell explains the book she intended to write, and then the one that actually got written.
The Book I Never Planned to Write
Guest post by Liz O’Donnell
I always wanted to write a book, and I wanted to write about women and work, but I never planned to write Mogul, Mom & Maid.
I am a feminist, but not the women’s studies kind. I’m what I call an organic feminist. I didn’t know I needed to be one, until I went to work after college. Until, while writing for a business magazine, the subject of one of my stories, also a big advertiser in the publication, told me the only time he could answer my interview questions was after work, at a bar. My boss told me I had to do it and because I was 22, I listened. But, I brought three friends with me and relished the look on the guy’s face when he saw I wasn’t alone. And then a few more years after that, I was at a tradeshow as a buyer with significant purchasing power. But the vendors didn’t want to speak with me. They wanted to talk to my male coworker who they assumed was my husband. These and other work experiences, plus the fact I am the sole breadwinner for my family made me determined to succeed and to see women get equal pay, equal access, equal opportunity.
And then one day when a friend told me that her husband complained when he got home from work at night if dinner wasn’t ready or if the kids’ school papers were all over the kitchen counter, I knew I had found the topic of my future book. This woman worked 30 hours, met the bus after school, supervised homework, and prepared dinner every day. And her husband wanted to come home to Leave It to Beaver’s house??? Maybe, if she wasn’t encountering such sexism at home, she might have pursued the Master’s degree she often talked about and achieved greater career success.
Buoyed by the statistics – research shows that women do, on average, 30 percent more housework and childcare than men do regardless of their working status – I decided I’d write a book about how home life impacted career. My theory was that inequities in the home were impacting inequities in the workplace and keeping women from reaching the corner office.
It turns out, I was only partly correct. Yes, the barriers women face at work do begin in the home. Even in relationships where couples split chores like cooking, cleaning, and yard work, women tend to shoulder the burden of invisible tasks like scheduling doctor’s appointments, arranging carpools, organizing play dates, shopping for gifts and remembering thank you notes.
But what wasn’t so true was my belief that most working women wanted to break through the glass ceiling. Certainly, I met women on their way to the corner office. But for every one of them, I met at least two women, who were just trying to make it in the middle. And I met a fourth woman who didn’t know what she wanted. What the women I interviewed were telling me was, “It’s so hard to manage it all, to balance it all, that I’m not sure it’s worth it. And when I look at where the return on investment is, work vs. home, it’s at home, creating a good life for my family and me.”
The feminist in me never set out to write about women in the middle; I had wanted to write about women headed to the top. But not every woman will go to the top and that’s okay. Not every man does either. There are way more cubes in the world than there are corner offices; and I too have experienced ambivalence about my career along the way. The goal is for the group at the top to represent the diversity of the workforce, and we all play a role in making that happen.
But I realized as I interviewed women from all across the country at all stages of career and life, that there is tremendous value in the stories and experiences of women who are at once both leaning in and maxing out. And in these stories, there are lessons for other women seeking balance; there are lessons for their spouses about how to provide support; and there are lessons for the businesses that rely on 51 percent of the population to make meaningful contributions at all levels of an organization. So my book is not the one I wanted to write, but it is the book I needed to write.
Liz O’Donnell is the author of Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman and the founder of Hello Ladies, named one of the top 100 websites for women by Forbes. She lives with her husband and two children outside of Boston. She is a recovering PTO president, an elected Town Meeting Member, and co-founder of a non-partisan organization committed to encouraging and supporting women’s involvement in local politics.