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The Evolution of Superwoman




Excerpted from
When Money Isn't Enough: How Women Are Finding the Soul of Success
By Barbara Steinberg Smalley, Connie Glaser

The '80s: "Show Me the Money'

Fast-forward to the '80s and a brighter picture emerges. Gung-ho on trying to prove themselves, women made significant headway in every occupation imaginable, including those traditionally reserved for men.

Strength in numbers helped to fuel the frenzy. Indeed, women accounted for 62 percent of the workforce growth of the '80s. By decade's end, nearly fifty-seven million women were bringing home paychecks. Just over twenty millions of these were mothers-up from sixteen million in 1980. And, for the first time ever, women were reaching senior ranks in significant numbers. By the late '80s, 30 percent of women were managers or executives (compared with 29 percent of men).

More good news: the average woman's income jumped 11 percent (while the typical man's earnings fell 7 percent), and the average salary of top executive women nearly doubled.

But despite this quantum leap, a dark side was surfacing. With life moving at warp speed, many women who had bought into the notion that they could do it all-and be it all-began to grow weary, cranky, and disillusioned: weary of juggling family life and impossible workloads, cranky about still having to prove themselves in a male-dominated workforce, and disillusioned at having to make so many trade-offs and personal sacrifices to succeed.

Few, however, dared to speak up or take action. After all, in so many ways, women had finally arrived. Wasn't this what they wanted and had collectively fought for for so long? Shouldn't they be ecstatic with the amazing progress they'd made and the many opportunities they now had? Indeed, with all the hype and hoopla along the way, to mess with success, to complain, or to give up the fight would somehow smack of betrayal-right?

Lois Crosby thought so. This mother of four spent most of the '80s working for a large real estate corporation on the West Coast, slowly fighting her way up the ladder from senior accountant to senior vice president. "I had it all," she quips. "All the drudge work at the office, and all the responsibilities for domestic chores and child care at home, that is! In fact, my life was a marathon."

But Crosby, like many other women who shared her predicament, rarely complained. "Sure it was a grind, but I had a fairly high-level position and a substantial income of my own," she reports. "And that was important to me." Nevertheless, an impressive title and a hefty paycheck couldn't ultimately sustain her. "Eventually, all the juggling began to take its toll, and I was exhausted. I could never seem to find a minute to relax. I was like that Energizer bunny-always going ... and going... and going."

Crosby's turning point came in 1988, courtesy of Erma Bombeck. "My mother, who had been chiding me for years about working too hard, sent me one of Bombeck's clippings. The topic was Superwomen, and a portion of it read: 'We've been so busy impressing everyone with how we are faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, that we've set a standard for future generations that is downright frightening.'"

That passage hit home for Crosby. "Just a week earlier, when I'd taken my six-year-old daughter, Stacy, in for her annual checkup, the pediatrician asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Stacy thought for a minute, then said, 'I want to be a father.' And when the puzzled doctor asked why, she explained, 'Because mommies work too hard.'"

In 1989, Crosby was offered a partnership at her firm, but turned it down. Six months later, she left the company altogether to launch a small accounting business from her home. "My business is still going," says Crosby, now fifty-five. "But I've intentionally kept it small so that I could have plenty of time for both my family and myself."

The '90s: From Boom to Bust

Just prior to 1990, our nation's economy went belly-up. Sweeping changes occurred as the United States shifted from an industrial - to an information-based society and joined the global economy. By the time the dust settled, virtually every company and organization still afloat had undergone drastic downsizing or radical restructuring, making competition for choice jobs tighter than ever.

The good news: stiff global competition changed the rules of business. With a new emphasis on teamwork, raising productivity, and motivating the workforce, the old command-and-control style of management became obsolete. Finally, women-with their collaborative and consensus-building ways-were a hot commodity.

When the workplace was ready for them, many women decided to opt out. With fewer people left to handle already overwhelming workloads, many preferred instead to do some downsizing and restructuring of their own.

There has been a definite shift from a career ethic to a self-fulfillment ethic," confirms Dana Friedman, copresident of the Families and Work Institute in New York. "In the '80s, women were willing to make sacrifices to move up the ladder. They still want to contribute and succeed, but they also want to organize their careers in a way that they see fit, not in a way defined by other people."

In 1991, Mary Wagner was earning close to six figures in salary and commission as a sales manager for an insurance company headquartered in the Midwest "It was a career I'd fallen into after graduating from Indiana University," she says. "I had a master's degree in education, but at the time there were few teaching positions available. I'd always been a crackerjack salesperson and desperately needed an income. The company I went to work for was making a concerted effort to hire more women, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time."

But competition in the insurance business is fierce, and despite her success, Wagner soon regretted her career choice. "The money was great, but work was a real pressure cooker. I could never seem to catch my breath, nor rest on my laurels," she recalls. "Sales figures for my division were consistency among the highest in the company, and they soared every year by 10 to 20 percent. Nevertheless, there were constant and enormous pressures from my boss to continue breaking records. In fact, instead of praising me for a job well done, he'd always demand to know, 'What are your goals for next month?' It was a suffocating environment, and after just three years in the business, I felt tired, tense, and frazzled all the time."

In 1994, when Wagner's company was bought out by a larger firm, she saw the writing on the wall. "New owners typically clean house," she explains. And she was right.

But rather than have her name placed in the potential layoff pool, Wagner opted to resign and go back to her first love: teaching. "Now I work eight-hour days nine months a year and leave school every day feeling that what I do is important," she says. "I also feel appreciated by my principal, as well as my students and their parents. Granted, I took a decisive cut in salary and have had to make some major readjustments in my lifestyle. But I'm far more content I guess I finally realized that the real bottom line is being able to enjoy life."



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