Woman with MBA wonders what happens to women with MBAs…

Part of the joy of coming to Darden was the possibility it unleashed. The last two years of my newspaper career were a death spiral of layoffs, reduced quality and hopelessness. Being in an environment where anything seemed possible was such a huge relief that I didn’t care that I was working 27-hour days and living off of cheese sticks, Fage yogurt and canned soup.

But as I prepare to leave Darden and look toward the future as a woman with an MBA, I’m nervous.

Not because I don’t think I’ll be successful and not because I am not excited about the possibilities in front of me.

No, I’m worried because I’m a WOMAN with an MBA, which means I’m far more likely than my male colleagues to watch my career stall in 10 to 15 years.

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie says we can do it ...

I’m not talking about the glass ceiling per se, though I do think it still exists in many places. I’m talking about the choices women often make to put family ahead of career and children before promotions, and how that often curtails our careers. We don’t necessarily leave the workforce entirely, but I know many women look back and think, “I wonder what would have happened if I could have devoted myself to my career?”

That’s an especially painful feeling when you’re Type A, driven by success who just dropped $100K on an advanced education.

To be honest, I naively thought this stuff would be better figured out by now. So did my mom, who entered the workforce in the 1970s and surely thought that by the time her daughter grew up this whole mess would be sorted out.

But it’s not.

The current work environment doesn’t make it easy to balance family and career. Even at companies that are family-friendly.

It’s almost impossible to have two working parents pursuing their careers with equal zeal and opportunity, especially when kids are involved — or even when they aren’t. Take the young married couple with huge career opportunities in different cities. Do they decide to live apart so one can pursue a dream job in Seattle while the other works in New York? Something has to give.

And, to be honest, it’s usually the woman.

Many of us do it to ourselves. I know that there are couples today where the woman is the breadwinner and the man stays at home. But despite my Type A personality, I still want a man who is ambitious and driven. I remember one boyfriend telling me he’d LOVE to be a stay-at-home dad. My first thought? “He’s looking for a sugar momma to take care of him!” Needless to say, we didn’t work out.

I don’t want to be a sugar momma, but I also don’t want to be a housewife.

I don’t want my kids to be raised by day care and nannies, but I can’t imagine stopping my career at “mom.”

I am an educated woman who wants it all, but I realize I can’t have it.

I am like every educated woman who has pondered this quandary in the last 40 years.

I hate that I will likely have to make these tradeoffs, but, at the same time, I’m grateful that I have a choice. Most men don’t have to decide between career and family, but most also don’t get the option of being the primary caregiver.

All this hit home for me when a friend passed along this 2003 New York Times Magazine story headlined “The Opt-Out Revolution.” In it, the writer followed up on women who had graduated from top schools with MBAs and law degrees. She found that many of them weren’t working because of the demands of family. They had given up promising careers.

That made me sad.

But then she points out that some of these women left because they had the option. Their careers weren’t as fulfilling any more, and — like breaking up with your college boyfriend right after graduation — having kids offered them the perfect opportunity to bow out.

That made me hopeful. Feminism is about having the choice.

But I still have no idea what my choice will be.

About missmba

What happens when a language-loving, mathphobic liberal arts major goes jumps on the MBA train. Follow my adventures at a top 20 business school.
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8 Responses to Woman with MBA wonders what happens to women with MBAs…

  1. Amy says:

    Well said! Exactly what is on my mind these days…

  2. old school says:


  3. Benson says:

    great post Steph. A very tough dilemma. I’m of the mind that no success can compensate for failure in the home, which applies to husbands/fathers and wives/mothers equally. Having kids will change your life and that of your man. 🙂 No matter whose career takes the spotlight (whether temporarily or permanently), the collective goal should be to succeed in the home. It’s what makes life worth living. I believe the rewards for a successful home are invaluable and eternal.

    I am certain a woman of your caliber will find a way to be successful no matter what you choose to do. The world needs women who can crush it in the workplace and be the mother to their children and the wife to their husband. (Similarly, the world needs men to step up — men who are world class fathers and professionals.)

  4. JulyDream says:

    Great post! And definitely on the minds of many of us past, current and future MBAs. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending an event at a fellow Junior Leaguer’s house. She is the former CFO of Brown-Forman. She is highly successful and has moved around a lot during her career. It was interesting to hear her story and take on family life. She had kids late in life (late 30s/early 40s). She highly suggests finding a great nanny that you trust if you want to be a career woman and noted that there’s nothing wrong with waiting to have kids. Something else she said is that her and her husband worked at the same company, so the company managed them as a “dual-career” couple. Meaning when they sent one to England, they sent both. It actually saves money for the company too. And they had very different jobs – geologists vs finance whiz.

    I do believe that at some point, something has to give. You cannot live in that c-suite forever and think you’re going to be the best parent. But to a certain extent, assuming you’re willing to have help along the way, I do believe there’s a way to find some balance.

    • GMAT Delhi says:

      Had a discussion with my mother about this just this morning, and found your post a couple of hours post that! Odd!…
      And yes, she also said that a woman’s career does get stalled to a certain extent…but she said [in India] if you have a supporting family who is willing to take on a few responsibilities for ur kid while ur working, you can minimize the impact…
      But at the end of the day, even if u have support from ur in-laws, parents, aunts/uncles…u’ll feel a little torn between work and ur kid…altho getting married and having kids is still a few years away for me, I’m already worried about it…..*sigh* want to be able to handle both well, but not sure how it will work out…

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  6. missmba says:

    @GMAT Delhi: It’s funny how you can live thousands of miles apart and still be facing the same issues. I keep hoping that if it’s an issue we’re all dealing with, together we can figure out a way to make it work. Or at least work a little better than it did for our mothers.

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