working women

Getting to the Top Means Being Realistic

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 12.43.15 PM

A recent set of Harvard Business School studies show that relative to men, we women believe we’re capable of equal success in the workforce, are less ambitious when it comes to getting the “top” jobs, perceive more conflicts associated with getting these positions, and have more non-career goals in life.

This is headier stuff than first meets the eye.

Notice that the study didn’t draw any causal conclusions. It didn’t because of a concept called “reflexivity.” Reflexivity is the idea that some things don’t have a simple cause-and-effect relationship but rather have a circular cause-and-effect relationship. An example of reflexivity is if both the following sentences are true:

  • Women are less ambitious about getting “top jobs” because they perceive more life conflicts and have other goals.
  • Women have other goals and perceive more life conflicts with getting “top jobs” because they are less ambitious.

We believe that career ambition and career success for women is absolutely a reflexive phenomenon. What we see around us influences what we think we’re capable of and vice-verse. That’s why female role models matter, moms like buying Goldie Blox for their daughters, and society seems to love (and hate) hearing female executives talk about work-life balance.

We all know that some women really are less ambitious than some men (just as some men are less ambitious than some women). But there seems to be a general reluctance to publicly admit that is true for fear of perpetuating another generation of disappointing female leadership numbers. One recent poll even found that a majority of young women think its socially unacceptable to have no ambition.

We can certainly understand that there’s a real fear of deterring some young women from trying to achieve more if we highlight any tradeoffs a career might entail. Whether those trade-offs are for more time with family or simply just increased career-related stress, there is well-meaning concern over dissuading impressionable young minds from achieving their full potential.

However, we are actually encouraged by the Harvard data. We believe that in a career marathon, the realistic ones who plan, research, and are armed with the best information are the ones more likely to survive the difficulties ahead. You wouldn’t attempt to climb Everest with just visions of glory and no expectations of frostbite. The prepared corporate executives are the ones who train themselves mentally, emotionally, and even physically for the challenges ahead. If women are more realistic than men about the trade-offs it takes to pursue anything single-mindedly, it seems to us that they may well be at an advantage.

Not every woman wants to become a CEO nor an executive and that’s absolutely fine. But we think the ones that do have a better shot if they’re realistic (warts and all) about what it may take to get there.

Fairygodboss is committed to helping women in the workplace. Join us by signing up at and reviewing your employer.

working women

Why We Hate Writing about Marissa Mayer’s Pregnancy

Photo Credit: Ethan Miller / Getty

Photo Credit: Ethan Miller / Getty

Its the last week of summer and many Americans — including us — are enjoying a bit of a holiday.

While we’re abroad, we are watching the foreign press cover the latest news about Yahoo’s CEO as if it’s simultaneously a business issue, social issue, and celebrity gossip piece all wrapped up in one package. Earlier this week, she announced:

Since my pregnancy has been healthy and uncomplicated and since this is a unique time in Yahoo’s transformation, I plan to approach the pregnancy and delivery as I did with my son three years ago, taking limited time away and working throughout.

When it comes to Mayer’s pregnancy, people are mainly talking about 4 things:

  1. Whether she should or shouldn’t be taking a longer maternity leave since she is a role model for other working women
  2. Whether other women should compare themselves to her
  3. Whether we should be judging or discussing her choices at all, since we might not do the same for a male CEO who is expecting children
  4. Whether it matters in terms of her performance as CEO

In other words, pretty much everything you can imagine that could be said about this topic has probably been said. Which is one of the reasons we dislike writing about her pregnancy. We also hate writing about it because we want to simply tell Mayer “Congratulations,” and leave it at that. After all, that’s the normal and proper thing to say to anyone who’s just announced news of twins.

But Mayer is not just anyone. She’s a public figure, one of the highest paid CEO’s in America, and one of the youngest and only female CEOs in the technology industry. Like it or not, her personal life is in the spotlight because she is a more glamourous subject than the millions of other women in America who have little choice but to take a couple weeks of maternity leave after they give birth. We can only assume she has made a self-actualized and well-informed decision, realizes the attention is a casualty of her position, and takes all the corresponding criticism in stride.

In the end, we decided to write about her pregnancy because it gives us an opportunity to say that we believe many women — and also men — experience biases and social pressures that make things very hard to be a whole person at work. Being a whole person means different things to different people, but pregnancy is special example simply because its physically impossible to hide, and affects so many people in the workforce.

Even in this day and age, women continue to experience discrimination because they are pregnant, and also subsequently when they become mothers. This is often despite the best intentions of companies and colleagues. These problems are persistent because they are rooted in biases (conscious or not) and cultural ideas of what it means to be an “ideal worker” and truly committed to our work.

However, that doesn’t mean progress can’t be made. We started Fairygodboss because we believe many companies and organizations don’t look closely enough at gender equality in their culture. Transparency is an important step in creating change – and Mayer has been nothing if not transparent. She has shared her own choices very openly (i.e. a short maternity leave and her on-site personal nursery) and announced big changes to Yahoo’s policies (i.e. expanded paid parental leave and restrictions on working-from-home). Whatever you may think of her personal and professional choices, at least we’re talking about things that matter to a great number of working women — and that in many cases, really should change.

Fairygodboss is committed to improving the workplace for women by creating transparency. Join us by signing up at and reviewing your employer.

working women

Max Schirenson Resigns as CEO to Spend More Time with His Family (No, really)

“I’m going to spend time with my family” is a euphemism in corporate America.  It really means: “I’m a CEO who is resigning my position because I would otherwise be fired.”  Nobody believes that the line is anything but face-saving PR, accompanied by a confidentiality agreement and severance package.  

The fact that this euphemism exists at all speaks volumes about our work culture.  It essentially takes something that is presumably sacred to almost everyone (i.e. their closest loved ones) and turns it into a “second best” consolation prize.  Does this mean that work actually does come first for almost all high-achieving executive types?  Or just that they have to pretend it does?

Max Schirenson may not be a household name but he’s well known in the technology world as CEO of Mongo DB, a billion-dollar technology “start-up” (a pretty mature one).  This week, he penned a blog post announcing his resignation as CEO to spend more time with his family.  It has been praised as possibly “the greatest memo about work-life balance ever“, with a special shout-out to the double-standard and skepticism that successful professional women face regarding work-life balance.  His anecdote is personal: his wife is a full-time doctor and Stanford professor, and mother to their three children who she often parented alone while Schirenson travelled extensively between SF and NY for work.  He points out that many people ask her about how she manages to balance everything, while he is not questioned about the same issue.  There are many things I could say about his memo, but the main thing I want to highlight is this:

I recognize by writing this I may be disqualifying myself for some future CEO role.  Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday?  Maybe.

By admitting that work is not the only thing that’s important to him, he acknowledges that some of his peers may perceive him as a less-than-ideal, insufficiently committed corporate leader.  What’s fascinating is that its irrational for anybody to actually believe that work is the only thing that matters to even the most committed leaders.  But its staggering to see the grip of this powerful idea, and the lengths to which talented, intelligent people will go in order to keep up appearances that comport with this idea.  

When a company’s leadership cultivates this appearance of one dimensional values (whether its real or not at the individual level), it trickles down in ways that affect everyone else.  This is when a company’s work-life balance culture cannot be captured in any official policies or benefits package.  There may be flex time and even generous sick/paid leave (and we are not knocking the tangible importance of them) but a value system is pervasive and technically invisible, even if its completely obvious.  So we rely on what those who live(d) it say.  For anyone like Schirenson who cares about how to manage their jobs and personal life, we hope to capture this important feature of corporate culture in Fairygodboss reviews.  


Today I’m highlighting 3 different websites.  They contain varying amounts of detail but they all give information that can help you make better decisions about where to work.  Presumably everyone cares at least about 2 fundamental things when it comes to a job: role and pay.

What other information would you want in order to make the best work-life decisions?  Are you happy with where you get it today?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

working women

What Company Info Matters When It Comes to Managing Work-Life Balance?

working women

People Lie Because They’re Scared

According to one recent survey of 1,000 working parents, 60% feared that their family obligations would harm their careers.  Respondents were concerned that family obligations would lead to:

  • getting fired (48%)
  • not getting a raise (39%)
  • not getting promoted (37%)
  • getting demoted (26%)
  • missing out on key projects (22%)
  • being left out of key meetings (19%)

So what do these people do about their worries?  It turns out a good proportion admit to bending the truth, a.k.a. lying.  Here’s how people dealt with their fears:

  • lie about obligations that conflict with work (23%)
  • fake being sick (31%)

Is this fear misplaced or justified?  

Bridget Schulte wrote about the stereotype of the “Ideal Worker” in her recent book:

“The ideal worker, freed from all home duties, devotes himself completely to the workplace.  He is a face-time warrior, the first one in in the morning and the last to leave at night.  He is rarely sick.  Never takes vacation, or brings work along if he does.  The ideal worker can jump on a plane whenever the boss asks because someone else is responsible for getting the kids off to school or attending the preschool play.  In the professional world, he is the one who answers e-mails at 3 a.m., willing relocates whenever and wherever the company directs, and pulls all-nighters on last-minute projects at a moment’s notice.  In the blue-collar workplace, he is always ready to work overtime or a second shift.”

She concedes this is an exaggerated stereotype but presses that stereotypes reflect deeply held beliefs, and that the notion of the ideal worker wields immense power in the American workplace.  

Despite a rational understanding that balanced, rested human beings make better decisions and evidence that concentration and attention-span necessary for decision-making deteriorate after minutes (not hours), we persist in cultural admiration of the Ideal Worker and hold ourselves up to that standard.  Sometimes this is due to very real company or management culture.  Other times, its in a grey area or even mostly in our own heads.  I hope Fairygodboss can shed some light on which places exalt the Ideal Worker and which ones may be friendlier places to tell the truth.