Monday, September 26, 2005

MBA OR MOTHERHOOD?

This article from The New York Times really bothers me. In theory it shouldn't, but it does. It's all about the trend of high achieving women at elite colleges making long terms goals to either end or indefinetely postpone their career goals in favor of being stay at home moms.

There is the whole stay at home versus go to work and let a child care provider raise your child debate lurking here, but that's not what concerns me. I have no problem with other people's choices in that regard. Who am I to tell you how to raise your child or run your family? I constantly debate this in my own head all the time. If and when I ever have a family which will I chose? Since I cannot make a clear choice for myself [and luckily don't have to at the moment] I would be a complete hypocrite if I extolled one option as being superior over another. But I digress ...

What bothers me is that the competition to get into elite schools and superior porograms is fierce and expensive. If you know 100% when you are 20 that you never plan to use your degree then why not free up the space for someone else? I am all for education and broadening your mind, but do you really need a degree from Wharton or Yale Law to arrange car pools or attend PTA meetings? Do not misunderstand, I am not downplaying the role of full time moms. It is an awesome responsibility that requires patience and managing skills and the temperment of a saint. I have a ton of respect for people who make that choice. However, pragmatically degrees from elite schools are pieces of paper that open doors to job opportunities. The real skills are usually learned after you get hired. If you don't intend to open those doors then why horde the keys so that no one else can either?

There are a lot of those keys sitting in drawers at home, unused while those women attend to other, more domestic, goals. I have pondered this for quite some time in my own course of study. If roughly half of all law school graduating classes are women, then shouldn't half of all new lawyers also be women? They are not though. Step into a firm, large or small. The majority of attorneys, especially partners, are men. Women have had a serious presence in law schools nationwide for quite some time now, certainly enough time for many of those women to have ascended the career ladder into a large corner office. And yet ... they are conspicuously absent. Is it true that Rosie the Riveter really just wanted to go back home all this time and no one noticed?

The entire article reminded me of the movie Mona Lisa Smile, where the free thinking art professor, played by Julia Roberts, goes to teach at Wellesley College to open minds of the best and the brightest female, college students in the 1950's only to find that they are all being encouraged to abandon academia and any career plans upon graduation in favor of marriage and children. She describes the institution as a finishiing school disguised as a ladies college. Certainly the Wellesley of today has changed, but what of the notion? Does a stay at home mom who makes the decision to make her children and her home her sole focus need a high priced degree from a top school? Is it "just" that her place in the graduating class means that someone else who would have utilized her education and is as deserving and qualified is stripped of the opportunity to attend that specific school or program?

Many students say staying home is not a shocking idea among their friends. Shannon Flynn, an 18-year-old from Guilford, Conn., who is a freshman at Harvard, says many of her girlfriends do not want to work full time.
I wonder if Ms. Flynn has considered all the disappointed people who received rejection letters from Harvard who could have gone in her place or in place of one of her girlfriends. She got in, she is deserving and she may change her mind, after all eighteen years old is a time of uncertainty.

The other reason all this bothers me is the age old notion that women have to chose at all. Men don't have to chose. Men never seek advice on how to manage a career and a family. Yes, there are rare exceptions, but in the vast majority of households the child rearing and household management falls on the female, regardless of how many hours she works outside of the home.

Then there is also the idea that women who are choosing in this new millenium to go back into the kitchen, so to speak, are somehow betraying their gender. Just because we have additional opportunities in today's day and age are we obligated to take them? Isn't being a "soccer mom" just as imporant to some people as being a CEO? It brings me back to the movie. If the goal of the free thinking professor was to make her students understand that they had choices then wouldn't that mean that they could chose to maintain traditional roles?

Like I said, the article bothers me and it shouldn't. People are free to do what they want, as they should be. I cannot tell Ms. Flynn that if she plans to stay at home that she is not allowed to go to Harvard, nor should I. Someday she may use her degree, and if not it is still quite an achievement to have it. I just look at where we are, where we've been and wonder what comes next. I wonder about my own future choices. Will I consider my time at law school a "waste" if I decide to make raising a family my sole objective? Doubtful. Will I feel like I am squandering an opportunity to have a career? Perhaps. Are we all returning to a time of 1950's values and perspectives? I don't know. I do know this, no matter what happens, I am NEVER going to wear a full skirt, heels and pearls to vacuum!

Note: See the companion article which details how the research was obtained for the original article.

11 Comments:

At 11:17 AM, September 26, 2005, Blogger Never Say Die!! said...

Hey there!

I totally diasgree with what your thoughts are towards women who make their way to the best B Schools and land up doing the laundry or watching their kids at home. Whether they make use of what they learn at B Schools and how they do is totally irrelevant. The fact of the matter is whoever was not able to make it to the B school 'cause some women took her place shows the guy/gal was not deserving enough. Many people do MBA just to prove a point. They give a damn whether it fetches them a lucrative career or not. I wont be comfortable with a fact that i got into a B School 'cause someone opted out and created that space which i needed. If we all think we are deserving lets fight and take the place!

 
At 11:58 AM, September 26, 2005, Blogger TSC Girl said...

In theory I agree, but the truth is there are plenty of qualified applicants who don't get into good schools b/c there just isn't room. There is a long wait list at most elite colleges. Those ppl are qualified and would excel in that school's environment if given the chance. However most will never be able to prove that b/c there are X amount of spaces in the freshmen class.

Also consider the fact that some of it is a result of things well beyond your control. If three generations of your family went to Princeton then you stand a lot better chance of getting in. Ditto if you live in CA. NJ applicants are far less likely to get into that school b/c SO many ppl from NJ apply there. You get "extra admission" points if you lived in a foreign country. Therefore if your parents are military or missionaries and you lived in South Africa for 2 years or Japan for 4 you stand a better shot of getting into a top school. If grades and test scores were the sole deciding factors in admissions to top universities then yes, I would completely agree with you. But I'm not that naive.

I knew someone in my HS graduating class. He had a PERFECT Math SAT and a near perfect Language score. He was #1 in our class and had a 4.0 GPA. He didn't get into MIT. The guidance office called to inquire why not b/c really what else could there be?! They said he was not interesting enough. He was a white male who had lived in the eastern US his entire life and they felt he had nothing out of the ordinary to offer their incoming class. Is he any less deserving of a spot than a woman who intends to shelve her degree as soon as she gets it?

 
At 7:35 PM, September 26, 2005, Blogger RH said...

We might disagree on somethings, but I look forward to reading your blog.

 
At 11:51 PM, September 26, 2005, Blogger TSC Girl said...

I appreciate that.

 
At 10:40 PM, September 27, 2005, Anonymous D said...

Just as the pro-track athlete has to get a backup for when s/he either gets injured or old, the stay-at-home parent (note - not mother) could need that as well. One would assume that all they do is walk around as a sperm repository until they actually get pregnant and just knit or pine over the children when they are in school. There's the time before pregnancy or before marriage even - and then after the kids can take care of themselves. Assuming that most parents have 2 children within 2 years, that's only 4-8 years (childcare depending) where they are contantly needed to be at home. I don't know the averages. After that they can do part time. Even if they do stay at home until high school or longer, that's 14-18 or 20 years. a career can be three times that long - assuming they don't want to retire at 65.

Getting an advanced degree also serves as a fine example that a woman - should this be the mother - has the choice to stay at home, instead of assuming that Jane has to choice one or the other. Those who are willing can have thier cake and eat it too.

The black and white world of the past is replaced by many shades of grey and some colorful options. It would be a mistake to pigeonhole onesself or not serve as an example to the future generations. This is a fine example of how one can do so many things in thier life.

 
At 12:21 PM, September 28, 2005, Anonymous stay-at-home mom, esq. said...

I am not exactly sure how to make out your post -- you argue that women who know they want to be stay-at-home mom's should not bother going to top schools, simply because they're taking up a seat for someone who intends on immediately using their degree. However, at the end of your post, you argue that everyone should have options from which to choose, which seems to contradict your first argument.

With all do respect, I disagree with your idea that future stay-at-home moms should forego a chance at a great education. First of all, to do so would require the woman to make risky assumptions that she someday will have children, or will even be in a strong relationship when she feels ready to have children. Any number of things that are beyond her control may happen - for instance, she may be unfortunate and experience fertility problems (the numbers are on the rise, after all). No one can know for sure what their future holds, let alone when or whether they will be able to have children. And if they are unable to, what then? Generally speaking, most of the time it is more convenient and beneficial to go to school at a young age. As we grow older, our responsibilities increase...especially for those who are "only" stay at home parents. Would it not make sense to go to school when your responsibilities are not as high so that you can devote more time to your studies? In law especially, the job market is fierce and top grades are demanded by large and small firms alike. Additionally, there are other benefits to attending school while you are young, from a financial standpoint. Those who are fortunate enough can still be covered under their parents' health insurance plans if they are full-time students (up until age 24 or 25). Also, most can defer student loans, and for the mostpart, graduate degree holders can land positions with higher salaries. The point is, it is more difficult to go back to school at a later age, especially when one's responsibilities in life are much higher (whether it be with children or something else).

So, where does this leave the 20 year old stay-at-home wannabe parent? If she were to follow your advice, she would not have many options to choose from if she would so desire to enter the career world. She also may have passed a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend a top ranked school. You seem to suggest that those who intend on staying at home with their children, or intend only on working part-time, are not deserving of a degree from a top school like Harvard or Yale. I'm sorry, but I must disagree.

 
At 12:50 PM, September 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually agree with you. Perhaps the solution is for univeristy admissions to stop trying to gender equate/diversify the incoming classes (50/50 m/f) and have a built in bias in favor of males (65/35). Yes, this would push deserving females out and into the lower tier schools, but if roughly half of this years female law school graduates are not going to be practicing law in five years while they raise their kids, then why waste the spot.

 
At 2:40 PM, September 28, 2005, Blogger TSC Girl said...

Stay-at-home-mom,

as I said this article upsets me and I know it should not. I am contradicting myself because I am trying to look at the issue from all sides, not just my own narrow view. To be completely honest I think I have a problem with it b/c at the moment I am chomping at the bit to start my career and I cannot fathom someone who would be lucky enough to receive a top notch education then not utilize it. I think women who stay home are noble and dedicated and I know quite a few of them [all of whom have college educations I might add].

I think everyone deserves options, and I don't think anyone "shouldn't bother" to get an education. I am playing devil's advocate b/c in my mind why would you go to Harvard and then not go out and conquer the world, so to speak. Everyone approaches things form their own unique perspective. You are a mom so you see things from that vantage point. I respect that, but from my vista I am pulling my hair out trying to understand why someone would give up what I consider to be the golden ticket.

I don't think that people who stay home are "only" moms. I admit I could never do it. I don't have the patience, among other things, to be a stay at home mom.

BTW I'm glad you took the time to tell me that you disagreed and why. I was hoping for a clearer view from your side of the issue.

Anon,

I certainly hope you are playing devil's advocate w/ me in order to prove a point. If not that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.

 
At 8:10 PM, September 28, 2005, Anonymous Mrs. U said...

As someone that just finished a degree (two degrees) and is planning on being a stay at him mom, let me give my perspective. I can see totally where you are coming from. You don't at all reject anyone for getting their Harvard education, but you do ask that people be fair and consider that many many others that wanted to go to Harvard (or Yala, yada)and didn't quite make the cut. However, these people are losing their cut/chance to someone that most likely isn't going to use their degree in the immediate future, or even if at all.

I see where you are coming from, and I can say, I do agree...how fair is it? Not that I went to an ivy league school, but I did go to a regular college and go my regular two degrees. And now, I'm going to stay home...for a few years and raise my daughter. I completely understand woman's need for an education before family. My biggest reason was "what if something happens to my husband...and i don't have a degree?" A woman needs a backup plan...but does it have to be ivy league? While you also say you by no means knock an ivy league education, you also mention, someone should not just get the ivy league education to say "Hey I'm ivy league educated..." then go on to raise a family. There also is nothing wrong with a regular college education.

Bottom line, when one goes for that ivy league...maybe they should think of how they are going to use it and if they are being fair to anyone else that is waiting. Ivy league is a priviledge...and regular college isn't too shabby...

 
At 12:20 PM, September 29, 2005, Anonymous stay-at-home mom, esq. said...

TSC Girl,
I guess what bothers me most about your view is that it implies that those who decide to stay at home and raise their children are undeserving of degrees from top-ranked schools. I am curious what you think about those who graduate from top law schools but choose not to practice law...or even take the bar exam. Would you say that they too should consider "giving their seat up" for someone who intends on practicing law? What about those who fall into the top 10% of their class, thereby opening up careers in BIGlaw, but choose not to go that route after 1 year of practice (or worse, choose to stay at home)? Just like those who are in the top 10% of their class, those who are accepted into top-ranked schools had to work hard and possess an incredible amount of skill to get in. And, there will always be those who missed out on offers because they fell shy of the employer's cut. According to your view, Mr. or Ms. Top-11%-BIGlaw-Wannabe could have been spared, had that top 10% grad who knew he or she would stay at home someday would have just considered this before attending law school.

And why should taking a few years off from your career, or even ending your career early, preclude someone from attending a top-ranked school? They still need to possess the same criteria as everyone else who graduates from the school. They still bear the burden of paying for such an education (which isn't cheap!). These graduates should not be looked down upon just because their career goals do not fit some formula, nor should they be punished for choosing to sacrifice their careers for their children.

I guess I took your post a bit personally, because I have been on the receiving end of comments similar to yours. I can not even tell you how many times people have told me that I am wasting my law degree (which isn't from a top-ten school). Once I do enter the career world, I will be faced with an uphill climb, since my resume now has a gap. But, that was the risk I was willing to take. With the rising costs of law school, though, I am glad that I did not postpone my education. Plus, I could not imagine trying to start from square one with a child.

Mrs. U --
You make a good point about having a backup plan. I tried to touch on this in my original post. However, I think you miss the point as well. Why should any person, regardless of their future career goals, give up a chance at an ivy league school when he or she has the desire, skills and financial means (scholarship, loans, or otherwise) to take such an opportunity? True, non-ivy league schools are also great. But, I do not know why one should have to "settle" for something that is not their first choice (no matter how good it may be) just because of their future goals.

 
At 4:10 PM, September 29, 2005, Blogger TSC Girl said...

Stay-At-home-mom,

When I wrote the original post I was speaking in a "what if" kind of way. Pragmatically I would never consider telling someone not to go to college or to avoid a great opportunity at a top school. If you earned your spot and you want to go well who am I to stop you? I do think ppl should utilize their skillset. That being said, ppl change their minds all the time. Quite a few people change careers throughout their lifetime. They go to school for one thing and then end up in an entirely different line of work.

I don't think that stay at home moms are undeserving. I am not thinking of the women who want to take a break from their careers to have a family, or the ones who started school then decided they wanted something else. In my mind I was thinking of the women who went to college for their "MRS", women who went to college to husband shop and never had any interest in an education, from a top school or otherwise. I object b/c those women don't have a passion for anything, they use higher education as a means to find a mate. And in that vein, I would fault a man the same way. College is a time to find yourself and figure out what you want, but if you go into knowing that you don't care about the education you are receiving then what's the point? [I say "you" in general, I am not implying that you personally didn't care about your education.]

I do get a little prickly at ppl who went to law school that don't use their skills. I have met ppl like that, they have no interest in thinking or debating skills, nor do they have a passion for law or any of the careers that naturally flow from that. They are in law school because they had nothing better to do, they were not ready to go into the "real world" after college and their parents were willing to open their checkbooks for another three years. Yes, those ppl I have a problem with b/c they mock the very education that I have been clawing and working to obtain. If you chose to get your degree then decide to have a family and come back to the law later in life I applaud you. You pave the way for others like you. You force the men in the profession to take women seriously.

However, a law school education is a foundation for a plethora of careers, NOT just practicing law. Taking the bar exam is certainly not the end of it all for a lot of ppl. People go to law school to become sports agents or politicians. I say more power to them, especially if they are women. We need more females represented in the upper echelons of corporate America and Washington, DC politics.

I see your point of view, and I don't really disagree. And I guess I took the original article a bit personally b/c at this time in my life all I want to do is practice law. I have spent years and years and thousands upon thousands of dollars on this one goal. Someday I might share your priority for a family of my own, but right now my knee jerk reaction is to look at things from where I stand. Postponing the one thing in the world I want above all else just seems so foreign to me. [And when I say foreign I don't mean wrong, I just mean radically different than my perspective.]

One day when and if I am ready to have a family I hope you are still around to give me advice on how to "have it all", I have a feeling I am going to need it.

 

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