Last week, Mary Tyler Moore passed away at the age of 80. Moore made history in 1970 when she portrayed, for the first time in television history, a single professional working woman. In doing so, Moore immediately became the epitome of a modern-day feminist and brilliantly maintained that moniker for nearly 50 years. Today, it’s almost impossible to imagine television without strong single professional women (where would we be without Olivia Pope and Carrie Mathison?!) and recall that there was a time when women were portrayed only as homemakers. It deserves a place in the “used to be’s” list -- there used to be no cable television, no cell phones, no internet and no strong female characters on TV! Who can imagine?!
Unlike advances in technology and the proliferation of sassy single professional women on television, real-life single professional women haven’t quite made the leaps and bounds of forward progress.
Moments after learning that Moore passed away, I was checking my Twitter feed and saw an unrelated article in the Wall Street Journal, Why Young Women Play Down Their Career Goals Around Men, by Lauren Weber. The article discusses a January 2017 study by Amanda Pallais (Harvard University), Leonardo Bursztyn (the University of Chicago) and Thomas Fujiwara (Princeton University), which concludes that young, professional women feel compelled to minimize their accomplishments and ambitions, but only if they’re single.
The study opens with the following established facts:
~ “Men prefer female partners who are less professionally ambitious than they are.”
~ “Men tend to avoid female partners with characteristics usually associated with professional ambition, such as high levels of education.”
~ “It is relatively unlikely that a woman will earn more than her husband, and when she does, marital satisfaction is lower and divorce is more likely.”
~ “Promotions increase the chance of divorce for women, but not for men.”
So, if all of this is true, what’s a young single professional women to do if she wants to get married? Apparently, she lies -- or more nicely said, she significantly downplays her career success in the hopes that a man will find her worthy enough to marry.
How depressing. So this is where we find ourselves a half-century after Mary Tyler Moore twirled and triumphantly threw her beret into the air?
Here’s what I have to say to the amazing young professional women out there -- if a man doesn’t want to marry you because you’re smart, accomplished and successful, you should think long and hard about whether you want to marry him. Marriage is (hopefully) a life-long partnership, with someone who you greatly respect, and equally important, who greatly respects you. Trust me, being a women in corporate America is simply too hard to not have your life partner in your corner.
And for those of us who are further along in our careers, it’s equally important that we don’t downplay our successes but instead be proud of working outside the home. Not only are we role models for young professional women, we are the role models for our sons and daughters. In a 2015 study by Kathleen L. McGinn, the Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, McGinn found that women whose moms worked outside the home are more likely to have jobs themselves, are more likely to hold supervisory responsibility at those jobs, and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home full time. Men raised by working mothers are more likely to contribute to household chores and spend more time caring for family members. And, the findings hold true across 24 countries. "There are very few things, that we know of, that have such a clear effect on gender inequality as being raised by a working mother," says McGinn.
So, whether you’re early in your career or a little further along, we must not dilute our career successes for the sake of making a man happy. A close friend made a sign for the recent Women’s March in New York City that said, “Men of Quality Do Not Fear Equality.” I couldn’t agree more.