Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Woman with Passion

Two of the leading women in today's world of technology and innovation are Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, and Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo. These are very impressive, successful women who are at the forefront of their industry and have proven themselves to be real leaders.

Something that Sheryl Sandberg has become known for is her advocacy for more women in higher places, in leadership positions, in seats of power. She has spoken to many audiences and posed questions like: Why aren't more women in these kinds of positions? If women make up 50% of the population, why are there so few women at the top?

In a recent interview, Marissa Mayer said something that I think is a perfect response (though it wasn't directed toward Sandberg) to this kind of thinking. In answering questions in various interviews about the role of women in her kind of work, she has said, "I actually think it's the wrong question. It's a question that hangs us up and causes the progress to be slower." And in another instance, "If you can find something that you're really passionate about, whether you're a man or a woman comes a lot less into play. Passion is a gender-neutralizing force." She says there is a need for more excellent computer scientists, male and female.

I happen to think that Mayer is exactly right. Instead of talking about how, as a woman, she made it to the top, she directed her response toward the passion that got her there. Rather than crusading with the message that we need more women in this field, she says that we need more passionate and committed people in this field.

To be fair, one of Sandberg's main conclusions is that, she believes, women of my generation are holding themselves back and they are not ambitious enough and they need to fight harder to stay in the workforce and move up that ladder. In other words, like Mayer, she is pining for more passion too (she just specifies that it needs to come from women, in particular).

But is a lack of ambition and passion in women indeed the "problem," if there is one? Can we assume that for every male executive there is a female out there who wants that job and would take that job if she were offered it? Do the majority of women desire the kind of high-powered careers of Mayer and Sandberg?

I see a fallacy in Sandberg's suggestions. I think that Sandberg is mistaken in thinking that the reason more women don't have the kind of high-profile and time-guzzling career she has is because of a lack of ambition instead of, perhaps, a desire to start a family and stay out of an office job for a while. I think she's mistaken in thinking that women are pulling out of the promotion pool because they aren't motivated enough, rather than, say, they have an urge to be home more with their children. I think she's mistaken in assuming that because 50% of our population is women, 50% of our nation's leaders should naturally be women. She doesn't consider that maybe the women who aren't in these positions simply have a different calling in life. Perhaps running a small local business, freelance writing from a home office, painting in a shared art studio, teaching at a university, being a wife, raising children.

There are surely plenty of women who do want the lifestyle of Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer, and with the right amount of drive, they will get there. But it's wrong to suggest that a young woman working at a big company who becomes pregnant and begins exploring other options so she can spend day in and day out with her newborn is lacking in passion. It's wrong to suggest that the woman who tries to continue her career from home because she wants to homeschool her child is not ambitious enough. These are the kinds of things that take many women out of places like Google and Yahoo and into different phases of their lives. Those women should be supported for choosing to follow their passion for family, not scolded for not having enough passion for their career.


  1. I agree with you. I have a close female friend who is completely passionate about her career. I, however, am not career-driven. I'd actually rather raise my children when I have them and support my husband.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Lindsey! It's wonderful that you feel strongly about the importance of raising children. It's the best job in the world!

      Thank you so much for reading, I hope you continue to follow along and share your thoughts :)

  2. Totally agree! I just read the long article in the Atlantic, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" by Ann Marie Slaughter and had similar thoughts to yours. Perhaps our society doesn't value motherhood as highly as it does careers and upward mobility.

    I stumbled across your blog via cupofjo's comments under the red nail polish dos or don'ts. :) I liked your blog title so looked it up. I'm also a classical pianist and got my masters in NY, although music education, not piano performance. I'm a Christian and love thrift stores. Fun similarities! Would love to hear more about your music! Do you have any music blogs you follow?

    1. Hi Sarah! Thanks for visiting and for your comment! I read that same article in the Atlantic, which is part of what prompted me to write this post. I agree that our society does not value motherhood nearly enough.

      How funny that so many of our interests line up! I hope you'll stick around and follow along. My next post will actually be about teaching piano lessons, so stop by tomorrow for that :)

      You know, I actually haven't found many music blogs to follow. I think that's an area that's a little bit lacking in the blog world. I like Jeremy Denk's blog (http://jeremydenk.net/blog/) but he doesn't update it often. Have you considered starting a blog?

      I got my MM at SUNY Purchase, where did you go?

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