Published: September 2004
THE NAKED TRUTH: A Working Woman's Manifesto on Business and What Really Matters by Margaret A. Heffernan.
The Naked Truth - Extract 4:
The Whole Life
My sister once wisely told me that your children need you more as they grow older. As infants, they want food, comfort, warmth, sleep. They can get that from many people. As they get older, their demands grow far more complicated. Exploring emotions and morality, they want your advice - no one else will do. And so I decided that I would work hard, very hard, while my children were still small. I'd work hard to earn the financial freedom, when they were older, to give them more time. And that's how it's worked out. I made money and the money has brought me more choices.
The money isn't trivial. Every year that a woman takes out of work costs her enormously - in reduced income, in reduced savings, pension and social security. As if earning less than men weren't bad enough, dropping out of the work force for any substantial period of time makes us, in effect, dependents. We earn less, we save less, we have less to retire on. Six out of ten women have no retirement pension 50 and those women that do have pensions receive about half the retirement income that men do. 51 Poverty remains a real and imminent threat for women in a system designed for men that is now wholly anachronistic. We dare not think what happens should our husbands leave, be laid off, get ill or die. Such vulnerability holds no appeal for me or for many women who ensure that they will not find themselves in so precarious or beholden a position.
The choices we make are the lessons that we pass on to our children. When my children see me working hard, I try to avoid lame excuses. I try not to say that I have to work, that my boss makes me or that we need the money for toys. I try to explain that the reason I work so hard is because I love what I do and work is a great, ennobling activity. I want my children to grow up with an attitude to work that is not begrudging but is positive and realistic. I want them to see that hard work is the way to earn what we value.
One of the things my daughter has learned is that she has seen me struggle. She saw me in graduate school. I moved the two of us from a nice house to a group house for women for $500 dollars a month and we were eating beans and rice. I used to call it Mercenary Dating because I would go out with some guy and order the biggest, most expensive thing on the menu -- and bring half of it home so we'd all have meat. And I was in my forties and my daughter was old enough to know what was going on. We were living pretty lean and she saw me working really really hard and staying up really late, but she also saw that I finished it and I got a great job and a nice house and all those things. The whole notion that it is a lot of work to be successful is something that she has grown up with.
Humor helps. It's a way of forgiving yourself - for not being perfect, for not being able to do everything you want to do, the way you want to do it. No mother can survive the first year of parenthood without humor - and working mothers need a double dose. When I found myself pumping milk in a grubby little press room at La Guardia (the only private space Delta could provide) I could have felt sorry for myself. Instead, I just laughed at the inanity of the entire set up. Laughter made me feel better.
I did Starbucks' corporate prototypes. Howard Schulz hired me himself. Because he was running out of time, he gave me two weeks to come up with a proposal which he'd given firms with 300 people a month to do. I came back with a lot of ideas and wrote them all up. And that morning I had a meeting with him.
I used to take my daughter over to the coffee shop near her nanny, drop her off and then go down the street to work. I had a blue wool dress on and I was looking nice. Well I am sitting there with my daughter at the coffee bar -- and her diaper leaks! All over my arm. So now I have urine all over my blue dress. So the nanny comes. I have to go back to the house, have a shower - but there's no time.
So I'm in this meeting with Howard Schulz and I am trying to stay far enough away from him so he can't smell the urine on my arm while I'm doing this presentation. I can smell it and I am thinking "I don't want him not to hire me because he thinks I've been sleeping in alleys with bums" and I am going through the whole rigmarole and he ends up hiring me. And I think: I got a job with urine on my arm! I know men who've gotten a pen point on their white shirt and taken the afternoon off to go out and buy a new shirt and have it monogrammed! So I think back to that and think - some of the stuff people get so worked up about!
Extended families help a lot. When Elaine Davis plans trips to any of the many Glaxo headquarters she visits, her first phone call is to her mother. Glenda Roberts can give Microsoft's acquisitions the attention to detail that she does because her mother is at home helping to nurture the entire family. This support cannot be taken for granted; not everyone has parents and in-laws who can or want to help this way. And even when they do, discretion, tact and gratitude are essential - Glenda's mother saw fit to remind her, when she moved in, that slavery had been abolished! In my own home, my business trips are feasible because my husband, his father and step mother and/or a nanny and occasional friends provide a complex skein of support that, in itself, takes some managing. No mother on earth will tell you that she has this all figured out.