Recently, we went out for dinner and drinks with two other couples. We're all in our late fifties, and most of us are at slightly different places in our careers; the executive is still going full throttle, two of us retired about three years ago, one guy retired and is now jumping back into a demanding position after some time off, one woman left an executive position years ago to raise her children and takes on big projects from time to time, and the other hasn't worked outside the home since becoming a mother (many years ago).
I don't remember what we were talking about, but I distinctly remember when the executive said, "Women have a tough time with careers because they have to deal with that "pull" once they become moms. We men just don't have to deal with that." I was taken aback by his words. So of course I asked some questions. I asked how he came to that conclusion. I asked if he'd always felt like he'd given his children and his family all of the attention they deserved. I asked if he ever felt guilty as he had to make decisions about his time that pit his career interests against his family's interests. I suggested that maybe society's expectations of women and men played a bigger role in his perception than any inert "pull". I told him I just didn't buy it.
It's worth noting that these people are not old-school, stuck in their ways, traditional types. In many ways, maybe even most ways, they're very progressive. And yet, this high-level exec appears to have drawn some pretty significant conclusions based on a data point of one; his wife. And I think it's worth noting that even though their kids are grown and gone, she still isn't pursuing a career, so I'm not exactly sure what "pull" prevents her from pursuing a career now.
This is why we continue to advocate for women staying in the workforce - even when it's easier to walk away. Until men truly understand what it takes to be part of a dual career couple and manage personal responsibilities as an equal partner, the women who pursue careers with as much commitment as men will continue to face perspectives that are faulty at best and down right troublesome and hindering at times.
If we want our daughters to have the same career opportunities as our sons, we have to do the hard work of creating an environment that enables that.