It’s a question constantly being asked.
They want equal pay. Supportive mentors. More opportunity to hold positions of power. Flexibility. An end to the need for gender quotas. They want to be heard.
Working women want balance. They want to lean in, but they want to be able to tuck their kids in at night. They don’t want to feel exhausted all the time. They want to get to the gym, or for a manicure, or for a spontaneous afternoon getaway with a friend or partner without making apologies or feeling guilty.
Studies confirm much of this—the stuff before the S&M, that is—as does much anecdotal evidence. According to a 2006 report that appeared in the journal Sex Roles, women surveyed talked about success in terms of how strong their relationships were. Success to them was “feeling valued.” A survey commissioned by Citi and LinkedIn concluded that working women want, above all, financial security, not to mention equal pay. Women are paid less than men—on average, 77 cents on the male dollar, according, most recently, to a 2013 report from the National Partnership for Women & Families. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association even reported that male doctors in particular earn over 25 percent more than female doctors.
Still. At the same time, women don’t want equality in all things measurable. How else to explain the fact that studies also show that, as a whole, “opting out” is more popular than “leaning in?” Or, at the very least, those women are expressing ambivalence about sharing the job market equally with men? According to a 2009 Pew study, a majority of women prefer to work part time or not at all. Nearly two-thirds of working mothers say they’d prefer their jobs be part time, up from 48 percent just 10 years ago. Only 37 percent want to work full time. A 2012 survey of 1000 women cosponsored by ForbesWoman and TheBump.com found that not only do an increasing number of women view staying home as the ideal circumstance but that one in three women resent their partner for not earning enough to make that dream a reality.
This opting out is happening at all levels of management: Research from McKinsey reveals that while women are landing 53 percent of entry-level management jobs, at the mid-management level, the number drops to 37 percent, and at the vice president and senior management level, to 28 percent.
If it all seems contradictory, it is.
Do working women want more for themselves, or don’t they? They do—and they don’t. Because the real truth of what women want is this: They want to quit being analyzed, judged, and measured for their gender. They want to stop being singled out, whether it’s to be rewarded or to be penalized, for being women. They want to be commended as being excellent at whatever job they’re doing or task they’re performing or choice they’re making not “for a woman” but period. They want the conversation around success to stop being talked about in terms of how it’s defined and experienced by men versus how it is by women.
Asking, “what women want” is like asking what zebras want, or what politicians want. Their individual wants are different from those of other women just as they’re the same as those of many men. A recent survey of more than 4,000 male and female professionals by management consulting firm Accenture found that there may be more similarities than differences between men and women when it comes to defining success, gender lines be damned.
The end to asking the question “What Do Women Want?” is the goal. Because women already have the answer, perhaps summed up by the late Patrick Swayze who played Vida in the movie, To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. In the movie said the sheriff to Vida discussing “career girls”, “I know what all you career girls want.” To which Vida replied, “Careers?”
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