Segment | Culture

'Leaning In' or Leaning Back?: Women Finding a New Definition of 'Success'

It's been decades since the feminist movement fought for the right of women to work outside the home, and their efforts paid off. Today, women are everywhere - from the battlefield to the athletic field, from the operating room to the boardroom. But that progress has come at a cost, and some are asking if the race to the top is worth it.


TRANSCRIPT
Dina Demetrius/Reporter and Producer: For decades, women have fought for an equal seat at the table – for equal pay, opportunity, and an equal say in the workplace. But that conversation is taking a turn.

Thea Page/Dir. Of Communications, The Huntington: I always grew up thinking, you know, that I needed to support myself and be independent, but not at any cost.

Meliss DeMund/Web Developer, KCET: I actually have never been interested in, even before having a child, in being a high level manager.

Deidre Kotch/Stay-at-home mother: I don't know anyone personally who does have it all and can do it all. I haven't met her.

Demetrius: Some women are debating what it means to “make it.”

Arianna Huffington/President and Editor-in-Chief, HuffPost Media: Rather than accepting the male definition of “success,” which is working around the clock, never disconnecting.

Carrie Dinow, MFT/Psychotherapist: The question is “Am what I am doing in the world, is it causing, is it creating fulfillment for me?

Demetrius: It's a question that's emerging above the sometimes heated discussion sparked by Sheryl Sandberg's book “Lean In.”

Sandberg [from video]: If you’d have asked me 10 years ago if I was a feminist, I would have been insulted.

Demetrius: Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, a billionaire who has a husband, two children, and a lot of advice for women on how to become leaders. Media mogul Arianna Huffington contributed to early drafts of Sandberg's book.

Huffington: In each of our lives, there is that answer to the question “What to do if you're not afraid?” And leaning in and answering that question is very important.

Sandberg [from video]: Put your foot on the gas pedal and leave it there.

Demetrius: "Lean in" came out of Sandberg's Barnard commencement address and subsequent TED Talk, where she exhorts women to stop holding themselves back, pushing themselves from the corporate because of self-doubt, playing too safe, and turning down opportunities at work in favor of family.

Sandberg [from video]: They start leaning back.

Demetrius: Sandberg quotes some surprising statistics, ones that sound like they should be decades-old. They aren't. Only four percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, only seventeen percent of corporate board positions are held by women, and women comprise only twenty percent of parliaments worldwide.

Sandberg [from video]: The things that hold women back hold women back from sitting at the boardroom table, and they hold women back from speaking up at the PTA meeting.

Demetrius: But that advice from Sandberg's perch has not sat well with some career women, especially working moms who have come forward to tell their own stories of leaning in, back, and out.

Demetrius: Sandberg says she wants to empower women here in their workplace, calling "Lean In" a sort of feminist manifesto, a clarion call reminiscent of the women's movement of the 1970s. But is that a battle cry that some women even want to heed?

Rather than striving for the old mantra of trying to "have it all," some women are advocating for a new, more meaningful, outlook – a third way.

Huffington: I really think that women have to lead like a third revolution. We have to redefine what success is, and that's our well-being, our fulfillment, our happiness, and the ability to make wise choices about our lives, and that is often a function of knowing when to lean back, knowing how to unplug, recharge, and tap into our strength and wisdom.

Dinow: We’re talking about things on the outside. My question is “What is your relationship to creating equanimity?” Because if you have equanimity inside of you, it doesn't matter if you're out in the day working or if you're with your child. You can tap into that, you can access that.

Demetrius: Psychotherapist Carrie Dinow is also a working mom. She says many clients are looking for that middle path between the office and home. And she's finding in her practice that people frequently become disillusioned when focused too much on their career.

Dinow: 30 years ago when women were stay-at-home moms, I think they were downloading into their children's psyche a monotony, an unfulfillment, and that penetrates deeply. So now we have a generation of people who want to be out in the work world because what they saw were women who were unfulfilled. And they went, “I'm not gonna have that!” So then they think, “Working, career – that's the way to go. That's what's going to make me happy.” And now you see, after a certain amount of time, that's actually not it. That's not the way.

Demetrius: That observation is backed by a recent Pew study. About half of working moms and dads says they'd rather be home with the kids, but work because they have to. And 56 percent of working moms and half of working dads say it's difficult for them to balance work and family.

Kotch [to children]: Maybe I could make up some kind of garlic bread thing.

Kotch: Tough, I wanted to be a stay at home mom because I think, especially when they're really young, it’s important, if you can do it, if you are able to do it, I think it’s a gift, and it is so important to them in the early years.

Demetrius: For Deidre Kotch, that wasn't an easy decision. She felt she had to put aside her career as an actress, constantly going to auditions and sometime working odd hours.

Kotch: I couldn't do it. I didn't want to do it that way. The last sort of paid acting gig that I did was when I was pregnant with him. It was a pregnant part, and I just had to be okay with – there was no way I could go out on auditions anymore, and I had to be okay with that.

You know, the first year after Calder was born I was a little bitter. I was resentful and thinking, you know, “Other people can do it, why can't I do it?” But I couldn't because it's not something I want to give up was the time with them for something that I wanted to do.

Demetrius: In the meantime, her husband Brett supports them. It's a traditional family arrangement, but one she says works best for her and her family, for now.

Kotch: I think it’s important especially for them, but it’s also been the best thing ever for me to be with them and learn how to be patient, and it’s made me a much better person.

Demetrius: Melissa DeMund and her husband have found a very different, but equally comfortable way to manage their own work and family.

DeMund: I'll drop her off at day care, and then he goes to his job.

Demetrius: Melissa works full-time at KCET as a web developer while raising her toddler Lily with her husband Peter, an animator at Disney Studios.

DeMund: I like what I do. I mean, there is the downside of not getting to see her as much as I really would like to, but it's not really an option for us financially. So we need to have my income. So he does this set of chores, and I do this set of chores. It doesn't really feel like it's a struggle.

Demetrius: And part of that ease, says Melissa, comes from having a job that allows her to also focus on her family, exactly how she wants it.

DeMund: When I was younger, I might have, you know, wanted to climb up. But I've kind of seen some of those jobs kind of closely, and I just realized I don't think that's really for me – being a department head or manager of a team, even if I wasn’t a mom. I actually feel more fulfilled now that I've had my daughter. It's one of these life-changing things – I’m actually going to get teary-eyed.

Page: I remember just curled up on the floor, sobbing at one point just saying, “I love her so much! I will never be free again!”

Demetrius: Like Melissa, Thea Page is also a working mother. Her daughter Ava is now eight.

Page: I went on leave for about three months, had my baby. At that point, I decided I did want to stay at home for an entire year to be with that kid because I thought that was, developmentally, what she needed, and I wanted to do it right. And that was not easy. I really missed my professional life and that feeling of accomplishment that you get in the workplace, but I really felt strongly that it was a good cause.

Demetrius: After a few years of adjustments with her husband Chris and Ava starting school, Thea eventually made her way to director of communications at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens.

Page: I gotta tell you, I set my sights on this place early on.

Demetrius: And for her, Sandberg's call to take on more professionally hits home.

Page: I have experienced the rush of taking a little risk, asking for a promotion, really thinking it through and going for the ask and getting it. And yes, it’s really, really satisfying. I'm supporting my family, I'm learning, I'm growing, I'm a full adult in a way. I'm not dependent on a male, necessarily, to survive. And it's a shame if we're not letting ourselves experience that because we haven't been encouraged enough, or we're afraid, or it's too hard or something like that.

Demetrius: It's this vastly different range of how women – and men, for that matter – show up as both parents and professionals that continues to spark such touchy conversations. And it sometimes brings up feelings of guilt and judgment, especially for women, whenever the issue of working mothers comes up. Arianna says these backlashes, against ourselves and other women, can end up being harmful for everyone.

Huffington: I think they need to respect their own choices, and we need to respect our own choices, otherwise we are imposing another tyranny on women.

Demetrius: All these women agree that finding that balance between work and family is challenging, especially if there are financial or workplace constraints. But Carrie says that finding that middle path is possible regardless of circumstance.

Dinow: There's an instrument inside each of us, and we have to fine-tune it to know where that middle path is so that we can feel we’re fulfilled out in the world. For me, I'm all about meditation. There's something about having a space that has nothing to do with external conditions. And if you feed that, there is wisdom in that begins to come through for each person.

Demetrius: And it's especially important when raising children.

Dinow: Some people actually have that archetype inside of them where they want to be there just for their children. That is fulfilling. There's other women where, if they were home with their children every single day, they would want to shoot themselves. And so, you have to find that place inside of yourself, so it's not what we're saying to our children, it's who we are, who we're embodying as a human being, as a mother, as a father. That's the key: the aliveness that you are downloading into your children. Are you alive?

Demetrius: These women say that being alive comes from the power to choose what's best for each of us – ultimate feminist manifesto.

Dinow: That’s the deal: it’s about learning how to lean in to yourself, yes! So that you can be a connected, fulfilled human being, regardless of the outer circumstance.

Kotch: I don't think would be happy trying to do everything. So you gotta pick and choose. Am I a leader at some big company or even a leader in my field? No. But I'm a leader at my son's school. We channel it in other ways sometimes.

Page: I think maybe the ultimate goal is to be at peace, perhaps, if I might get Buddhist about it. My idea of “having it all” would be to be very wise and peaceful.

Demetrius: More women may now be reaching for a new frontier where they don't have to strive for either the picture - perfect home life or the posh executive suite, but a glorious internal landscape of their own making, one as individual as their fingerprint.

In Los Angeles, I'm Dina Demetrius for “SoCal Connected.”

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