As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg notes, it's harder for women to get to the top in a corporate environment, and also harder for them to stay there. In part, that's because the challenges of advancing within a workforce are just half the battle. Once a woman makes it to the top of a big organization, our society's standards make it very difficult for a woman to maintain that choice of putting one's career first. And it's much more difficult than it would be for a man.
Women who dare to keep on climbing that corporate ladder or expanding their business need to have more than just aspirations. We need enough fortitude to be ok with the discrepancy between what we're supposed to do and what we aspire to do. As we age, the difference between the two only becomes larger and more glaring. As a Latina business owner, I've found this to be particularly true.
Here's how I try to combat society's standards, and keep my own firmly in place.
1. Resist the urge to conform
I've met many women that dream about remarkable careers, but despite their potential and intelligence, they have pursued a quieter path because that makes it easier to conform to society's standards. Especially once you get married, the pressure to have children may force you to step down from your executive job or business role. If you train your brain to resist the urge to conform to general cultural approval, it may be easier to allow yourself to develop those career aspirations.
As you think about conforming, fast-forward five, ten, or twenty years. Think about the day your kids go off to college or your marriage doesn't work out. Will you then wonder "what if?" If so, fight for your dreams.
2. Stop "the tic-toc, goes the clock" mentality
One of the strongest arguments my friends and family use when we start debating the benefits of leading a business versus having children is that a woman's eggs don't remain capable of producing a baby forever.
If you think about your biology as a countdown to a day when you will no longer be able to reproduce (and often, we think about this way before it is even an issue), you may never end up giving your aspirations the benefit of a long-term approach. If you want to change the world, guess what? The clock is ticking. And all choices, including motherhood, might be avenues for making those changes. Don't take anything off the table.
3. Owning your choice
Often, the few women that do choose career advancement or entrepreneurship over motherhood spend a lot of time making excuses for their choices. Aside from being labeled as selfish, they are often seen as heartless.
That might be the most unfair misconception of all. Look deep within yourself, and if you are fine with what you're doing, own your choice. It is yours, and no one else's. You have the same right as every male--or female--to pursue your personal fulfillment. Whatever that may mean to you.