I'm always impressed by business schools' women-in-business conferences. They must be among the most well-organized functions on the planet. How B-school students find the time to lock in sponsors, lure speakers, print brochures, and attend classes, I'm not sure, but they do a very smooth job, and today's Columbia Women in Business conference was no different. I particularly liked the choice of breakfast foods--fresh fruit and energy bars--it seemed apropos for the on-the-go crowd.
Today's conference kicked off with a speech by Geraldine Laybourne, the CEO of Oxygen Media, who delivered some surprising comments about work and family. Laybourne began by talking about the legendary feminist Betty Friedan, who died earlier this month. Friedan had invited her to speak in New York five years ago, and asked her about the then-ubiquitous media stories portraying businesswomen as overstretched and unhappy. "Well, I'm very lucky," Laybourne started to respond, but Friedan interrupted. Forget lucky, you've worked like crazy. You're not lucky. Are you happy? she asked. Laybourne paused for a minute, and answered thoughtfully: yes, I'm really happy. Tired, but happy.
Thinking about happiness, Laybourne started to wonder whether her mother was happy. Her mother was bright, creative, and fantastic, Laybourne told the Columbia crowd, but she'd given up a job in radio production to raise four children. And she was not happy. "There was a level that she never went beyond, because she was living almost a subjugated life. She never had a chance to claim what I could claim," she said.