Often, reality doesn’t match our expectations. And, usually, that’s okay — it’s something we either learn to live with or work with. One such disparity, as brought to light by a new Harvard Business Review study, however, shows us that sometimes it’s not okay. In short, the study examined a total of 7,000 Harvard Business School graduates and analyzed their expectations for careers, child care and the balance of the two between spouses. Then, the study compared those expectations with how things actually panned out — with reality.
The results clearly show that men’s and women’s expectations are both different from one another and different in how they size up against reality. Not so surprisingly, women seem to get the shorter end of the stick. According to the study of 32- to 67-year-olds as well as a New York Times article analyzing the data, roughly 60 percent of male graduates expected that their jobs would be of more importance than their wives’ jobs while only 17 to 25 percent of women thought that their husbands’ jobs would. In reality, almost 75 percent of the males found that their expectations met reality — that is, that their jobs took precedence—while the women found that their husbands’ careers took precedence 40 percent of the time, a much higher percentage compared to what they expected.
Similar discrepancies showed up in child care — more men expected women to do most of the child care (which turned out to be true for most) while only half the women surveyed expected the same (but almost two-thirds of the women found that they were doing more than an equal share). Graduates aged 26 to 31 are showing similar discrepancies in expectations. The shocking part about this study is that most of the 11 percent of women who ended up leaving their jobs full-time did not do so because they prefer to care for children but because they “find themselves in unfulfilling roles with dim prospects for advancement.” And let’s remember that this study is of Harvard graduates, who should have pretty good prospects of advancing in their careers and are probably pretty ambitious.
There’s one thing we’re doing right: facilitating growth in the idea of equality and encouraging women to aspire to whatever career goals they set their eyes on (and the study found career expectations between men and women after graduation were similar). Ideologically, we’re fine. What we’re doing wrong is stopping at expectations. Women can have all the expectations they want, but if the reality of social stigmas and constraints doesn’t match, then what good are expectations? The fact is that women are expecting equality in the workplace and at home, but reality just doesn’t match up.I’m tired of hearing the argument that more women stay home just because they want to or end up with “lesser” careers or more responsibility in child care just because they want to.
Of course, that’s not to say some women don’t stay home by choice; there is nothing wrong with opting out of a career in order to raise children. The problem arises when mothers feel forced to do so or feel that their career is less important than their husbands’, especially when this doesn’t align with their original intent. Society is still pressuring mothers to stay home; if there is a need for a parent to sacrifice a career for child care, pressure from society dictates that it should be the mother.
A 2007 study from Cornell found that employers see mothers as the least desirable employees — after fathers, childless women and childless men. There is an unfair cultural stigma against mothers in the workplace, and that needs to change. I can’t offer a perfect solution, but I can argue that we work to find one. At least, we need to change our mindset about how we view women in the workplace and at home.
Women don’t belong at home and they don’t belong in the workplace — they belong wherever they want to be. Yes, expectations change, but they should be changing based on what is best for your goals, your life and your family. They should not be changing based on social “norms” or what society says most women want. They should not be changing based on men’s expectations of a woman’s role in a marriage or “dim prospects” offered in the workplace. Sometimes it’s OK to change your expectations to meet reality; we do it all the time. What matters is why you change them.
Women now have the opportunity to expect whatever they want for their lives, but what they don’t have is the same chance to realize those expectations as men — that is one of those disparities that isn't solved by learning to live with it or work with it. In this case, reality needs to meet our expectations.
Logan Sander is a freshman fromSylvania, Ohio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.