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The Amazing Race: CBS reality show in which participants race around the globe to find clues that will lead them to the grand prize.
"You quit?" I repeated in disbelief. "You run an entire litigation department. Are you sure you want to do this?" I fell into my chair, kicking myself for not seeing this coming and wondering if she was making a huge mistake. Her response gave me the answer.
"I don't run an entire department," Athena sighed. "It runs me."
I went into psychologist mode. "I'm just a little worried about you. You sound like you're giving up."
She laughed. "My mom and her mom had it a lot harder than I do, and they didn't give up. I'm certainly not going to. I just got a little off-course and I need to find my way back into the race."
Eventually, Athena did find her way back, but as her story and the stories of the many women who came before her exemplify, the roads high-achieving women travel are not always smooth ones. There are bumps and potholes and flying debris that sometimes get in the way. But despite the rough spots, it has been an amazing race!
Ambitious women have been around since the beginning of human history. However, because of rigid social ideology and expectations that lasted well into the mid–twentieth century, most women didn't have opportunities to rise up and shine as they do today.
During World War II, many job opportunities opened up for women, but when the war ended in 1945, most of these opportunities ended as well. Those who did work outside the home found few openings for anything other than the low-paying jobs traditionally viewed as "women's work," such as nursing, teaching, sewing, and retail sales. If nothing else, however, this period in history offered the world and women themselves a glimpse into the future, a foreshadowing of the versatility, industriousness, and talent women would use one day in their race to overcome a barrage of manmade obstacles and climb to the top in a broad range of fields, such as law, medicine, politics, finance, entertainment, and media.
That "day" certainly did not come quickly or easily. After the war, society and government placed an enormous of amount of pressure on women through intensive ad campaigns to return to their "places" in the home and to support their husbands and raise their children. Images of Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, and the picture-perfect aproned housewife were heavily promoted to quell female ambition and to keep high-achieving women confined to their homes. But society was changing.
Inspired by the civil rights movement, the women's movement gained momentum in the 1960s. Under pressure from former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and activist Esther Peterson, President John F. Kennedy established the President's Commission on the Status of Women in 1961. Then, in 1963, author and feminist Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, a powerful critique on the subjugation of women, which gave a voice to women dissatisfied with the rigid role restrictions placed upon them by society. That same year, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, making it illegal for employers to pay women less than men for the same work. In 1964, discrimination based on race and sex was barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In the 1970s, bans on education discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and credit discrimination were passed. The end of the century brought even more progress, rallying well-deserved attention to the issues of sexual harassment and violence against women. And although more progress is still needed, women have made amazing strides.
CLOSING THE GAP
Today, there isn't a job anywhere in the world that hasn't been held by a woman. Each day, more and more women are clearing that proverbial glass ceiling and rising to positions that many would not have believed possible only a few decades ago. Although men still dominate many of the most powerful positions in business and politics, women are closing the gap.
Forty years ago, women accounted for only a third of all workers in the United States. Today, for the first time in history, women actually outnumber men in the workforce. More than half of the management and professional positions in the United States are held by women. In addition, female business owners represent one of today's fastest-growing markets, with women making up 35 percent of all self-employed Americans.
Rigid family roles are changing as well. According to a recent Time magazine poll, there are now 3.3 million marriages in the United States in which the wife is the sole breadwinner—2.4 million more than in 1970. In the same poll, 40 percent of women reported that they were the primary breadwinners in their households, and 80 percent of those polled, including both men and women, viewed this as positive.
In sports, female athletes are becoming increasingly recognized for their skill and talent. In entertainment, women are topping the charts, with Madonna taking the number-one spot on Forbes' list of highest-earning musicians for 20098 and Sandra Bullock being touted as 2009's top-earning Hollywood star. In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for best director. And, in politics, it's hard to ignore the milestones set by women like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former governor Sarah Palin, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
These achievements, however, are by no means an indication that all is well on the gender-equality front. Despite enormous advances, women still don't earn equal wages for equal work. At last count, women earned only seventy-seven cents for every dollar earned by men. Although education does play a factor in salary, with higher degrees leading to higher salaries, no matter the degree—doctoral, professional, master's, bachelor's, and associate's—men earn more than women.
Moreover, although women make up half of the workforce, they remain severely underrepresented in higher-paying positions. Fewer than 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female. Fewer than one-fifth of law firm partners are female. In the engineering field, only 11 percent of jobs are held by women; among physicians, only 30 percent are women; and in math and computer science, just 20 percent of jobs are held by women. These figures are even worse for most minority women, who tend to be paid even less and are seriously underrepresented in the upper echelons of the workforce. And pressing societal issues that impact women the most—limited access to childcare, women's healthcare, and violence against women—remain unresolved.
Yet, if statistics offer a glimpse into our future, the good old boys better start preparing for the good new girls. Seven women were appointed to cabinet-level positions in President Obama's White House, as well as two female Supreme Court justices—Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. On the political front, we certainly could do better than women holding six gubernatorial positions and 17 percent of congressional seats. But these numbers represent a consistent increase over the last two decades, and they should continue to rise as more and more women become involved in politics and gain experience at state and local levels. In addition, female registered voters outnumber male registered voters by ten million, and in the 2008 presidential election, nearly ten million more women turned out to vote than men.
Education among spouses has also seen a dramatic shift. In 1970, 28 percent of married women had husbands who were better educated than they were. But by 2007, that number reversed, with 28 percent of women being better educated than their husbands. And there is even more promise on the horizon.
In the 1970s, only about 10 percent of law students were female; today the percentage has risen to almost half. The same holds true for the medical profession. And on college campuses, what not too long ago was a 60:40 male-to-female ratio has reversed; now 60 percent of college students are female. Clearly, these and countless other milestones attest to the fact that, more than ever before, women are breaking through gender barriers and rising to unprecedented heights. However, the advancement of women in society and the workplace can cut both ways.
While high-achieving women are blazing trails to the top of the mountain, little attention is being paid to the perilous terrain that comes with the territory and its negative impact on women's health and well-being. As Dana, a physician in private practice, told me, "If I had known when I entered medical school that my success story would have a prescription for Xanax and Prozac in the footnotes, I'm not sure I'd have taken that road." Unfortunately, she's not alone.
The latest research on women's subjective well-being shows that, by most objective measures, women's life circumstances have improved greatly over the past few decades, but their happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. Interestingly, these findings hold true across all categories—among married and divorced women, working mothers and stay-at-home mothers, old and young, and all educational levels. While the answers aren't clear as to exactly why women are less happy, we can no longer afford to ignore the impact of multiple and ever-increasing responsibilities (at home and/or at work) and the stress that accompanies these responsibilities in our lives.
Burnout rates among female workers are on the rise. And living through the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression certainly hasn't improved the situation. In fact, its repercussions are causing tsunamis for countless high-achieving women and their families throughout the world. Financial problems have always been ranked high among life stressors not only because they affect the bottom line but also because they often cause ripple effects that can result in major lifestyle changes, such as relocation, longer work hours, or the need to get a second or third job. In addition, financial problems tend to cause increased conflict and tension in relationships. All these "ripples" can have a profound impact on our stress levels and our health.
For example, I recently received a call from Sheila, a human resources manager at a large marketing firm. She wanted me to speak to her senior-level female employees about coping with stress. When I asked how long a presentation she was looking for, she answered, "How many days do you have available?" I laughed, but she responded, "I'm serious. I feel like I'm practicing psychology without a license these days. It used to be that they would come to me worried about getting a pink slip. Lately, though, it's gone way beyond that—family members moving in because they lost their home, a few are living with husbands they hate because they can't afford a divorce. These are strong women, but even the strongest of the strong have breaking points."
Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases. If statistics tell the true story, the current financial downturn is having more of a negative impact on women than on men. According to a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association, women are not only reporting more stress than men over finances and the economy, they're also experiencing more stress-related symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, irritability, and depression. In fact, in all categories polled—money, the economy, job stability, housing costs, and health problems affecting their families—women reported feeling more stress than did men.
In addition, a study conducted by the Center forWork-Life Policy found that although men and women both feel stressed at work, women feel disproportionate stress related to their families' well-being. Why? Because women see a direct link between the time they spend at work and the negative effects on their families (e.g., more junk food, more time in front of a TV, less parental supervision), whereas men tend to blame external factors (e.g., "society," television violence, bad peer groups). And as more women become breadwinners, these stress levels are likely to increase.
What does all this mean for high-achieving women in the world today? It means you're in the race of your life. Being a high-achieving woman puts you squarely in the line of fire for stress and stress-related illnesses. As noted previously, high stress levels are associated with greater risks for depression, anxiety, and other types of emotional problems, as well as serious diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. High stress levels also increase the risk for family conflict, domestic violence, child abuse, divorce, and psychological problems for children in the family.
But the good news is that you're not a helpless passenger in a car that's spinning out of control. Although it may not seem like it when you're feeling stressed or burned out, you're in the driver's seat. The course is challenging, yes, but it's manageable. The trick is knowing how to manage it, and that's where our journey begins.
Excerpted from HIGH OCTANE WOMEN by Sherrie Bourg Carter Copyright © 2011 by Sherrie Bourg Carter. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted December 11, 2010
I used to feel strange and out of place when I worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, almost all year long. I felt even more out of place when a vacation for me was mountain-climbing and hang-gliding. My family just didn't understand how being an executive in the fashion business meant nonstop striving for high achievement day in and day out. Dr Bourg Carter's book taught me that there were others out there just like myself and that being a High Octane Women was not a bad thing. Moreover, she taught me how not to burn out by relazing the way I relax and not the way someone else says I should relax. High Octane Women also helpled my husband to better understand me and my style of experencing the world. Thank you Dr. Bourg Carter for writing about me... and a lot of others just like me.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2010
This is a great book for women of all ages who feel like they're juggling a hundred balls in the air and want to reduce the stress in their lives. It offers practical advice in an easy-to-read format. Chapters cover everything from workplace stressors to technolological stressors to personal and social stressors, and each chapter offers suggestions on how to reduce those stressors in our lives. It also would be a great gift for successful, on-the-go women who could use a quick, easy-to-read book to reduce stress and stay off the road to burnout.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.