Does Success Mean Selling Out Your Family?

Why aren't more women in leadership roles?Since Sheryl Sandberg's book came out in March, there's been a lot of discussion on leaning in, and various attitudes and barriers that might be holding women back. Why aren't more women in leadership roles?

A recent Citi/LinkedIn poll of professional women looked at this issue specifically. Only 38 percent of women in this sample thought they would rise to a more senior leadership position in their companies. The biggest reason was a lack of opportunities to be promoted, but the second reason (cited by 30 percent of those who didn't think they'd advance) was being reluctant to take time away from their families and personal lives.

I find this interesting in light of a few things. First, given that a study found that 4 in 10 families with kids have a female breadwinner, it's interesting to see the proportion of women who think their primary contribution to their children should be time, not money. Many promotions come with reasonable raises, which would also, presumably, benefit the children.

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But I also wonder if the time concern stems from a few common cultural narratives, too -- namely, that success requires forsaking a personal life, or that more responsibility will bring about a home life chaos that isn't worth the cost.

Maybe it will. Maybe it won't. Recently I interviewed Karen Finerman, author of the new book Finerman's Rules. Finerman is the CEO of Metropolitan Capital Advisors, a New York-based hedge fund. She's also the mother of four children (including two daughters, which makes the subtitle of her book, "Secrets I'd only tell my daughters about business and life," kind of strange -- in that she's not only telling her daughters. She's telling us too! But I digress).

When she got an offer a few years ago to do a regular gig on CNBC's Fast Money, she wondered how she was going to fit it all in. Indeed, she did go through a short fit of self-pity and exhaustion. But she also knew that it was a big opportunity to raise her profile.

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So she identified a few ways to make it work. First, to be on TV, she gave up watching TV. She gave up a hobby (modern art, in case you're wondering -- you get classy hobbies when you run a hedge fund). She learned to be efficient at live television: Once you know what you're doing, you can work from bullet points rather than creating a whole script for yourself. And she also got CNBC to come to her office to do hair and make-up. That's time she doesn't have to be in the studio, and can still be working.

Likewise, before turning down an opportunity, it would behoove anyone -- women, men, parents, non-parents -- to look at all the options, and don't argue other people's positions without knowing what they are. Maybe your spouse would be willing to step up things at home. Who knows? Maybe your spouse was hoping you'd get a big promotion so he/she could work less. Maybe your kids would like to live overseas for a year or two. Maybe your extended family would be willing to rearrange things to let you take an opportunity that requires travel. Maybe, you could just try it and see how it goes. You can always switch to a different job later if you don't like it -- but at least you're looking for a different job with a more senior position on your resume.

That was pretty much Finerman's advice. As she told me, "You never know till you try it. Don't turn it down -- try it and see." While I realize there might be some transaction costs if you try "it" and "it" is moving to Switzerland and "it" doesn't work out, many new opportunities wouldn't require such adjustments. Instead, they require sitting in your office at Metropolitan Capital Advisors attempting to look serious while you've got curlers in your hair. That's doable.

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