Is There Really an “Ideal” Profession For Women?

Physician mom taking a patient's blood pressure

Last week, the New York Times heralded medicine as the ideal profession for women looking to balance careers with families. 

The article on “How Medicine Became the Stealth Family-Friendly Profession,” promised both the answer to the age-old conundrum of how to successfully work while raising children, and the template for how other fields could follow suit. 

Yet a read beyond the headline told a different story – that of a fledgling department head who changed specialties and dialed back hours when her children came along, all while her husband’s career marched forward unfettered.

In other words, the solution for working mothers to get the career they always wanted was to expect less of what they wanted in a career. 

And many expressed disappointment in the comments.

“The article seems to suggest that physician mothers should be relegated to certain specialties and limited pathways to achieve work-life balance.”

“This article…suggests that we should be grateful to have the opportunity to compromise our career and ambitions for a family without any mention of the opportunity for men to curtail their careers or contribute to balance."

“Not talked about in this article is the imbalance at home (women doing more than 50% of the housework/childcare) that creates the pressure for women to make professional sacrifices more so than men- surprised this wasn't mentioned.” 

Obstacles in the Way of Women’s Careers

Sadly, the 2019 comments played out like a live-stream reenactment of our 2017 Modern Family Index, in which we showed how deep-seated gender roles were compromising women’s growth across whole careers. Men, said the data, were held to a different standard. Women, on the other hand, 

  • Were saddled with all household responsibilities, even as breadwinners
  • Were designated caregiver when a child was sick
  • Said they were burning out from the responsibilities 

Clearly little has budged. 

Perhaps more concerning are the long-term effects of those continuing career blocks. Family-career clashes lead nearly 43% of highly qualified mothers to take a year or more off of work, wrote Forbes recently, costing organizations (the current talent market requires every employee) as well as individuals. “The financial price paid is an 18% decrease in their earning power on average,” wrote the author about women and the pay gap. It’s an especially steep price for doctors, like the one in the Times article, who are known to carry six figures of debt. 

“It is very disappointing that ‘family-friendly’ in this article means "female compromise friendly," wrote another commenter on the Times article. 

But there were also hopeful notes: women doctors who talked about a better legacy for future mothers in the field. “We are trying to increase female representations,” said one surgeon. “However, doing this depends on a societal shift to support physicians who are mothers, and more equity at home to allow their partners to share the burden of caring for children. That is the future, not relegating women to ‘lifestyle’ specialties in medicine that are not in line with their training or career aspirations.”

“We should support women having *greater* career opportunities in a diversity of subspecialties - with the possibility of work-life balance for all.”

That would truly be an ideal profession.

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Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

August 28, 2019

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.