Has the moment of respect for the slow “er” lane finally arrived? I recently read two powerfully persuasive blog posts arguing that it’s time to retire outdated, limiting labels such as, “mommy track,” and “lipstick” entrepreneur. In other words, it’s time to add a third, valid option to a work+life fit highway.
For too long if you weren’t in the fast lane or stopped at the side of the road, your choice was labeled and judged as somehow “less than.” And that’s not today’s reality (if it ever was). Resisting the need to label and, thereby, normalizing all work+life fit choices, makes it easier to move between all three lanes– fast lane, pull-over lane, and a slow”er” lane—throughout a career. That’s reality.
What’s the slow”er” lane?
I never say “slow” lane, always slow”er” lane because no self-respecting, high achiever would ever be caught in the slow lane, but the slow”er” lane…perhaps. We need to flexibly shift between the different lanes as determined by our work and personal realities at a given point in time, and feel good about it. This is especially true in today’s new work+life flex normal.
Sometimes we’ll be in the fast lane. At other periods, we may pull into the slower lane or stop on the side of the road for awhile.
Historically, the personal and societal judgment that accompanied the choice to pull into the slower lane has kept us stuck physically and conceptually with only two extreme options (fast or stop). That needs to change.
It’s hard when someone passes you in the fast lane
First, there’s our personal reaction to the slower lane. In my seminars, we talk about what happens when we find ourselves in the slower lane either by choice or by force. It can be fine for awhile until you look into the fast lane and see someone passing you by. It may make you mad and doubt where you are, even though the individual in the fast lane may have a completely different set of circumstances and goals at that moment. An important part of the work+life fit process is consciously redefining success for yourself to match the fit you are trying to achieve (here and here).
Challenging society’s need to slap a label on it
But then there’s the culture’s powerful need to label , and thereby negate, the choice to pull into the slower lane. And according to the posts mentioned earlier, it’s time to get rid of two of the most limiting labels, especially for women: the “mommy track,” “lipstick, or lifestyle” entrepreneurs.
“Mommy track isn’t just for mommies anymore.”
In “The Mommy Track Turns 21,” for Slate.com, Angie Kim, a mother of three and a 1989 graduate of Harvard Law School, argues that it’s time to retire the “mommy track.” Not only does it no longer describe the experience of many less-than-fast-lane women, but it limits the ability of men to move comfortably into the slower lane.
As Kim explains in her post, The New York Times coined the term “mommy track” to describe a two-tiered career model for women originally proposed by Felice N. Schwartz in a 1989 Harvard Business Review article, “Management Women and the New Facts of Life,” “(Schwartz’s) solution: Divide employees in to two groups, one in which career is paramount and the other in which it’s the balancing of career and family that’s most important.”
But two decades later, that neat categorization no longer holds. According to Kim, “The ‘mommy track’ was renounced at birth for sanctioning boring flextime jobs with low plaster ceilings. But some of my not-fast-track classmates are using their clout and influence to create prestigious roles….At the moment, only a few, privileged women occupy such a space. Could a larger, broader set join them? If the answer is yes, it’s because the mommy track isn’t just for mommies anymore. Several of my classmates who chose flextime jobs for work-life balance do not have children. Eight others who work full-time have husbands who stay home or work part-time. A 2005 Fortune study found that 84% of Fortune 500 male executives surveyed wanted flexible job option to give them more time for things outside of work.”
I agree, it’s time to retire the “mommy track.” In 1989, Schwartz’s two-tiered career track and The New York Times’ label may have made sense. But since then, the values and expectations related to work and life have evolved across all demographics, and technology and globalization have transformed the fundamental nature of careers and work, thus rendering the term an anachronism.
However, continuing vigilance of “mommy tracking” is necessary. This involuntary limitation of the advancement of women because they are or may become mothers can disappear when the culture and employers understand that everyone has a life outside of work, not just mothers. Losing the label will help.
“I don’t think I’d call them anything but entrepreneurs”
Adelaide Lancaster is the co-founder of In Good Company Workplaces and the co-author with her business partner, Amy Abrams, of the upcoming book, tentatively titled, Good Company: Entrepreneurship for the Rest of Us.
In a recent blog post for the Huffington Post, “Are Women Business Owners Really Second Class Entrepreneurs,” Lancaster argued that it’s time to remove the label “lipstick” or “lifestyle” entrepreneur when describing the “the strong dichotomy that exists in the mind of the general public between businesses that are fast-growing, capital-rich, and highly visible (and undeniably mostly male) and businesses that grow more organically, remain closely held, have greater longevity, have less capital and stay smaller…The first group gets deemed the legitimate ‘real’ entrepreneurs, while the latter group, especially if they are run by women, gets passed off as ‘lifestyle,’ or ‘lipstick’ entrepreneurs. While in reality businesses in the latter group are run by both men and women, I’ve yet to see a man’s business pejoratively referred to as a ‘lifestyle’ business…I don’t think I’d call them anything but entrepreneurs.”
Lancaster directly challenges society’s definition of success in this area, “The difference between the women we work with and out society’s well-reinforced notion of ‘real’ entrepreneurs is that most of them are focused on long-term viability and sustainability of their venture instead of fast growth and quick sale. Generally, they are looking to create something that can growth with them overtime, and meet their changing need, and remain something that they can control.”
In other words, these slower lane entrepreneurs are choosing this path for a variety of professional and personal reasons in lieu of growth in the fast lane. It’s a valid alternative, not “less than” as the labels “lipstick,” or “lifestyle” would infer. I also agree with Lancaster that valuing the slow growth, sustainable choice of male and female entrepreneurs is critical; however, as she notes, we must continue to expand the access of women to the funding and expertise necessary to take their businesses wherever they want them to go—fast or slow.
Rethinking labels in a “time of no longer and a time of not yet”
As leadership expert Katherine Tyler Scott recently observed in The Washington Post, that “Most of us are experiencing a time of no longer and a time of not yet.” The limiting extremes of the fast lane or a stop at the side of the road no longer encompass the countless flexible combinations of work and life we will experience today either by choice or involuntarily.
We need to value the third option of the slower lane. And as Kim and Lancaster point out, this means removing the judgment of outdated labels such as “mommy track,” and “lipstick” entrepreneur that may have applied in a time that’s no longer, but they definitely don’t work today and won’t work in the time yet to come.
What do you think? What other labels do we need to retire that that too rigidly categorize work+life fit choices in a way that no longer reflects reality? Maybe even the labels “fast lane,” “slower lane” and “stop at the side of the road” no longer apply!