The July/August cover story of the Atlantic about women's choice of family and career coincided with the July announcement that Marissa Mayer is the new president and CEO of Yahoo!. All hell broke loose when more details of Mayer's professional and personal life became known. Not only is Mayer young, (at 37, she is the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company) and female (and only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women), but she is also pregnant.
Like most career women with families, I can relate. While my story doesn't parallel Mayer's, I knew very early that smart, strong and determined women can have successful careers and happy families.
In 1979 I was 21, a junior at Colorado College and I had my heart set on a business career that would culminate in a position on the President's Council of Economic Advisors. Attracted by the prospect of lots of scholarship money, I signed up for the Miss Colorado USA beauty pageant. This is not the pageant with a talent requirement—that's the Miss America Pageant—and I thought it would be fun to have an intellectually superior specimen such as I beat out all the beauty queens. For reasons of youthful delusion, I believed the judges would be swayed by brains and confidence.
The pageant went badly for me. I bought my first-ever evening gown off the sale rack at JC Penney for $29, after taking my employee discount, and hemmed it myself. It fell an inch above my truly bony ankles.
The swimsuit contest was a unique form of torture. For one thing, I wore my one-piece swimsuit that I actually wore when I swam. The hottest contestants wore the tiny macrame bikinis that were popular in 1979. I shunned high heels, although all of the other contestants towered above me in their tallest heels. I looked up at their long, tangled blonde locks that hit me in the face as they constantly flung their hair from side to side over their shoulders. I was short and I had a Dorothy Hamill bob. (Dorothy Hamill, circa 1977-1982)
I wore no makeup and I thought wearing makeup was disgusting. The other contestants wore lots of makeup, and, oddly, given the fact it was winter in Colorado, they all had tans. Primped and ready, we were directed to strut around the indoor pool at the hotel. The judges were handsome professional athletes seated in a row at a table and holding score cards. The other contestants peeked at them demurely, put some extra waggle into their walks while flipping their hair from shoulder to shoulder and then pivoted on Barbie heels to show their backsides.
I, on other the hand, walked barefoot and determined like a gymnast approaching the balance beam. Instead of pivoting, I side-stepped so they could not see my back side, which I keenly remember I did not want them to do.
I thought my best chance to win could be during the interview session. My question: "Should a woman be able to have a career AND a family?"
I walked to the podium. I repeated the question. I paused, then leaned into the microphone and said with all confidence:
"Yes. Absolutely, there is no question." Then: "Thank you."
Other contestants received the same question after me, and found a way to fill the entire two minute time slot with tearfully passionate arguments for and against. I lost the interview question, not to mention the whole competition.
It was 1979. I learned I could only win at endeavors I was truly passionate about, and I went straight back to studying hard. I have a full and happy life of career AND family; apparently, despite the odds.
It's 2012, 33 years later, and although I'm dismayed to see the question asked again, "Can a woman have a career and a family?" I'm satisfied to see that my answer prevails. There can be no misunderstanding to a question whose answer is so obviously "Yes."