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The New Have-it-all Myth: Young Women are shockingly naïve about how easy it’ll be to hop on and off the career track. Have we sold them an impossible dream?”

Hewlett, Sylvia Ann, “The New Have-it-all Myth: Young Women are shockingly naïve about how easy it’ll be to hop on and off the career track. Have we sold them an impossible dream?” More Magazine, June 2005.



It’s been over a quarter of a century since the women’s liberation movement’s last hey day and it seems to have proffered mixed results in the lives of its second generation ladies. While on the one hand, women’s lib predecessors have successfully raised a generation of young women who believe they can do everything – meaning having high executive career tracks and raising kids. On the other hand, the powers that be in corporate America have not had such similar learning curves.

Which is why author Sylvia Ann Hewlett set out to see how disparate young women’s expectations were with the realities of trying to balance successful careers and family life through her book Creating a Life: What Every Woman Needs o Know about Having a Baby and a Career (Miramax Books, 2004). After numerous interviews with college-age women, Hewlett uncovered such optimistic dreams as having “a loving, lasting marriage and a high-paying job, with a two-year career break for the first child, a three-year break for the second. And maybe then a reduced-hour schedule – with a telecommuting arrangement on Fridays- while the kids were in grade school.” Curious to see how such dreams were playing out, Hewlett obtained funding in 2004 from several large corporations to do a national survey of 2,443 highly qualified women aged 28-55 and her results cast a shadow on the young women’s dreams:

     While 93 percent of the women surveyed had every intention of going back to work after their time out, only 74 percent actually did so (and among those, less than half returned o full-time, mainstream careers). They off-ramped for an average of 2.2 years – the same time frame the college students envisioned for themselves.  But this little detour cost women 18 percent of their earning power, and that figure leapt to a staggering 37 percent if they took three or more years off. And I’m not just talking dollars here. Nonlinear female careers often lead to downsizing of ambition, as well – especially among respondents age 41-55 who’d taken time out. They saw that they lost traction in the job market, and downsized their expectations accordingly.

In response to these findings, Hewlett created the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force to which 19 global corporations have signed up. Their mission is to help find ways to keep talented women of all ages on successful career paths. Some corporations, like Ernst and Young, have set up flexible work programs which have been so well received that 27 percent of female senior managers participate. Some other corporations are following suit though there is still a long way to go. Hewlett recommends women be persistent in seeking out employers that will offer support in balancing career and family life as well as speaking realistically to younger women about the struggles they may encounter as they strive to live out their dreams of having it all. Also, speaking boldly and reasonably to existing employers about your own needs might be met with positive results.

Hewlett’s research has brought a subtle disparity between expectations and reality out into the open. While we should rejoice that young women are having more optimistic and self-assured dreams for themselves, we must work with them and businesses to achieve realistic balances of career and family life, without compromising their gifts and callings.


1.       If you are a woman, what has been your experience between balancing career dreams and family life? Do you wish someone older had encouraged you differently? If so, how?

2.       How would you speak to an employer to ask for more flexibility with balancing your family life?

3.       How would you speak to a young woman about having realistic expectations for herself?

4.       How can the church support young girls and women on this journey?


1.       It is indeed good thing that young women have such hopeful dreams about their future and that they desire to do so many worthwhile things in the workplace as well as the home front. Hopefully we can help these girls have realistic expectations about the potential struggles along the way while corporations learn to adapt to the needs of this vital segment of their workforce.

Christen B. Yates cCYS