"When a man works long hours, it is assumed that he is doing it for the good of his family. If a woman works long hours, she is considered to be neglecting her family." This observation made by a personnel director and mother of seven is quoted in the book "Female Ambition", subtitled "How to Reconcile Work and Family". In it IESE Professor Nuria Chinchilla and researcher Consuelo León turn the spotlight on a social and cultural problem that many people and families, and above all women, have to grapple with daily.
As a declaration of principles, the authors affirm that "women want the freedom to be able to state openly in their CV 'married and a mother'; the freedom to be pregnant, or say that we hope to become pregnant in the near future; the freedom to be acknowledged as more than just qualified, useful and efficient workers to assist the male workforce. In a word, we aspire not only not to have to hide our family, but to make it fully compatible with our professional life. At the same time, we do not want this to be the outcome of a private battle, but the recognition of a social right."
The reader will find the book outspoken, as in the contention (quoted from Timothy Leary) that "women who want to be equal to men lack ambition".
The assertive tone of such statements may lead the reader to suspect that she is about to have to wade through another litany of offenses against womankind, as in so many feminist classics, whose main purpose, based on more or less well founded clichés, is to negate and devalue men, and blame them for all the deficiencies, inadequacies and limitations that historically have weighed upon women. Yet the authors of this book pursue a very different aim: their objective is to establish relations of equality between men and women - equality, but not identification. And they formulate their views in moderate tones, with no trace of reproach or bitterness, but with optimism, because they have glimpsed a better future that men and women can build together.
The book surveys the history of women in the world, citing anthropological and sociological data. It describes the variety of working situations in which women find themselves today and analyzes the worrying decline in the birth rate in the First World, particularly in Spain. As a practical addition, it includes an up-to-date overview of family assistance in various countries (ranging from extended leave to direct benefits, from paternity leave to support infrastructures) that may be useful to families, social organizations and public administrations.
While acknowledging the value of public support for the family, the authors believe it is based on false premises, as "in many countries assistance is targeted at working mothers with family responsibilities, it being taken for granted that the woman is the one who is responsible for looking after the home", when in fact responsibility for the family belongs to both - husband and wife.
One of the book's central themes, and perhaps its most important contribution, is Chinchilla and León's idea of a "feminism of motherhood" as the axis that articulates the difference between women and men.
Citing data from European studies of developed countries, Chinchilla and León point out that 60% of women aspire to combine work and family, while 20% concentrate exclusively on family, and the remaining 20%, exclusively on work. Women have made considerable progress in the world of work and are well represented at senior levels, but discrimination in personnel selection still exists, "not for reasons of sex but for the fact of being -actually or potentially- a mother". Moreover, many women are unjustly forced to give up their jobs as soon as it becomes known that they are pregnant. The authors affirm that "women dream of politicians, employers and social agents who are willing to invest in the long-term fixed-income security that is motherhood".
The authors point to the high proportion of broken marriages and claim that this is partly due to neglect of family life in a society where the only things that are valued are things on which we can put a price. According to Chinchilla and León, "we are like a Chinese juggler trying to keep several plates in the air at once. One of them is made of porcelain, the family. The rest are plastic and, although they may be important, they can always be replaced if they fall".
Turning to the world of business, the book develops and explains the concept of the "family-responsible enterprise", a concept derived from the research on work-family reconciliation that has been under way at IESE for the last six years, now incorporated within the International Research Center on Work and Family. Thus, besides its specific mission to create wealth, the firm has a responsibility to society and an internal mission in relation to its employees. Today's managers, men and women alike, play a vital role in this task; they are the ones who, with their integrity, leadership and executive capability, are in a position to re-think the company and make it more flexible, taking into account the needs and profile of the firm's workforce and the nature and possibilities of the organization they lead. Particularly helpful in this respect are the two chapters on personal leadership and time management, offering a complementary perspective to the overview of the social, legal and organizational aspects of the problem.
The authors insist that women may achieve true leadership and make a tremendous contribution to society if they are able to retain their specific qualities as women, because "a woman who abandons her femininity and admires men to the point of actually imitating them will be absorbed by the system and will never become a positive agent of change". Female leadership may be much stronger than might appear on the surface: "We women can teach men that success does not necessarily require formal power. We are more interested in exerting influence -informal power- and aim to have a job that we enjoy, in the company of people that we get on with. That is why we can be experts in team building".
The European Union Charter of Rights states that "the top priority in family policy is to promote measures and policies aimed at achieving a better reconciliation between work and family life". Chinchilla and León believe that significant progress has been made in this direction and that an "inclusive feminism" is starting to gain acceptance.