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Ep. 44: Part One: Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace, Co-Authors of The Ambition Interviews, Shed Light on What Happens to Women's Dreams

“For the women who had children, we found that up until they had their first child everybody was kind of at the same rate of success. Whether it was at 27 or 35 or 40, once they had their first child that’s when we saw a diversion happen.”

Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace interviewed nearly 40 women who were their classmates at Northwestern University in the early 90s to see what had become of their career ambitions in the intervening years. They wrote a seven essay series in The Atlantic, called The Ambition Interviews, that synthesizes the challenges these women faced, the choices they made, and sheds light on the obstacles that still stand in women's way. We discuss their thoughts on The Ambition Interviews in a two part series. Stay tuned next week for part two!

“All these ambitious women did opt out or scale back their careers and targeted their ambition in different ways which has interesting ramifications personally and, in a broader sense, politically and socially because taking yourself out of the workforce affects the number of women in leadership and in top positions. Whether it makes you happy or not personally is a separate point but it unquestionably affects the state of women in work today.”

What you'll learn:

  • Liz and Hana are c-authors of The Ambition Interviews
  • The interviews were published in The Atlantic
  • They spoke to 37 former sorority classmates about their dreams when they started college and where they are now.
  • The essays are about the commonalities of these answers and what female ambition looks like today.
  • Liz and Hana had the idea for the interviews after looking around at work and wondering “where are all the women?”
  • They saw that more women than expected had left the workforce.
  • The research found that all the women had similar rates of success until they had a family.
  • They found three categories in the trajectories of these women after they had children; High achievers, scale backers and Opt-outers.
  • High achievers are the women who went back into work after maternity leave and found financial and career success.
  • Scale backers are the women who wanted e time with kids or on their personal lives and so continue to work full time but with more flexibility.
  • Opt-outers are the women who quit work to stay at home with their families.
  • Liz and Hana found the middle group the most difficult to understand.
  • They were driven to research this group further because it reflected their own lives.
  • There is a theory that women struggle to give up control at home because they are denied power in the public space but imbued with it at home.
  • However this power is always unpaid and often unrecognized.
  • We need to give value to this “behind the curtain” work in order to get men to want to do it.

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