Reddit, the front page of the internet, has been in the news lately when an ill-advised attempt at censorship resulted in moderators shutting down most of the site, prompting the resignation of CEO Ellen Pao. In addition to Pao, reddit has lost three other female senior managers in a short period of time. Victoria Taylor, who ran the popular Ask Me Anything subreddit was fired for undisclosed reasons, engineer Bethanye Blount quit when she felt that the site could not meet deliverables and Jessica Moreno announced her resignation so she could attend to ‘life outside work’.
Media outlets have been quick to suggest that reddit offers a hostile climate to women, declaring that sexism is the reason four high profile women have recently left the organization, an assertion contested by the women themselves. Pao is on record saying that her departure was planned, and she was not forced out because she is a woman, while Morena explicitly states that her decision to resign had ‘nothing to do with policy changes or being a woman.’ The insistence, by some sectors of the media, that sexism is a powerful force interrupting the careers of women in Silicon Valley is not supported by testimony from the women opting out.
When Forbes magazine surveyed working women in America, an astonishing 84% admitted that ‘staying home to raise children is a financial luxury they aspire to.’ One third of the women surveyed also admitted they ‘resent their partner for earning enough to make that dream a reality.’ Despite unprecedented opportunity in the marketplace, the overwhelming majority of women in America would prefer to be at home fulltime, with their children. Even when women do work, the majority prefer to work part time to minimize the time spent apart from their children and families. Global happiness surveys consistently show that the women who report the greatest degree of personal well-being and fulfilment are women who work part time, at jobs that are not particularly demanding and that reflect their personal interests, while still having time for friends, family and hobbies.
Programs that encourage young women into high stress occupations with long hours, such as medicine and engineering, are successful at graduating women, but not successful at retaining those women. Most women with medical degrees do not specialize, and either work part time hours or not at all when they have young children, seriously exacerbating strained healthcare systems around the world, built to function with male doctors who work longer hours in more technically difficult specializations. Women’s refusal to prioritize economic productivity over time spent with children and family explains most of what is known as the ‘wage gap’, which in reality is an ‘hours worked’ gap. STEM fields in general do not retain credentialed women, as those women begin to have children and experience a strong preference to be with those children. Women with advanced credentials are usually able to secure partners with similar or better qualifications, allowing them to choose between labor force participation and the luxury of being at home full time.
Programs that encourage women to believe they will find more fulfillment in corporate offices or laboratories are doomed to failure, as women repeatedly reject the rewards of labor market participation in favor of kitchens and playrooms. The women at reddit are not unusual at all.
Given the choice, women choose family and children over career. If we truly respect women and their choices, we should make that choice easier.