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Ayelet Pearl / Senior Staff Photographer

Barnard President Debora Spar joined 18 students at her fireside chat Thursday.

Barnard President Debora Spar discussed one of her favorite topics at a fireside chat Thursday—the difficulty of juggling the joys of a high-powered career and raising children.

Spar began by mentioning her September Daily Beast article, “Why Women Should Stop Trying to Be Perfect,” which sparked a conversation about career paths women face after college.

“How many of you see yourselves now striving for really high-powered, exciting jobs—or do you see yourself trying to find a part-time job and sitting back a little bit?” Spar asked.

Vivian Tsai, BC '15, shared a story about her mother, who decided at the age of 50 that she was unsatisfied with her job as the co-founder of a successful technology firm. Tsai said she was inspired when her mother quit to realize her 30-year-old dream of becoming a writer.

“Something in life has to give,” Spar said, pointing out that juggling a career that requires many hours and raising children can make women crazy. “You have to think about what you are not going to do.”

American women believe in a perfection trap, Spar said, leading them to value independence too highly.

She pointed to women in India, who rely on extensive networks of other women who baby-sit and perform small errands. “I don't think American women do that freely,” Spar said.

A double standard makes certain professions more restrictive on women. A female investment banker, Spar said, could not bring a client home for work. “Where I see the women struggling the most is the professions that are billed by the hour—on a statistical and demographical level,” Spar said.

Nikita Ash, BC '15, said that the question fell to “finding a bridge, places where you can match your home life to work life.” She asked Spar whether it was feasible to expect to make less of a sacrifice in some spheres of life than in others.

“The job has to take a hit, and you have to take a hit,” Spar told Ash. “I think buying flexibility is crucial, and one decision to think about is to determine what careers will allow you more flexibility.”

The 18 students, who gathered in the Judith Shapiro Faculty Room, discussed the prospects of involving more men in conversations about women in the workplace.

“Certain words make men nervous. Very few men in corporate positions like talking about maternity leaves,” Spar said. “It makes men uncomfortable to talk about it and just by bringing them into the public conversation makes it not a confrontational thing.”

Those conversations have to begin early, students said, at places like Barnard.

“I find that it's very important for women like us who go to a women-only institution to do that,” Ash said. “If we can normalize it, it's going to be much easier for general society to normalize it.”
gender equality fireside chat Debora Spar
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