We need more stories that show success for women as a positive thing, says Amulya Malladi.
In the popular I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson — by the end, Kate Reddy recovers what is dear to her, and she and her husband move to the country, where she becomes a full-time mother and wife.
In the recent (and awesome) Savage News by Jessica Yellin, Natalie Savage quits the media company she’s at and starts her own news blog/video something.
In Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada, our dear protagonist hates the idea of becoming Meryl Streep when she’s older and gives it all up for some little job elsewhere.
In The Assistants by Camille Perri, a novel I liked, all the women protagonists (the assistants) leave the firm they’re at to start their own.
In Opening Belle, a fun, fun book by Maureen Sherry, our heroine leaves the firm she’s at to become the CEO of an all-woman company.
There is a pattern.
Even in fiction, I find that career women, women like me who have jobs in the corporate world and have to find “work-life” balance, which usually translates to leaving the job where they’re struggling to the bastion of an all-female environment or one of their own creation.
In real life, if I leave my firm, I have to go to another firm and the problems that beleaguer women in the workplace will follow me. My risk profile and those of many other women who rely on their incomes to care for their families and live their lives — requires us to work. There is no country cottage at the end of the road.
There is no husband who’s going to suddenly carry the entire load.
And besides the financial need to work — there is ambition. I want a career. The women I work with want a career. They want to climb the corporate ladder. Leaving for a quiet or what is defined as a more-balanced life is not an option.
No one can have it all — but if we try sometime, we’ll find, we get what we need.
More Women Leaders = Change We Need
As we have more women in leadership roles, we create a corporate culture that treats women better. So, we want women to stay and fight the good fight.
In my book The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, I wanted my protagonist Asmi to stay and win. Or at least fight the hardest she could — because if we all leave “difficult” corporations, there is no one left to fix the corporations.
Asmi is working in a man’s world — as many of us are. She’s competing for a promotion with a male colleague. It’s not easy. Even if she leaves this company for another, it will be the same and she’ll have to fight to get a seat at the table.
Also, say Asmi gets the promotion, that doesn’t mean the company suddenly becomes “woman friendly.” No, she’ll have to keep pushing for change. She’ll have to keep fighting bias. And she has to do this to make it easier for all the other women in the company who want to grow and develop their careers.
I’d really like to see more fiction and TV shows about successful women — and not brand career success for a woman as a bad thing.
I loved Miranda Priestly. She stood her ground. She played politics. And she did what she had to and got ahead. A man who does all that she did would be called driven and ambitious, a go-getter. Miranda was branded a difficult bitch. It really bothered me that she was not seen as a role model — even though she was the top dog at a top fashion magazine and had impeccable taste. She was seen as a woman who had spoilt children (because, hey she’s so busy, her children have to be monsters) and on the verge of a divorce (obviously, because she has no time to be a good wife). She’s not seen as someone who drives people to do better and be better—just difficult and the type who repays loyalty with betrayal.
A TV show that is doing this so much better is The Bold Type where ambition in women is seen as a good thing. I love the positive message about career and women working together to help each other. Jacqueline Carlyle is similar to Miranda Priestly — but she’s made likeable without taking away any of her edge. She plays politics. She takes care of her people. She helps drive the agenda for women and with women. She has a good relationship with her children and her husband.
How do we change this?
I feel like as a career woman I’m an underrepresented minority in the fiction. I’m usually late for everything or cold as ice…and always unfulfilled.
According to the US Labor Department, almost 47% of US workers are women. And more than 39 percent of women work in occupations where women make up at least three-quarters of the workforce. This means that women have fewer role models to look up to in real life — fewer women in senior positions at work.
If I can’t even win in fiction, how can I win in real life? If in fiction, a successful career woman is a bad thing then how do I aspire for that?
We need more shows and fiction that show success for women as a positive thing. We are seeing a shift in politics, thank god, but we’re going to need to see more of it so women can start believing in their possibilities and their potential.
Asmi knows that CPH (Copenhagen, Denmark) is the best airport to shop for clothes, and ATH (Athens, Greece) the best for shoes. The best Zara store is in BCN (Barcelona, Spain). The best airport to buy whiskey at is ARN (Stockholm, Sweden). And LHR (London, Heathrow) and CDG (Charles de Gaulle, Paris) should be avoided for a layover. Airplanes, airports and hotel lobby bars make Asmi feel just as much at home as her apartment in Laguna Beach does.
A marketing director in a biotech company, Asmi rose through the corporate ranks and never really took the time to think about couple-hood. She has good friends, a terrific sister who lives close by, and a married on-again, off-again lover in Paris she sees while she travels around the world for work.
As Asmi reaches the big 4-0 and contemplates making some life choices; her boss announces he is retiring, and she is suddenly thrown into a corporate Hunger Games against her nemesis Scott Beauregard III to win a promotion.
Worried that her inability to commit to a real relationship with a man is a personality flaw and afraid that she’s unqualified for the job she desperately wants, Asmi must learn to lean in to have the career and life she wants and deserves, without worrying about what society expects from her.
Amulya Malladi is the bestselling author of seven novels, including The Copenhagen Affair and A House for Happy Mothers. She knows airports well because she works as a marketing and communication executive for a large global company. After fourteen years of mostly bad weather in Denmark, she moved to Southern California where she now lives in sunshine with her husband and two sons. The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You is her eighth novel.