April 06, 2011

An Open Letter to the Wall Street Journal

So friends, I went into a Panera yesterday morning to work on my corporate-mother novel. The plot needed some serious complicating, so I got myself a blueberry scone and a mug of strong coffee. I grabbed a booth where someone had left Monday's Wall Street Journal, flipped to the Management section and hoped I might find a nugget or two to help me with the novel's storyline. What I read got me so incensed that I had to write the letter below, which I emailed to the WSJ before I left that booth. If they print it, I'll let you know, but the nice thing about Media 2.0 is that I don't have to wait for them to share it with you. I'd love to know your thoughts in the comments. If you want to send your own letter (or cut and paste mine in solidarity), their email is: wsj.ltrs@wsj.com


Dear Editor:

I am writing in reference to the McKinsey study discussed in the Apr 4 article "Coaching Urged For Women" by Joann S. Lublin and posted Apr 3 on the WSJ's The Juggle blog.I have a Masters in Business from an Ivy League university and have managed employees and clients in more than a half a dozen countries during my career in marketing and advertising. I handled business initiatives representing tens of millions of dollars for my employer and clients. I've been a client to both Bain and McKinsey. For McKinsey to posit that "female ambition declines sharply at middle age" is not only insulting, but it is a dangerous and presumptive statement to make on behalf of all women.

Let me propose another possibility: women channel their ambitions differently at middle age in order to allow time to be with their children, and perhaps even their aging parents. In some circles, we have called this the "mommy track." Whatever we want to call it, time with children is time a parent only gets once in a lifetime. When parents figure this out and adjust their career track, do we say that their "ambition declines sharply"? The McKinsey study, at best, takes an extremely narrow view of ambition. I left my six figure salary and management position at a major financial services firm in Manhattan to channel my ambitions into writing novels and developing a career as a writer, frankly something that has taken much more ingenuity and stamina than my years in Corporate America. In the past 18 months, I've completed a full-length novel and had lunch with my kindergartner every Thursday. No amount of executive compensation, leadership accolades, or professional recognition could have satisfied me like that has.

Ladies and Gentlemen of McKinsey & Company, ambitions do not decline, they shift. You cannot "coach" a person into the CEO or senior executive suite if that is not a path they desire. I would expect a newspaper like the Wall Street Journal and a firm like McKinsey & Company to take on this issue with more circumspection. This study has done a terrible disservice to ambitious women everywhere.

Melissa T. Romo
Hoboken, New Jersey


  1. Yay, Melissa, get 'em! You're so right about the narrow view of ambition taken by the study and the article. The sad thing is that it's a view echoed by millions of people in our culture. Striving for money, power or fame is viewed as ambitious, while pursuits without those end goals are not.

  2. Thanks, See, you're right. Strangely this whole study slammed at the heart of why I have trouble telling people I'm a writer. Like, who would think they can do that for "a living"? Nobody, right? I might as well be finger painting.

  3. And you KNOW this is going to figure into the novel somewhere. It was fated.

  4. Go get 'em Melissa! There is no amount of money, status or power that could ever replace the time we spend with our kids. This does not mean we no longer want success for ourselves; just means we are smart enough to find ways to be fulfilled at work AND have the home life we desire. Success is not an objective thing; it is in fact very subjective. How can anyone possibly rate ambition scientifically? My ambition is to live a Christ-centered life, take care of my family and earn a comfortable living at the same time. Who's to say that I don't pursue my ambitions with any less enthusiasm and determination than someone whose ambition is to drive a Porsche and have a great deal of power and influence? How can there be any credibility to a study with such a biased and narrow view of what ambition should look like?

  5. http://www.cnn.com/2011/LIVING/04/05/when.to.act.like.man/index.html


  6. I own my own business in part because I am ambitious about being a good mom and wife. It's not a part time kind of endeavor... my business is the sole support for our family of 6. I work hard, everyday. I rarely take even one day off, or a whole weekend. I work lots of evenings, too... from my office in the former "front living room" or our home. I am also finishing up this comment so I can head off to my 2 middle kids' school for "Munch Lunch with Mom" day. Two school lunch trays back to back for me :)
    I work hard so I CAN take the time here and there to be on field trips, be class Mom, coach softball, be at Brownie meetings. I am ambitious, driven... it's just not my dream to run the world. I just want to take care of my family the best way possible. McKinsey needs to rethink success and drive, for sure.

  7. This is getting posted on my office wall:
    "I...channel my ambitions into writing novels and developing a career as a writer, frankly something that has taken much more ingenuity and stamina than my years in Corporate America."

    How any study could take into account the countless women who find themselves wanting more than a "great job" is beyond me. What happens to male ambition at middle age? A study probably better suited to the pages of Mad magazine.

  8. Great letter and *sigh*. Why is it that ambition only counts professionally? I'm hosting 19 five year olds in two weeks for an Easter Egg Hunt - in a city condo. Let's see some higher ups at McKinsey make that work successfully! All the while also coaching a client through a new industry to them. And helping raise funds for a playground that will only happen with private funds. And yes, I'm middle-aged. Shame on the WSJ and shame on McKinsey. And thank you for taking a stand.

  9. "In the past 18 months, I've completed a full-length novel and had lunch with my kindergartner every Thursday. No amount of executive compensation, leadership accolades, or professional recognition could have satisfied me like that has."

    - So well said. WTG, Melissa.

  10. Bravo! But isn't this exactly what capitalism seeks to do? It wants to channel our desires, and validate only those that serve its money-making ends. It has no qualms about reaching into the private sphere and trying to manipulate us in whatever way it can. The quicker we learn to hold out against it, and to desire what WE desire - human things, love, compassion, freedom, charity, trust - then the quicker we get a society we can be proud of, and one that treats mothers like proper citizens rather than idealised slaves.

  11. Boy, you guys are completely awesome. ;-) And it's nice to meet some new folks here!

    Litlove - So, so true what you say.

    Matthew - I was so glad to see a man chime in here! Thanks for your comment.

    Leanne - I think you have more ambition than me. No way could I handle 19 kids looking for Easter eggs, and definitely not in my condo. You are brave.

    Adrienne - Wow, I'm so honored to make it onto someone's office wall. ;-)

    Mandy - You are clearly a woman with a plan. I love it. I hope Munch Lunch was less stressful than my kindergarten lunches. He and his friends tend to like blowing milk out their noses. It's a 5-star experience, let me tell you.

    Stephanie - OK, that got a smile out of me. ;-))

    Elly - Eww on CNN. All I gotta say there.

    Brooke - Thanks for your comment, and I will go get 'em, like everyone in this comment stream I think.

  12. You should definitely watch "Baby Boom" (1987) with Diane Keaton. It makes the same point you make in your letter to the WSJ.
    One of the things that attracted my attention on your blog when I first found it was the cut line: "recovering MBA." There's a lot wrong with the worldview that is taught in business schools in the States that comes down to "if it can't be quantified, it doesn't matter." The paper you are talking about is trying to do just that: quantify an intangible along a simplex curve, while it's really a more complex variable.

    You could also try "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" Same topic, just a generation earlier.

    T.H.E. Hill
    The author of "Voices Under Berlin"

  13. Bravo Melissa!

    As someone who stepped out of the professional world to stay home with my daughter, and later my elderly parents, I couldn't agree with you more...While I know my decision was right for our family, over the years I have nonetheless found myself feeling like I have to "explain" or even worse, make excuses for my choice to a large segment of society...sadly, there were times when I fought the tendency to think of myself as a "failure" because I did not rise to the heights others have..articles like this only perpetuate that type of self-doubt, and I am so glad to see you speak out against these misguided definitions of "ambition" and success.

  14. Sing it sister! As women, we need not subscribe to what I now find as this dated, throw-back, 70's definition of having it all (bringing home the bacon and frying it up in the pan - I don't even like bacon), but instead we must redefine what having it all means. Nicely done Melissa. We're going to post this link as our blog entry this week. In solidarity, Kris and Laura