Having it All: Women with Successful Careers and Families
Women at the Top: Powerful Leaders Tell Us How to Combine Work and Family.
By Diane F. Halpern and Fanny M. Cheung. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008.
292 pp. $29.95 (hardback). ISBN-10: 1405171057
Linda L. Carli
Published online: 19 February 2010
Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009
In many ways, the status of women has improved. In the
United States, more women are employed than ever
before and women now make up 47% of the paid
workforce (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2008b,
Table 2). Women’s incomes relative to men’shavealso
risen (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2008a)andwomen
are surpassing men in education, currently earning the
majority of bachelor’s and advanced degrees from U.S.
colleges and universities (U.S. National Center for
Education Statistics 2008). Moreover, across all U.S.
organizations, 51% of those in professional and managerial
positions and 23% of chief executives are women (U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics 2008b, Table 11). Similar trends
have been found around the world, where women have
made steady gains in employment and education (Interna-
tional Labour Organization 2008). For example, in both
China and Hong Kong, 46% of the workforce is female
(The World Bank Group 2007). Yet, for all the advances that
women have made, they remain underrepresented in the
highest level leadership positions. In the Fortune 500, for
instance, only 3% of the CEOs are women (Catalyst 2009).
Why are women so underrepresented?
In Women at the Top, psychologists Diane Halpern and
Fanny Cheung focus on one particular obstacle to women’s
advancement: the difficulty for women of combining a
career with family. They note that women who reach high
levels of leadership are less likely to have children than
men in comparable positions. Most of these women, in fact,
are childless. But some women do manage to have high-
powered careers while also being married with children or
having other important family commitments. In their book,
“using the best psychological research and personal inter-
views with 62 women with families and prominent
leadership positions in the United States, China, and Hong
Kong, and drawing on the life experience of prominent
women leaders with children in Europe” and elsewhere, the
authors “show women how to combine babies and brief-
cases for dually successful lives” (p. xiii).
The interviews serve to illustrate various themes covered
in the book, such as learning from role models, managing
time, maintaining relationships with husbands and children,
addressing conflicts between career and family, and
developing effective methods of leading and wielding
influence. All the women interviewed for the book had
important leadership roles in government, business, politics,
or other professions, and all had been married and were
caregivers to children or other family members. As the
authors readily admit, the women they studied were in no
way typical or representative of women leaders generally.
On the contrary, these women were exceptional, but their
stories make clear that is it possible for women to have a
high powered career without giving up motherhood and a
full family life.
Although Halpern and Cheung cite current research on
gender discrimination, leadership style, gender stereotyping
and other topics relevant to women’s advancement, the
book’s unique contribution lies with the stories of the
women leaders and their varied strategies for combining
career and family. Readers will likely feel inspired by the
women’s success, but also disheartened by the many
formidable challenges they faced. In the stories, many of
these challenges seem universal. The women talked about
sacrificing leisure and sleep to ensure that they met the
needs of their families and jobs. They often missed family
activities, but were careful to carve out ways to be involved
L. L. Carli (*)
Wellesley, MA, USA
Sex Roles (2010) 62:696–698