On systemic bias and job interviews

Disclaimer: I'm going to be very vague here because my comments aren't really specific to the situation of today, just thoughts I have surrounding all of it.  Plus, I may be offered the job and decide to take it.  Not trying to burn any bridges.

I had an interview today.  It went well, I think, and I'm sure the job would be fine.  But I feel so unsettled about it.  The position for which I interviewed today wasn't in my career field at all.  When I applied I convinced myself that it would be an okay fit for now because the hours would be perfect for my family and because it could conceivably grow into something that is "sorta" in my field.

Then, less than a week after I submitted my letter of application for this job, a dream job opened at a local university.  It's a job that is right in my wheelhouse.  It's a job that I think I could be really excellent at.  It's a job that, honestly, I'm not sure I have the slightest chance at getting.  It's been almost 10 years since I finished graduate school.  10 years during which I've tried to stay abreast of things in the library world but, let's be honest, much of that 10 years has been dedicated to diapering, potty training, nose wiping and loving my children.

It's been good, don't get me wrong.  And I don't think it was the wrong decision.  But sometimes I wonder if I've thrown the dream job away.  And I all but guarantee that if I am offered and accept the job for which I interviewed today, I will be throwing the dream job away.  Because there is no path from the "okay fit for now" job to the dream job.

Sheryl Sandberg recently spoke at an Air Force Academy forum on gender issues and something she said really stuck out at me.  In response to a question about how to encourage men to "lean in" and support their female colleagues, she said, " There's only two options: One is that men are far, far more talented than women and deserve 95% of the top jobs, or the second is that there is systemic bias.  Those are the two options. Pick one. Because those are your only two choices."  (You can read more about her fascinating work with the Department of Defense here.)

Here's the thing about systemic bias: acknowledging that there is systemic bias means acknowledging your own part in the system.  I don't remember ever specifically deciding with my husband that his career would take priority over mine.  We met when we were in college.  We graduated the same year and I went on to graduate school.  At that point it seemed natural for his career to take precedence because, well, I didn't have one yet.  But then I guess it was just the route we were on and we've never stopped to talk about it.  

I don't want you to think I begrudge my husband's career success.  I don't at all.  He has a career that he is very happy with that seems to be growing into something he's dreamed of since he was a little boy.  I am thrilled for him and genuinely want to continue supporting the arc his career seems to be taking.  But never once in all the career decisions that have been made for him have we ever considered if something was "a good fit for the family".  Never once have we stopped to think about what late work nights would mean for the kids.  Never once have we considered who would take care of the kids during his 90+ hour summer work weeks.

I applied for and was accepted into a PhD program that would have started the fall that our first child was born.  I decided not to enter the program or accept the generous funding I was offered in part because someone needed to be available to take care of the baby.  I don't really regret that decision but I do look back and wonder why.  I think we could have made it work, if different decisions had been made about the primacy of my husband's career.   This decision is just one example of 1000 decisions that we have made, no, that I have made that have put us here, with one of us well into a career that he loves and is going the direction that he'd always hope and the other of us staring at 40 and considering making a decision that will permanently kill the dream job.

I did go ahead and apply for the dream job.  But I soon as I sent in my CV I started worrying about how I'd make everything work.  I started thinking about the sacrifices my kids would make if I got the dream job.  Never once did I think about sacrifices my husband could make.  Never once did I think about ways he could set different limits at work.  I want you to know, I'm not blaming my husband for any of this.  I got us here.   I'm the one with the lack of imagination to see alternative ways of working things out.  I'm part of the biased system.

So, what's the path forward?  I don't know (I just acknowledged my lack of imagination).  And, honestly, it is so difficult to have these kinds of discussions with other women.  It is very difficult to ask another woman about her decisions and how she manages things, especially when you're the stay at home mom who doesn't have to play the same balancing game.  I want to forge a way forward but I just don't know how.  I'm blaming systemic bias.