Mormon Women and Careers

I recently read the business week article God’s MBAs: Why Mormon Missions Produce Leaders.  I think for the most part the article makes a great point about the preparation that a mission provides to business leaders and how it helps them succeed throughout their life.

However, as a woman with a MBA and a career, I wanted to give my perspective on a few different comments made about Mormon women and careers.

The business week article states “the teachings of the church encourage women to stay home” and goes on to say “Mormon women are partners in those faithful marriages, yet they’re almost absent from the business landscape. The Marriott School’s MBA class of 2011 is only 12 percent female, compared with HBS’s 36 percent, and although LDS spokeswoman Jessica Moody says Mormon women do hold leadership roles at small companies, none have reached the corporate leadership heights of Mormon men. Women are urged by the church to pursue education, but the Mormon Proclamation on the Family, which, according to religion scholar Mauss, attained near- canonical status after its issuance in 1995, says men should provide for families while women should raise children.”

I would argue that the church teaching does not mean “stay at home.” In The Family: A Proclamation to the World it states that it is a mother’s primary responsibility for the nurture of the children. This does not necessarily mean that women have to stay home. In fact, the world is quickly adapting to enable more women (and men) the ability to enjoy working and being able to spend desired time with their children. More and more men and women are seeing greater flexibility in the work place that is enabling them to better balance the things in their life. There is no “one size fits all model.”

Additionally, many women struggle with the balance of career and family. This is not a problem unique to mormon women, nor do mormon women just not care about careers or the education they have obtained. While the BYU MBA class has a lower percentage of women MBAs vs. other schools such as Harvard, an MBA does not directly translate to senior leadership. And many companies are working on figuring out how to retain female talent at higher levels. After my MBA I worked for a company that had less than 20% women in senior roles and it was a constant discussion point on how to retain these talented women once they had children. There continues to be an increase of women in the workforce and in senior leadership roles. I believe the business world will see more and more mormon women rise in the ranks along with women of other faiths.

Time and time again at women’s network meetings or in personal conversations with women I hear the concerns about balancing being a mother and wanting a fulfilling career. There is a great article from the McKinsey Quartely called “Centered leadership: How talented women thrive” that covers this very topic. Even very senior leaders are trying to work on top of responsibility they have at home. The McKinsey article states “many women come home from work only to sign onto a “second shift” – 92 percent of them still manage all household tasks, such as meal preparation and child care.”

This is also not to say that women shouldn’t stay home. To sum up what the church teaches women about their careers, there is a great quote from Elder Quentin L Cook’s talk, LDS Women are Incredible!, in the April 2011 General Conference ”First, no woman should ever feel the need to apologize or feel that her contribution is less significant because she is devoting her primary efforts to raising and nurturing children. Nothing could be more significant in our Father in Heaven’s plan. Second, we should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances. Husbands and wives should prayerfully counsel together, understanding they are accountable to God for their decisions.” In my mind there are two pieces of this quote that are easy to forget: 1. we rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances and 2. Husbands and wives are to prayerfully counsel together. We are taught that men and women are equals and that we should look to be equally yoked with our spouse. This necessitates a true and deep partnership that is principle based and centered in growing with God in all decisions and trials.

I truly believe the companies that crack the code on how to better enable both fathers and mothers, mormon and non-mormon, to find ways to strengthen their families as well as focus on professional development and success will unlock unforeseen potential and greater happiness in their employees, leading to better, more efficient, profitable work.

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32 Responses to Mormon Women and Careers

  1. MJ says:

    This is something I’ve been thinking about recently so I really appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

  2. LT says:

    Excellent essay, Lisa.

  3. Don says:

    Doctrinely sound and well supported. I concur that in general, companies that find ways to support families’ needs will benefit more than it costs them.

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks for your comment! I’m hoping that we will see great strides from companies in the near and distant future!

  4. Linda says:

    Important points, very well expressed! I totally agree. The church validates the importance of parenting and encourages both fathers and mothers to prayerfully consider what sacrifices may need to be made for the benefit of the family. But, the church also recognizes that more than half of all mothers with children at home are working. Businesses that find ways to accomodate young families will unleash a vast resource of leadership and talent.

  5. Jamie says:

    Amen! This is a well thought out piece. I’ve long been frustrated about how people in and out of the faith look at women who seek family and career. With prayer it is more than possible to do both if necessary. However, when one has children they become a new amazing part of life that changes a million and one perceptions.

  6. Lisa says:

    Here is a great article from the wsj that makes the very point about women and careers as I have above with some more statistics. Enjoy!

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703712504576243171954569438.html

  7. Laura says:

    Great article! I recently read an article (I believe in Deseret News) that discussed that although BYU’s MBA program had fewer women than many schools, that the LDS female population was a powerful force in small business start up companies. It said that LDS women were found to be more successful at their start-ups than others.

    One point they made theorizing why they were so successful was because they marketed their products to women, and specifically mothers to help them balance a busy life. I believe that women are a very powerful buying demographic and women in the business world can help to reach that demographic effectively.

    I loved this empowering article and encourage parents to teach their kids, not just their girls, to recognize and encourage the intellectual and business development of women as well as to stress the importance for men and women to sacrifice for the nurturing and development of children.

  8. Katie says:

    Great explanation and great quotes! Love this!

  9. linda says:

    I really enjoyed this article. Well thought out, articulated clearly, and doesn’t leave a person with much to argue about.

    I read recently the book, The Female Brain by Dr Louann Brizendine. Shes a neuropsychiatrist and writes about some of the differences between men and women and their chemical make up. She makes some interesting points about the decision process for men and women when it comes to choosing careers, changing paths along the way, how they value relationships and connection and how that plays into career choice. I recommend it!

  10. Nicole says:

    Lisa,

    Thank you for your well thought-out post; I think you are right on point. As a female LDS business owner, I believe strongly that the decision to work is made mutually between a husband and a wife, and I am grateful to have a supporting husband and family who all take part in the balancing act we play. Too often I see articles and comments posted below articles about how the church belittles women and looks down on women who work outside the home; I can honestly say I have never felt anything but support from church and family members. It is frustrating when journalists take church doctrine out of context and create their own interpretations based on their limited knowledge, so I feel it is important for us to create posts like this that show the reality. Thank you for your words!

    • Lisa says:

      Nicole,

      You are welcome! I’m so happy to hear that you have such supportive husband and that you pray together about the choices you have!

      Lisa

  11. Patrick says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Great article. I agree that the lack of women in business is more universal than just within the LDS Church. Do you think though that the degree of the lack women in business is as large outside the Church as within? You mention that only 20% of top management positions are held by women, but if the Marriott school is any indication of the fraction of Mormon women who will be filling top positions, that is closer to 5-10% maybe.

    Of course, these numbers are just conjecture on my part. Do you think I’m way off?

    • Lisa says:

      Patrick,

      Thank you so much for your comment and question. This question is a great one. I have searched for this very statistic and cant find it. However, I do think there are a few important points to consider.

      1. I believe the statistic nationally for women with MBAs is 20%. At least it was a few years ago. This indicates to me that while BYU is still low they are much closer to the national average than the Harvard statistic provided. Additionally, one needs to consider the lds women who attend other MBA programs, myself included. This is especially important as you look at the strengths of the different schools. Marriott is very well known in the corporate world as one of the top HR schools. Typically HR is not the function that is the pathway to general management in large corporations. While the rest of the MBA program is very strong it’s not as well known for other majors. There were 7 lds people in the marketing management development program I started in after my MBA with a very large company. None of the 7 went to BYU. This is because the marketers were chosen from the top marketing schools in the country. However, in the HR program we did have people from BYU. While this does not by any means mean that everyone going to BYU should major in HR, it does mean that everyone looking to enter any MBA program should carefully consider the strengths of the program as well as the companies that directly recruit from that school. Big corporations typically stick to a few core schools, they fill their positions from those schools and it becomes difficult to break into those companies outside of their mainstream recruiting.
      2. The statistic I have seen for making it to general management is 2%. With a conversion rate this low it, the correlation of women MBAs to general management must be weak. This is amplified by the statistics that show that when women have children, their ambition changes, lds and non-lds. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703712504576243171954569438.html Therefore, in order to properly assess the question one would need to also consider what percent of women have children. Net, I draw 2 conclusions from this point, 1. it’s really difficult to tell how lds women do in comparison to their non-lds peers especially when considering the statistics about children, and 2. regardless of the statistics this is not because of church leadership or doctrine.
      3. The article mentions that some lds women have risen in the ranks of small companies. If it were church doctrine to not work, would this be true? I answer with a resounding no. I also think that smaller companies tend to be more agile and have been quicker to adopt a more progressive work/life balance. It would not surprise me if in smaller companies there is a larger percentage of women at the top in general. To be fair, I have not seen this statistic. On the other hand, if we do not see a higher percentage of women at the top in smaller companies, then would this indicate that lds women have a propensity for small business more than non-lds women? Again, this supports that it’s not church doctrine that keeps women from business.
      4. Further if one really wants to evaluate the accuracy of the business week statement, it would be appropriate to expand the question from business to other disciplines that require women to work outside the home. In my ward, there are very few women who do not have graduate degrees. While I do think my ward has an extra high percentage of highly educated women, there are many women in the church who are very highly educated and aiming and reaching the top in their field.

      I hope this helps.
      Lisa

  12. Jordan says:

    I enjoyed reading your article, but I do have to disagree on one point. I think that the leadership of the Mormon church is still of the opinion that in the absence of necessity the role of the mother should be primarily at home not both at work and home. I think it can be troublesome when we try too hard to bring teachings and standards of the church into alignment with societal norms.

    • Lisa says:

      Jordan,

      You make an interesting point. I believe it’s a common misconception about the doctrine that is taught. The following points illustrate what has been published by the church in regards to this very question.
      1. The Family: A Proclamation to the World states “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” The key point being equal partners. Additionally, the proclamation says nothing about mothers staying home only that they “are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” My point above is that jobs and companies today are becoming more flexible and it is becoming far more feasible for women (and men) to effectively nurture their children and work outside the home. The choice does not always have to be an either or. A quote I love from Elder Quentin L. Cook’s talk is “I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.” This further highlights the importance of us effectively building families, which includes nurturing children.
      2. Children may be properly nutured regardless of the mother working or no and in the case of disability, death, single women, and mothers with no children at home, a career is crucial. As with all preparation, the church teaches us to be ready to adapt to changing circumstances. As such, the woman must possess the education and the work skills to provide. This is absolutely in concert with all teachings of the church. Additionally, we believe that as we council with the Lord to do his will he will sustain us to be able to accomplish all that is needful in every circumstance.
      3. The handbook in talking about self-reliance says the following: “Education provides understanding and skills that can help people develop self-reliance. Church members should study the scriptures and other good books. They should improve in their ability to read, write, and do basic mathematics. They should obtain as much education as they can, including formal or technical schooling where possible. This will help them develop their talents, find suitable employment, and make a valuable contribution to their families, the Church, and the community.” This part of the handbook refers to ALL members not just males, including finding suitable employment.
      4. I did a search to check and see what I could find regarding encouragement for mothers to be at home. I can not find anything, rather all of the articles and talks refer to nurturing. I also reread the most recent General Conference address from Elder Quentin L. Cook (http://lds.org/general-conference/2011/04/lds-women-are-incredible?lang=eng&query=lds+women+incredible), I can not find anything in there that states women should primarily be at home and it supports many of the points I have made above.

      It is my hope as I mentioned above that companies continue to find better ways to help men and women build stronger better families.

      Lisa

      • Patrick says:

        Amen Lisa! :)

      • Don says:

        Once again, Lisa, doctrinely sound. There is no doctrine requiring women to “stay home” because this is an area of personal revelation. There are very few “rules” in the church. The temple recommend interview questions do not address work status. This is an area for personal revelation for the husband and wife to determine what the Lord would have them do with regard to working and raising their children. Also, there are a tremendous number of single members of the church, and also those couples who do not have children at home. Clearly, Lisa’s comments are particularly appropriate for them.

  13. Andrea says:

    Great thoughts, Lisa! I also want to add that while Mormon mothers make up a large segment of the LDS female demographic, there are many women, including myself, who are single or who are married with no kids. I believe strongly in the primary role of a mom to nurture her children, but I also believe that until that season comes, it is part of the doctrine of self-reliance to establish a career and move forward in other righteous endeavors. What a wonderful time in the history of our world to be a woman, and to have the opportunities for careers and self-sufficiency! The question during this season of my life isn’t should I build a career and strive for top leadership positions, it’s as I build my career, am I ready to put nurturing first when that season begins?

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  15. Karen says:

    Great article, Lisa. Thanks.

  16. JD says:

    This comment is intended to contribute to the conversation what the Lord has said through His prophets in regards to family and specifically mothers in the home. The Lord has been clear on what the ideal situation is for family and mothers, and the exceptions—His direction is summarized here, although there is clearly much more available on this topic:

    The First Presidency has said: “Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind” (in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency, 6 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75, 6:178).

    President Ezra Taft Benson
    “Early in the history of the restored Church, the Lord specifically charged men with the obligation to provide for their wives and family. In January of 1832 He said, “Verily I say unto you, that every man who is obliged to provide for his own family, let him provide, and he shall in nowise lose his crown” (D&C 75:28). Three months later the Lord said again, “Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance, until their husbands are taken” (D&C 83:2). This is the divine right of a wife and mother. While she cares for and nourishes her children at home, her husband earns the living for the family, which makes this nourishing possible” (President Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1987, p. 49).

    President Ezra Taft Benson (also quoting President Spencer W. Kimball)
    “The Lord clearly defined the roles of mothers and fathers in providing for and rearing a righteous posterity. In the beginning, Adam–not Eve–was instructed to earn the bread by the sweat of his brow. Contrary to conventional wisdom, a mother’s calling is in the home, not in the marketplace.

    “Again in the Doctrine and Covenants, we read: ‘Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance, until their husbands are taken’ (D&C 83:2). This is the divine right of a wife and mother. She cares for and nourishes her children at home. Her husband earns the living for the family, which makes this nourishing possible. With that claim on their husbands for their financial support, the counsel of the Church has always been for mothers to spend their full time in the home in rearing and caring for their children. We realize also that some of our choice sisters are widowed and divorced and that others find themselves in unusual circumstances where, out of necessity, they are required to work for a period of time. But these instances are the exception, not the rule. In a home where there is an able-bodied husband, he is expected to be the breadwinner. Sometimes we hear of husbands who, because of economic conditions, have lost their jobs and expect their wives to go out of the home and work even though the husband is still capable of providing for his family. In these cases, we urge the husband to do all in his power to allow his wife to remain in the home caring for the children while he continues to provide for his family the best he can, even though the job he is able to secure may not be ideal and family budgeting will have to be tighter.

    “Our beloved prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, had much to say about the role of mothers in the home and their callings and responsibilities. I am impressed to share with you some of his inspired pronouncements. I fear that much of his counsel has gone unheeded, and families have suffered because of it. But I stand as a second witness to the truthfulness of what President Spencer W. Kimball said. He spoke as a true prophet of God. President Kimball declared: ‘Women are to take care of the family–the Lord has so stated–to be an assistant to the husband, to work with him, but not to earn the living, except in unusual circumstances. Men ought to be men indeed and earn the living under normal circumstances’ (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 318).

    “Again President Kimball speaks: ‘The husband is expected to support his family and only in an emergency should a wife secure outside employment. Her place is in the home, to build the home into a haven of delight. Numerous divorces can be traced directly to the day when the wife left the home and went out into the world into employment. Two incomes raise the standard of living beyond its norm. Two spouses working prevents the complete and proper home life, breaks into the family prayers, creates an independence which is not cooperative, causes distortion, limits the family, and frustrates the children already born’ (Spencer W. Kimball, San Antonio Fireside, 3 December 1977, pp. 9-10).

    “Finally, President Kimball counsels: ‘I beg of you, you who could and should be bearing and rearing a family: Wives, come home from the typewriter, the laundry, the nursing, come home from the factory, the cafe. No career approaches in importance that of wife, homemaker, mother–cooking meals, washing dishes, making beds for one’s precious husband and children. Come home, wives, to your husbands. Make home a heaven for them. Come home, wives, to your children, born and unborn. Wrap the motherly cloak about you and, unembarrassed, help in a major role to create the bodies for the immortal souls who anxiously await. When you have fully complemented your husband in home life and borne the children, growing up full of faith, integrity, responsibility, and goodness, then you have achieved your accomplishment supreme, without peer, and you will be the envy [of all] through time and eternity’ (Spencer W. Kimball, San Antonio Fireside, 3 December 1977, pp. 11-12). President Kimball spoke the truth. His words are prophetic” (To the Mothers in Zion, President Ezra Taft Benson, Address given at a Fireside for Parents, 22 February 1987, later produced as a pamphlet and given to Church members. http://emp.byui.edu/SATTERFIELDB/PDF/ToMothersofZion.pdf)

    The Lord has made his will known, and although more recent prophets have not been as pointed on this topic, the Lord’s way has not changed. And at some point, the Lord stops repeating himself and leaves us to seek after His ways (2 Nephi 28:30). As we look closely at the words of more recent prophets, however, we see that not one statement from a prophet will contradict the words of President Benson and President Kimball. Prophets recognize that it is becoming increasingly difficult to follow the Lord’s ways. We might now hear more inviting and general phrases that allow “those with ears to hear,” such as President Hinckley in speaking to the women of the Church: “Many of you are mothers, and that is enough to occupy one’s full time . . . . May you [young mothers] be given strength to carry your heavy load, to meet every obligation, to walk side by side with a good and faithful and caring man, and together with him rear and nurture and bring up your children in righteousness and truth. Nothing else you will ever own, no worldly thing you will ever acquire will be worth so much as the love of your children. God bless you, my dear, dear young mothers” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “To the Women of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 2003).

    President Hinckley also said to mothers, “God bless you, dear friends. Do not trade your birthright as a mother for some bauble of passing value. Let your first interest be in your home. The baby you hold in your arms will grow quickly as the sunrise and the sunset of the rushing days. I hope that when that occurs you will not be led to exclaim as did King Lear, ‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!’ (King Lear, I, iv, 312). Rather, I hope that you will have every reason to be proud concerning your children, to have love for them, to have faith in them, to see them grow in righteousness and virtue before the Lord, to see them become useful and productive members of society. If with all you have done there is an occasional failure, you can still say, ‘At least I did the very best of which I was capable. I tried as hard as I knew how. I let nothing stand in the way of my role as a mother.’ Failures will be few under such circumstances.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother,” Ensign, Nov 2000).

    Instead of pushing us away, prophets are encouraging us to do the best we can with where we are. Elder Cook acknowledges that mothers in the workplace is becoming more and more common, so he counsels, as Lisa shared above, “I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.” Perhaps another interpretation of this statement is, let us do all we can to support the role of fathers and mothers so that they can meet their primary obligation as parents. If mothers are in the workplace, may we create an environment that can facilitate as best we can their role as mother.

    Prophets know that charity cometh before all and fully support Elder Cook’s counsel that, “We should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances. Husbands and wives should prayerfully counsel together, understanding they are accountable to God for their decisions.”

    Again, the intent of this comment is to contribute prophets’ words to the conversation so that we might have their counsel to guide us in these most important, prayerful decisions. We are blessed particularly in this day to have clear direction from the Lord on the family and the ideal situation for fathers, mothers, and children. As we look first to the ideal and let His words be at the core of how we choose to act, we will see His purposes more clearly and come to know His ways.

  17. The Idealist says:

    JD, while I agree that motherhood is incredibly important, and that husbands should strive to support their families and wives, I think the main issue here is really about a woman’s freedom to choose.

    Although I agree with the quotes of the sanctity of motherhood, and also fatherhood, I see a danger in thinking that a woman’s ONLY legitimate place is in the home. This thinking, combined with other schools of thought, formed the basis for many discriminatory practices and policies both in and out of the home against women.

    I am afraid that fostering the thought that women can ONLY be good mothers if they don’t work limits both men’s and women’s visions of women as a whole. Women are mothers, but being a mother doesn’t mean that women cannot also be great writers, artists, poets, business people, doctors, and scientists.

    I am afraid that fostering the idea that motherhood is the ONLY place a woman should be spending her time is stripping women of their freedom to dream and choose their lives. I am afraid that advocating that work and motherhood conflict sends the false idea that women have to choose between activities they enjoy and the children and spouses they love.

    Women in the 70s and 80s did not have the same flexibility that women today have. Today, women are free to choose how much they work, when they work, and if they want to work at all. The idea that women who work care less about their families than women who don’t work is false. Work and motherhood also do not need to conflict, but ultimately the decision is up to the couple and the Lord. Does not the greater sin lie in judgement?

    Ultimately, the fight here is not about staying at home or working full time. The struggle lies in preserving a woman’s ability to choose.

  18. Molly says:

    I enjoyed reading your article and the threads. I have a question, though, just to test the bounds of support for women in business. How do you think a community with a majority LDS population would respond to a newly relocated senior management business female, who is very involved in say the Lutheran church, is married, husband takes care of household, but has no children. Does the LDS community have the capacity to accept a woman like that, a woman who has not pursued the “first career of motherhood” whether or not by her own choice, and may be the boss of some of these LDS men?

  19. Beth says:

    Great article however, while the numbers are fewer- there have been many LDS women that have reached very high professional levels in Fortune 1000 organization. We have MBAs and do balance family and career. I am a VP in a publicly traded organization and know several others in even higher positions in my ward- out earning men. We work extra hard to balance this with our families in a less than normal situation within our religion.

  20. SOPHIA says:

    Great discussion excellent article
    If we let the Lord lead us ,the decision we make will produce the best possible result.

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