Being Single in a Married World

This past fall, the Pew Research Center, in association with TIME, conducted a nationwide poll exploring modern marriage and the American family.

Their findings seem to indicate that, in strictly ‘practical terms,’ marriage is not as necessary as it used to be. Whether for reasons of companionship, sex, children or professional success, their report indicates that marriage is no longer a necessity. Interestingly enough, just 14% of the people surveyed felt that getting ahead in a career is easier for a married person, while 24% said it was easier for a single person.

Maybe it’s the organizations in which I’ve worked, or the circles in which I’ve traveled, but I’ve found that in many corporate and organizational settings, the expected norm for women on their way into or already in leadership roles is that they be married (kids not necessary) much more so than their male counterparts. This is not to say I’ve not found extremely successful women leaders who are single, divorced or in a committed (non-marriage) relationship –  I have. But there’s an unacknowledged stigma attached to the female leader who has not ‘settled-down.’

The woman who remains unattached, or, heaven forbid, has various companions, is seen as either overly wed to her career, unable to form a relationship, not able to “do it all” (spouse, house and 2.3 kids), or a tramp. However, the man who is single and may have a different woman on his arm at each corporate event, is still seen as in control, dedicated to his job, charismatic, and, as a bonus, a “ladies-man.” Because let’s face it, there’s still some cache attached to that label.

Single people (male and female) can be happy, fulfilled and content. And snicker all you want, but Sex and the City (the show, not the horrendous movies) did a lot to bolster the confidence of single women everywhere.

But we still live in a couple-focused society.

We get invited to weddings, parties and professional events as “Sally Jones and Guest.” The BIG BOSS comes into town each quarter and invites the local leadership team out to dinner – with their spouse/guest. And the male leader who brings a different companion to each of these quarterly dinners is still viewed more favorably than the female leader who does the same.

I’m reminded of the time when it seemed every female professional/leader who got married hyphenated her name. For some, it was a fervent desire to not accept patriarchal norms and abandon their name and for others it was a matter of self-identity.  Perhaps there was a professional need to proclaim “see – I AM married – thus the hyphenated name which clearly reflects that.”

So, has the need to declare that one is no longer single disappeared? Is singlehood among women leaders or would-be-leaders still a barrier to success?

Or am I the singular person who thinks it is?

Photo credit iStock Photo

About the Author

Robin Schooling

With 25 years of HR Management experience, Robin Schooling, SPHR, has worked in a variety of industries. In 2013, after serving as VPHR with a Louisiana based organization, she left corporate HR to open up Silver Zebras, LLC, an HR Consulting firm. She blogs at HRSchoolhouse and you can follow her on twitter at @RobinSchooling where, on football weekends, you can read all her #whodat tweets.


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