Cooperation over Confrontation? Working Collectively or Individually? Debating the Problems of Women in the Corporation

Susan Yohn

This paper examines the impact of social policy debates upon the workings of the corporation by focusing on the discussion of the problems faced by women employees in balancing work with family responsibilities. The most recent iteration of this debate is that between Sheryl Sandberg and Anne Marie Slaughter, but theirs reprises the controversy that erupted upon the publication of an article by Felice Schwartz, founder of Catalyst—a feminist organization that lobbies for women to be hired and promoted into corporate management—in a 1989 Harvard Business Review. Catalyst has sought to make corporations more ''virtuous'' and receptive to the needs of women employees by employing strategies of cooperation rather than confrontation. Best known for giving rise to the term ''mommy track,'' the article was a seemingly reasonable appeal for companies to take a flexible approach to the needs of female employees who were mothers. The article generated a volume of letters previously unseen by the journal and led to impassioned debate among a range of individuals, from corporate leaders to feminists like Betty Friedan, about the efficacy of Schwartz' proposals. In this exchange one can track a shift from a commitment to a collective response to one that is more individual, suggesting why the United States continues to lag behind other nations in the development of maternity and family policies.