New book on Silicon Valley achievers refutes myth of Superwoman

For the past three decades, women have been told that they can have it all--a high-powered professional career, loving family, and satisfying personal relationship--if only they learn how to properly organize their time. But a new book, coauthored by UC Santa Cruz lecturer Peggy Downes Baskin, reveals that the lives of successful female executives contradict this advice.

Beyond Superwoman is based on candid interviews with 25 top Silicon Valley executives including Donna Dubinsky, founder of Palm Pilot, Kathy Levinson, president of E*Trade, M.R.C. Greenwood, chancellor of UC Santa Cruz, Kathleen Sullivan, dean of Stanford Law School, Susan Hammer, mayor of San Jose, Jackie Speier, California State Senator, and Ann Livermore, vice-president of Hewlett-Packard. The book explores the work/life patterns of this new breed of female worker who has rejected the "Superwoman syndrome."

"What we found runs contrary to the advice commonly given in magazines, by relatives, and the community," said coauthor Karin Strasser Kauffman, a former Monterey County Supervisor, university professor, and founding chair of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Council. "Women are constantly told that if they plan carefully, they can do it all. But the women in Silicon Valley made it very clear that this advice is unrealistic, dangerous to physical and mental well-being, and ultimately counterproductive."

The authors discovered, that without exception, the Silicon Valley CEOs did not attempt to try to achieve a balance between their personal and professional lives. Instead, they sequenced their lives, concentrating on doing one thing at a time, and doing it well. As the authors point out in the book's introduction:

"The majority of women leaders in Silicon Valley consciously and constantly re-evaluate their lives, adjust their pace, and pull back from that edge through a creative array of lifestyle changes. They adapt to stress. They reinvent themselves as they rise through the ranks."

To simplify their lives, each of these influential women let something go. Some concentrated on their family first, and began their career later in life. Others focused on their career from the beginning, but later stepped down in order to focus on other priorities, including family. Although they found a wide variety of paths, the authors identified several patterns characteristic of the new breed of women.

"These women sometimes work 80 hours a week, but universally, they love their jobs," noted Downes Baskin. "They are all self-starters with great drive, energy and determination to overcome obstacles and keep going. And they changed jobs frequently. The idea is to take a skill set with you and move to something else, even change skills. You've got to be flexible, always with your eye to the next thing."

Downes Baskin has devoted a significant portion of her professional career to women's issues and currently serves on the boards of three college and university foundations. Now a senior lecturer in women's studies at UC Santa Cruz, she also taught politics at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley for 18 years.

"Women are learning that they can take five years off and still feel they have time to pull in and out of the job market," Downes Baskin added. "They're getting the big picture now."

Written in a practical, easy-to-read style, the book provides a compelling glimpse into the lifestyles of women who have risen to the top of previously male-dominated professions. Although they interviewed very special women in the extremely tough work environment of Silicon Valley, the authors noted that the book still offers plenty of advice for the average working woman.

"Each chapter has something that could resonate with anyone making their way up the career ladder, or who is considering re-entry into academics or the job market," Downes Baskin said.

"We didn't aim to put out an academic study," added Strasser Kauffman. "Instead, we were thinking: 'wouldn't it be exciting if we could come up with some practical advice for women'?"


Beyond Superwoman is published by Carmel Publishing Company. For more information, call 1.800.731.3322. A special web site on the book's subject matter, created by UC Santa Cruz Social Sciences Bibliographer Sheila O'Hare, can be found at: