Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sarah Palin and Opting Out (by Liz)

Who really knows what's behind Sarah Palin's decision to resign as Governor of Alaska? Certainly not the fact she wants to avoid becoming a lame duck governor for the good of Alaska.

Popular theories being floated include:

· she is gearing up to run for president in 2012

· there is a big scandal set to hit her office in coming days and she is getting out in advance

· she has accepted a well-paying job in the private sector- perhaps as a TV commentator

· she was tired of all the negative press

· she might be pregnant (This classic from CNN's Rick Sanchez).

Here’s another theory: Sarah Palin simply opted out.

Opting out is a loaded concept. The mainstream media often paint opting out as a decision made by women to quit work and live out some kind of warm and fuzzy stay-at-home-mother retro-fantasy. Occasionally, we hear about the women who seem to have opted out but in reality were forced out of the workplace due to a lack of work/life flexibility options and/or hostile working environments. Rarely do we read about the women who leave the corporate world because, quite simply, they think corporate America sucks.

I've interviewed a lot of women who have "opted out" of the corporate world. Many of these women don’t stop working –often they start their own businesses. While almost all of them cite flexibility as a big bonus, motherhood is not the only reason they leave. Their reasons are personal and vary greatly. They leave because they climb high enough on the ladder to get a view of the top and they don't like what they see. Because they can't align their personal values with their company's business objectives. Because they don’t respect their coworkers. Because they don’t like who they are becoming. Because they aren't passionate about their work. Because they have the strength and self-confidence to swap a big paycheck and status for a life more in tune with their own beliefs. Because they aren't passionate about what they are doing. Because they choose to place their own well-being ahead of anything else.

We know the personal is political and ultimately we need to address these issues collectively. After all, studies continue to show that women leaders are good for business. There is risk in women opting out.

Will I be surprised if there is more to the Palin story? No. But what if there isn't? What if, in this case, the political is personal? What if there's nothing else to the story and Sarah Palin simply quit?