Bush adviser may set trend among powerful women
By Karen S. Peterson and Karen Thomas
|HUGHES: May become a role model for women|
You would think so from the talk generated by the departure of senior adviser Karen P. Hughes, 45, from President Bush's inner circle. Although she works in a town that celebrates power, Hughes announced last week that she is leaving Washington this summer to "take my family back home to Texas."
Hughes is only one woman choosing to change her lifestyle. She will continue to work for Bush from Texas, joining the legions of telecommuters. And she has the financial ability and backing of a supportive husband to help pull it off. Still, this one woman seems to have caught the imagination of trend-watchers.
Hughes' decision is representative of today's "watershed word: flexibility," says Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education. "Women are seeing today that they can take turns doing things. They can start a career, take time off to have children and then return to a full-bodied career. You can have it all, just not all at the same time."
Cheryl Richardson, author of "Stand Up For Your Life" and a consultant who helps clients plan life changes, says many today are questioning whether they really do want it all "and are they willing to pay the price for it. In my experience, the answer is no."
Hughes is seen as a very strong woman, says Sylvia Hewlett, author of the much talked about "Creating a Life," which says many executive women accidentally let motherhood pass them by as they pursue careers. "If Karen Hughes can't handle keeping the balancing act together, who can? This is a big deal, and I admire her for coming clean."
Others say she stands out because she stands alone in the limelight. As Hughes leaves her prime real estate near the Oval Office, she "catches the public eye, because there are so few powerful role models for how to do it," says Laura Berman Fortgang, consultant and author of "Living Your Best Life." "Change is difficult. When we have more role models, we will see more women making the same choice."
Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, hopes that someday we won't see such shifts as events. "Women will have arrived when these kinds of decisions make the front pages as often for men as for women."
In part, some say, Hughes symbolizes the re-examination some have made since the terrorist events of Sept. 11. Sheila Wellington of CATALYST says her organization, which monitors family and business issues, finds a refocusing on family in its post-9/11 surveys. "Overwhelmingly, people are re-evaluating the things in their lives that matter, saying the most important thing is having a loving family. Both men and women plan to work fewer hours."
Experts say many powerful men also want to cut back, but a double standard comes into play. When Robert Reich left his post as labor secretary in the Clinton administration for family reasons, he was not seen as a hero, says Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute. While some cynics questioned a man's motives, Hughes is somehow seen as a symbol, Galinsky says.
Men want to retrench, too, Richardson says. "Most people are suffering in silence while working ridiculous hours and raising a family."
Nancy Evans, co-founder of iVillage network, identifies an upside. Both working and stay-at-home moms are talking respectfully about Hughes on message boards. Just five years ago the two factions were often at war. "The fact that women are less judgmental says they're more confident in their choices."