Gabriela Cora, M.D., M.B.A.

Gabriela Cora M.D., M.B.A.

Alpha Females


Do Women Leaders Experience More Guilt Than Their Male Counterparts?

What is it about women and guilt.

Posted Feb 29, 2012

According to the US Department of Commerce, the number of women-owned businesses grew by 44% between 1997 and 2007, twice as fast as men-owned firms. Even more women work as company executives and many more are employed by small, medium, and large businesses.

Many successful women experience a profound sense of guilt when conflicted about choosing career over family, and the women who experience this are unhappy with their situation. When you flip the situation, instead of guilt when choosing the other way around—that is, when a woman decides to stay at home instead of pursue her career—it is more out of a sense of frustration from not being able to continue the expected achievement through a well-designed career. Why guilt and why the frustration? What’s nature and what’s nurture? Do women really have a genetic predisposition to experience more guilt? There is no scientific evidence that this is so, but hormones may play a role.

Many women experienced their own mothers’ regret for “needing” to work and feeling bad about leaving her child at home. Many of these women have self-imposed pressures to be the best of moms first, thus in direct conflict with her need to focus on career. Many women may have disliked their mothers’ work while they were growing up but may have come to admire their own mothers’ resilience and success. Historically, men have been expected to be the breadwinners in the family, so the “male-goes-to-work” message has been ingrained since an early age.

In my case, I first became a mom while I was in medical school at twenty-two and didn't think much about needing to make one choice over the other: I thought of how I could do both. By twenty-four, I graduated as a doctor and had a second child. Choosing both options creates an opportunity to build a strategy to make both things happen. In general, I have observed through years of working with many successful men—and women—that it is a person’s high expectations about success on all fronts and fear of failure that limits his or her ability to focus on both. If the only option is to do both, then you have less time to be conflicted about one or the other.

Watch this interview, as Mayra Del Valle and Leylani Cardoso, a mother and daughter, became a powerful business team; how they juggle the challenges of being top-notch in business while being great moms, daughters, and wives; and how they look into their future as they continue to build a solid organization with shared values and trust.