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By: Brad Lenz

Jodi Detjen, who received her master’s degree in International Development Policy from Duke in 1997, gave a talk about her new book, “The Orange Line: A Woman’s Guide to Integrating Career, Family, and Life” last Thursday, Feb. 6, at the Sanford School of Public Policy. In the book, she and co-authors Kelly Watson and Michelle A. Waters analyze how women balance their careers with other priorities such as family, partly through interviewing 118 women about their career paths.   

Throughout the talk, Detjen asserted that a large problem facing women in the workplace is their outlook and how they frame problems and goals. She cited that, while 67 percent of women feel that their career is important, only 15 percent want senior leadership roles – showing that for various reasons, women do not allow themselves to seek out or desire more ambitious career goals.

What is the Orange Line?

According to the authors of the book, the orange line is one of several life paths a woman can take. The other paths are the green line, which models the life of a woman who is completely devoted to working, and the red line, which models the life of a woman who is devoted to family. 

On the other hand, the orange line represents the life of a woman who is able to have both. In their research, the authors found that the women who were most successful had found a way to devote time to career, family and themselves. They also found that when things became difficult, the first of these to go was often time for themselves. While many women feel they cannot appropriately devote themselves to their family, themselves, and their career, Detjen claimed it can be accomplished with the right outlook and skills.

The Feminine Filter

Detjen explained that women often create expectations about their lives based on the feminine filter, which tells them that they have to do it all, look good, and “be very nice.” Rather, Detjen proposed that women should follow what she calls the three core principles: to do what’s required – not more, not less; to do what’s right in terms of using your time most efficiently; and to be authentic.

“She didn’t negotiate the what, she negotiated the how”

One of the main points that Detjen made is that women need to believe and assert that their lives, dreams, and careers are as important as those of others, be it their spouse, children or friends. She told a story about a woman who wanted to go back to graduate school. Rather than asking her family if she could go back, she asked them what they all would have to do to facilitate her going. In this way, she asserted her equality and importance rather than sacrificing her ambitions.

Reframing negative assumptions

One way Detjen proposes that women can escape the limits they place on themselves is by reframing the way they approach problems and goals.  For example, rather than thinking, “If I follow the rules, good things will happen,” she suggests taking a more active approach: “I take responsibility for myself and ask for what I need.” Such reframing has a better chance of leading to positive results, such as a promotion.

Detjen also provided case studies that highlighted the problems that she had mentioned earlier, such as women who thought that their goals were less important or that they were not able to do what they wanted.  She also instructed the audience to think of their long-term career goals, to look for the inherent assumptions in those goals, and to reframe the goals in a way that was active and positive. 

Detjen warned that the process of a woman taking the orange line and asserting her importance is difficult and is often best undertaken with a support group.  She also mentioned that while transformation is necessary at the individual level, there also needs to be adjustment at the organizational level in order for wide-spread change to occur.

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