Diane Osgood, PhD (48) is the Founder of Osgood Sustainability Consulting.
She advises Fortune 500 companies and is Senior Advisor to the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and Business for Social Responsibility. Her work involves driving sustainable change projects through international organizations such as the CGI, in order to launch the subject on major global platforms.
Passionate about taking forward the ‘girls and women’ agenda globally, Diane’s work involves rolling out tried-and-tested ‘girls and women’ projects as a proven way to create effective and sustainable change.
Renowned in her field and widely published in both business and academic journals, Diane earned her doctorate in Environmental Economics and Development Studies at the London School of Economics. She began her career as a portfolio manager at Merrill Lynch in Switzerland.
Diane lives near Chicago and in France with her partner and has no children.
GW: Diane, when you were young, how did you feel about having children when you grew up?
Diane: I never really thought about it! There was definitely an assumption that I would have children… but it wasn’t really something I thought about. Apart from the Catholic Nuns I was educated by, I wasn’t aware of any women around me without children… What I was aware of, from as early as the age of 7, was that I wanted to work in the world at a global level. As I grew up in rural California, this desire could only have come from within. It was not in my environment. I decided that when I grew up I would work at the United Nations… and I was an intern at the UN by the time I was 20 and an economist in the UN Environment Program by my late 20s.
GW: At what point in your life did you realise that you were not going to have biological children and how did you feel about it? How do you feel about it now?
Diane: The anxiety kicked in at about 38/39 and then by the time I was 41/42 I put myself through some intense mental and emotional gymnastics to get over it. It was a quick process for me, although I’ve seen it take a lot longer for some of my peers. There were a lot of awkward pauses socially in my late 30s and early 40s when the topic would come up – my situation definitely made people uneasy. These days, it doesn’t come up anymore. It was never a conscious decision of mine not to have children, but the fact is that I made poor choices with regard to my relationships in my 30s and that prevented me from having children. I take responsibility for that. I don’t see myself as ‘childfree by circumstances’: I made choices.
GW: Do you agree with the Gateway Women philosophy that the ‘hole’ left in many women’s lives by not being mothers is often a lack of ‘meaning’ rather than the lack of a biological child…
Diane: Any ‘hole’ in a woman’s or man’s life is a lack of meaning…
GW: What gives your life meaning? Do you think your focus would be different if you were a mother?
Diane: I consider myself lucky and blessed to have clarity early on in my life about my purpose and what makes me thrive.
GW: What advice would you give to your younger self regarding becoming / not becoming a mother?
Diane: I would tell her at 35 to have a really good think about whether having children is a priority for her, and if so to think very carefully about her dating choices – even first dates! In general, to be much more conscious and discerning about who you date. I was a bit bruised and lacking in confidence romantically around this time, and so I wasn’t sufficiently discerning. I think this can be a big problem for women perhaps coming out of a first marriage in their early thirties…
GW: What role models have you looked to as a childfree woman?
Diane: I am blessed by many wonderful role models and mentors. Early on, Joan Avis was a Professor at my university and she took me under her wing – she really opened my mind to the concept of celebrating life and love – she taught me about joy. She wrote a great book: ‘The Women Who Broke All The Rules: How the Choices of a Generation Changed Our Lives’, about the second wave of women’s rights in the US which happened in the 60’s and 70’s.
A bit later in life I met Darby C. in London. She once told me, “there’s something broken when a women doesn’t have children and it’s perfectly fine.” That always stayed with me. Since that conversation, I am capable of holding that duality of my life: something broken and everything is truly fine.
Recently I find myself in the company of many amazing leaders who happened to be women without their own biological children. There is a tremendous ease and acceptance of the lives we live, and our nourishment and ability to give and serve takes many, many forms. While most of these women are older than I am, I have noticed that there’s a large community of women about 5 -8 years younger than me who currently don’t have children. I wonder if they have support and role models that are available for frank, open and at times difficult discussions about having children. How would I be as a source of support for them?
GW: Do you describe yourself as childless, childfree or any such term? Do you feel defined by this in any way?
Diane: I’m fascinated by this question! I would never describe myself as ‘less’ or ‘free’ of anything… I tend to say, “No, I don’t have children.” I realize that by starting with the “no”, I am responding to an unspoken assumption that I do. Funny, language….
GW: Thank you so much Diane, for being a Gateway Women Role Model.
Diane Osgood PhD can be contacted at http://www.osgoodsustain.com
Diane Osgood was talking to Jody Day by telephone in August 2011
One of the aims of Gateway Women is to raise the profile of women without children in the public eye. Read more about Gateway Women’s Role Model Mission here. And we’d love to know who’d you’d like to see included in this series. Please comment below or email Jody directly.