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Monday, January 31, 2005

Does anyone care?

Maybe many professional women are unable to restructure their jobs to be more family friendly simply because the media does not consider it a newsworthy issue. And if it's not a newsworthy issue, then maybe the problem doesn't exist.

Last Thursday I blogged about a conference series called Family Squeeze, hosted by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). There is not one single news article can I find about this conference or Friday's topic of flexible work laws in the UK and possible implications for workers in the United States. Not one article. It is so hard to believe that not a single reporter--who covers public policy, or women, or work--was available to write about this one-hour discussion, the first of many work-family panels scheduled for 2005. "Our audio conferences don't tend to generate much media coverage," said Gayle Bennett, CLASP's communications director via email.

I would have very much liked to personally listen to the one hour call, but with a 21-month-old baby, I don't have the luxury of an extensive, uninterrupted telephone call. I'll admit that I really know little about CLASP, who runs this conference series. But they have managed to snag a couple of senators, including Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D-LA), to participate in some upcoming discussions. Maybe when those news-making individuals are involved, the media will cover the sessions.

But without the press, it's like it never even happened.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Self-serve satisfaction

Being a parent doesn't make you needy. Parents don't have time to be needy because we are constantly needed by others. Small others with very big needs. And when we aren't filling needs (ie: read this book, build a tower, horsey rides around the living room, trips to the park), we are anticipating needs (what groceries do I need to buy, what should I make for dinner, better do that laundry because I'm out of clean underwear).

As parents, we barely have time to think about ourselves. So instead of making us needy, being a parent makes us lonely and isolated adults with long, never-ending to-do lists. If we have needs, and surely we do, then they are this: acknowledge that this parenting stuff is hard work, and thank me for doing the _______ (insert domestic task of your choice).

There has been a lot of fodder around David Hochman's New York Times piece "Mommy (and Me)." He writes, "The baby blog in many cases is an online shrine to parental self-absorption," and ends with the assertion that parent-bloggers are crashing towards a self-fulfilling letdown: "And of course the more parents blog, the less likely they are to get the attention and validation they seem to crave."

I don't deny that validation would be nice, but that is not why I write this blog. This is about feeling productive in the not-so-productive world of at-home parenting. Most of the time, if I'm lucky to get a break long enough to have a coherent thought, then hallelujah, I'm going to publish it so that I can look back it later and know that: 1) I had a coherent thought, and 2) phew, my brain isn't turning into pureed squash.

So am I being defensive? Maybe a little. I'm a parent and I blog. But I'd like to point out that this is a self-servicing blog. It feels good to write. And if I like watching my traffic numbers grow, and I'm excited when I see people have linked to my blog, or commented on my blog (yes, yes, please comment!), then so what?

For an ex-reporter, flexing my fingers into flowing sentences, and seeing the fruits of my non-paying labor up there in all its pink-bordered, monitor-glowing glory, then that is reward enough for me.

Friday, January 28, 2005

I was way off

What was I thinking? I ended a post yesterday with a comment about how a paycheck would be great. I'm not taking that statement back because I doubt many at-home moms would disagree. But I ended with a sense that it's all about money.

If it were really all about money, most of us would already be working with the kids in daycare. I was reading an article in the Wisconsin newspaper called the Appleton Post-Crescent called "Getting back to work: After years of diapers, stay-at-home moms return to workplace."

The article just reminded me something very important: for many women, going back to work "is less about economic necessity and more about finding an individual identity or realizing a dream."

Yes! That's it. How could that have escaped me, even long enough to write and publish that comment? It got me thinking about a post a couple of weeks ago, when Scolding Friend told me to get a life.

I guess so much of the time money makes us feel important. If someone pays us to do something, then it's worthy. If we do it because we want to (ie: writing this blog), then it is somehow not as worthy, even if it gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling. Warm and fuzzy is all good, but somehow it just doesn't have that same validity as a bump in the checking account balance.

It's like when I was in college and struggling with a food obsession. At the end of the day, I would look back and decide if it was a good day/good person or a bad day/bad person based on what went into my mouth. I think this is sort of the same thing. Only money is directly related to self worth, not food.

  • Money = good
  • No money = bad
  • Warm fuzzy feeling = sort of good
  • No money, no fuzzy feeling = really bad

And that last item is where so many women are stuck. Many of the super amazing moms I know liked their jobs and their careers. They would like have those things again, just not full time. If you can figure out this trifecta--a way to get that warm fuzzy feeling, get some money, and get to be home with your kids--you'll be (to quote Dr. Seuss) the "winning-est winner of all." But, hey, if you only can manage two out of three, then you're be all right "98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Family squeeze: a series

A conference series called Family Squeeze, hosted by the Center for Law and Social Policy, starts tomorrow, January 28.

Friday's topic: Right to Request Flexible Work: U.K. Emerging Lessons; it runs from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm, eastern time.

In 2003, a law went into effect in the U.K. that gives parents have a legal right to request flexible work. But just because employers must consider requests for flexible schedules, has there been an increase in workplace flexibility? Panelists will also consider the ramifications for parents, and if the United States is considering similar laws.

The series will focus on several good and bad aspects of work and family.
Work is a double-edged sword. It can bring enormous benefits—income, self-esteem, stability. But the joust comes with costs. An imbalance between work and life can be unhealthy—both for the worker and the worker’s family. Businesses need healthy workers and, increasingly, employers are seeking new ways to provide a balance between work and life. Families are often squeezed in other ways, particularly when there is too little or no work and when federal and state budget cuts drain funding for vital work supports that help families keep a balance. This audio conference series explores the squeeze on families, particularly low-income families, and looks at ways to restore a healthy balance. Join in the calls and hear guests Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D-LA), along with a host of policy experts.
(Thanks to Half Changed World for pointing me to this series).

A blogger's dream

It's been nearly a month. I've been climbing over, stepping on, poking, shaking up, and examining the issues surrounding women and work and how it much pretty much sucks to not have the job-parenting balance thing figured out.

I'll be honest and perhaps it's an over-share, but for me, it's been one, long writing orgasm. I'm my own boss, I write whatever I want, whenever I want, and my deadlines? Well, they are whenever I'm done. No one asks me for a re-write. I don't even have to run my copy through a spell-checker, as some of you have probably noticed.

It's been great, for the most part. But am I really any closer to finding my own balance? Well, maybe a little bit closer. I get to write, which is what I want. And I get to write about parenting, which is what I want. Now if only I could figure out how to make my daily spew into a money-making success. I'm sure no other blogger has ever wondered that.

Do I smell a book-deal? Nope. Although there seems to a section on this very topic at Blogger, the site I use to publish my blog. And it worked for Wil Wheaton. Okay, so he has a movie and television career behind him.

So how about a column in a monthly magazine? I do have lots of reporting experience. And now I have some experience being a daily columnist, as I like to call it. And a column would be delicious! Now here's the conundrum. I've been spending nearly all of my free time blogging, and brainstorming, and reading other blogs. With all these other activities taking up my time (hey, my kid only naps for about 90 minutes a day), there really isn't any leftover time to actually find meaningful part-time work, a.k.a. republishing my blog for bucks.

Even if I never get there, it's been exciting to have a purpose outside of parenting and grocery shopping and laundry. And I think that's what all of us moms are striving for. Who am I kidding? A paycheck would be nice too.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Thy name is discrimination

Different upbringing, different nurturing, different brain matter, different job status.

An article called Gray Matter and Sexes: A Gray Area Scientifically published in the New York Times Monday, explored the research that has been done on the physical differences in the brains of men and women, the test score differences on male and female teenagers in more than 40 countries, and the cultural stigma of hiring women versus hiring men.

I found the most interesting part of the article pointed out that negative perceptions continue to hinder women in science in a big way.
Dr. (C. Megan) Urry (a professor of physics and astronomy at Yale) cited a 1983 study in which 360 people - half men, half women - rated mathematics papers on a five-point scale. On average, the men rated them a full point higher when the author was "John T. McKay" than when the author was "Joan T. McKay." There was a similar, but smaller disparity in the scores the women gave.

Dr. (Elizabeth) Spelke, of Harvard, said, "It's hard for me to get excited about small differences in biology when the evidence shows that women in science are still discriminated against every stage of the way."

A recent experiment showed that when Princeton students were asked to evaluate two highly qualified candidates for an engineering job - one with more education, the other with more work experience - they picked the more educated candidate 75 percent of the time. But when the candidates were designated as male or female, and the educated candidate bore a female name, suddenly she was preferred only 48 percent of the time.

The debate is sure to go on.

Sandra F. Witelson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said biology might yet be found to play some role in women's careers in the sciences.

"People have to have an open mind," Dr. Witelson said.
I don't know if there will be any less discrimination against women as a result of all this news coverage. And we may not like the way Harvard President Lawrence Summers started this debate. But at least there's dialog. And isn't that what he was hoping for in the first place?

Monday, January 24, 2005

Let's swallow the bitter pill

The topic of mixing work and motherhood has been a sore spot for some Mother in Chief readers. The comments are telling: a lot of people are struggling, even if they don't come out and say so.

Some childless women are bitter. Some mothers who work long hours are bitter. Some at-home moms who have been pushed aside are bitter. Some men are angry and bitter because this "feminist issue" is getting in the way of their research. It does not matter how much you plan, or how supportive your partner is, or how fulfilling your current project is. With every choice (work lots of hours, don't work, get married, have kids, no kids, go to school, hop on the tenure track), we give something else up. And once a path is chosen, we really never know the extent of what we gave up.

Deciding whether or not to have kids is a personal decision. Deciding when to have them is also a personal decision. I think Bitchitude summed it up nicely: "Regardless if any of us (male or female, mother or father) realizes it, we are all on the same page; to accomplish our own goals without interference, to raise families in the way we feel is best, to succeed in life as we best see fit, and to be afforded fair opportunities to do so."

To the women who have kids or want kids, I think we know deep down that at least some career fallout was or is inevitable. Ellen Goodman had a really intelligent editorial in the Buffalo News Monday about mixing tenure and parenthood. If you haven't seen it, check it out. On of my favorite lines: "...too few have taken on the unisex madness of the workload overload. Until we do that, having it all, in sync or sequence, is going to be as seamless and sensible as having a baby at 66."

Goodman's editorial quoted the 66-year-old new mom, who gave birth on January 17, as saying, "I always worked so hard in my career I had no chance to build a relationship and start a family, and after I retired, I regretted it bitterly."

I guess there is no right answer to finding a balance. But we all have to acknowledge that everyone is aiming for harmony, and that harmony is different for everyone. So now I'll get a little bossy:

1) To the childless women: don't begrudge women who have kids and want to be with them.
2) To the working moms: don't think at-home moms are crazy for wanting to work.
3) To the at-home moms: not everyone is going to agree with you, understand you, or stick up for you.
4) To the angry men: just because this mostly about women doesn't make you exempt. You have a mother, sisters, cousins, and (if you're lucky) girlfriends.

Mostly we just need to try and make things work and not hate each other in the process. We need to make choices, live life, and hope our real dreams don't pass us by, leaving regret, bitterness, and a life of "what-ifs", as it did for the 66-year-old mom.

A fight for the prize

The verbal joust that has spurred several 900-word essays from researches on the sensitive topic of 80-hour work weeks has jumped over to Geeky Mom. I've been posting there as well as here, and I wanted to include my latest response here:
The whole idea of talking about women and mothering and career is not to say that one person or one way is right and all other choices are wrong.

I'm not saying that I want to be a top research scientist (even if I wanted to, it's not gonna happen), or the CEO of a big firm, or a high-powered attorney. My point is that I've seen so many talented women (who are also mothers) be pushed away from their jobs because no flexibility has been offered.

And as bitchitude pointed out, yes we all chose to have kids, but that shouldn't make us lepers in the business or academic world. The definition of successful is going to be different to everyone. Vera says, "nothing makes me feel worse than having to drop to part time research during the school year when I'm doing homework more than full time." So to Ben, Vera, and others may think that part-time work or research is the pits, it might not be for you. But I know that there are lots of amazingly talented people who could produce noteworthy results in controlled amounts of time if given the opportunity.

The best part would be that they are still contributing *and* getting the opportunity to be with their kids. No Nobel prize may be in their futures, but sometimes the greatest prize is one that comes from within.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Work differently

Slowly there are companies and universities reaching out to their female employees trying to make things work, when job and family don't mix harmoniously in the blender of life.

Whether the academics commenting on previous posts deny it or not, women are succeeding and finding a way to do it. It is just not widespread enough. CBS aired a great story last October on women who left high-powered careers in order to be home raising their kids, and others who are making part-time careers meaningful. The story quotes a Harvard Business School survey that found that just 38 percent of its female graduates in their child-raising years were in the workplace full-time. HBS Dean Kim Clark told CBS that the survey's findings won't deter him from accepting women into Harvard. He said companies are going to have to change. And one of Clark's goals as dean "is to convince the business world it's in their interest to come up with creative solutions to keep women in (the workplace, in some capacity)."

The cover story of the January/February issue of Mothering Magazine is entitled, "Off To Work We Go - Baby In Tow!" Yes, some companies are making arrangements to allow women to bring baby to work. The February issue of Ladies' Home Journal has a cover story called, "You're hired! Why companies are competing for moms." Bringing babies to work, allowing moms to take up to five years of unpaid leave, and offering perks like on-site daycare, helps moms (and dads) find a work-life balance.

These family-friendly options are the minority, by far. But it is encouraging to see that there are some companies making sweeping changes to keep moms at work.

Companies who have rigid policies will need to change to stay competitive. Nicole, who works for a high-tech firm in Southern California, can't understand why her employer is being so inflexible. Nicole has a four-month-old baby and is supposed to head back to her job next week. She's trying to work an arrangement that would allow her to do her current job from home. "The fact that they don't let me do the job from (home) is ridiculous," she said. "I never see the clients and all the work is done via email." She added: "I email my boss who sits four feet from me."

Her employer has offered her a position that is a step down with a significant cut in pay. It would be 30 hours a week, with half of those at home. The catch: It's only for three months. Then it's back to the old, full-time job at the office. The no telecommuting policy has nothing to do with whether or not work gets done. According to Nicole, her boss grabbed a football and said, "You can't be part of the team if you're somewhere else."

With that attitude, you're going to have an office full of quarterbacks, without any ambitious receivers ready to take the ball and run.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

This is not a feminist issue

The whole idea that women need to work crazy hours in order to be successful, accomplished, or simply considered worthy, is pathetic.

When working women have babies, they are often not given a way to scale back their responsibilities. So they quietly quit their unaccommodating jobs when they have kids. And as long as they leave without a fight and no one else sticks up for them, there will not be any change. As a result, businesses and academic institutions alike will be missing out on the skills of a whole subset of society.

Ben said that this subset is on their own when it comes to making change. "Perhaps someday feminists will succeed in pushing through public policy initiatives to restructure the academic world to accord more harmoniously with women's needs," he said.

How close-minded can you get? This is not just the work of feminists! Men and women (including many accomplished scholars and scientists) have kids. So this effort to find a balance between work and family is not just about women! Until we all demand change, change will not happen. Saying oh well, this is a women's issue is a complete cop out.

"If women are less inclined, on average, to devote their entire life to their work," said Vera, who does not want to have kids, "there will be fewer, on average, women excelling in scientific research."

I'm positive that along the path of Vera's scientific research, she will meet women (who also happen to be mothers) with excellent research skills who lend a hand to the successes of the people around them. Just because those women choose to be home part-time to help raise their kids, it should not preclude them from the lab or the office or wherever else they may want to work. And just because these mothers' research projects or careers progress at a slower pace than those who work 40 or 80 hours a week, does not mean they won't excel in their fields.

I think GM summed it up nicely as to why change for women is going to be a long and grueling struggle:

Women's work, if it's not in a typically male field like the sciences, is valued less. Motherhood is not considered work. Teaching elementary school (a predominantly female field) is considered less difficult than teaching college. Until our culture can appreciate and value the work that everyone does, we will get nowhere. The underlying message in Summers' comments: "We don't value women in our profession; go home and raise the kids and don't bother me until they graduate from college."

But just as women--with the help of their male allies--won the right to vote, mothers need the help of everyone to win the right to have meaningful part-time careers.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Struck a nerve

An extra sensitive nerve was poked with my last post about my curiosity as to why so many people and news outlets focused on the biological aspect of Summer's comments, and not so much on the 80-hour work week.

I don't understand why so many people willing to jump to defend people who work 80 hours a week, but don't jump to the defense of women who want to raise their kids and work and still be successful. I doubt that the only way to be successful is to work 80 hours a week.

Perhaps some people need that much time to feel like they have accomplished something. Vera, who pointed out that she does not want to have kids said:
People who spend 80 hours a week in the lab are going to get more research done. Smart people who spend 80 hours a week in the lab are going to get even more done.
You might get a lot of work done in the lab 80 hours a week, but that is not the only way. Smart women--smart people--with excellent time-management skills can get things done and still have time to go to the park, to build towers with blocks, and read books with their kids.

Ben added:
It's also an empirical fact that women are less inclined to work that hard. I don't think anybody, even hardline proponts of the position Summers alluded to, would say that this means women are somehow generally less worthy. But it does mean they are less apt at doing one of the big things that makes you a good academic.
This is a ridiculous statement. Women work hard! At home, at the office, women rarely ever stop working. Even in relationships where both partners work and consider each other equals, much of the domestic work gets dropped on the women. If we assume that you are just talking about working in an office or in a lab, consider that people who spend 80 hours a week in the lab are also more likely to get burned out much quicker, thus shorteing the life-span of their ability to do research.

I don't think anyone would argue that more women than men leave their careers to make children a priority (although there is a small, but growing trend of dads who choose to leave their jobs to raise their kids). But parents leave their jobs because there are not many options to stay connected to work while also raising kids. Especially if the other alternative is putting the kids in daycare full-time.

"Things don't need to be black and white," said Nicole who is currently on maternity leave from her high-tech job in Southern California and trying to pen an arrangement with her employer to work her job on part-time basis. Unfortunately, when it comes to moms and work, it is sad that they so often are.

The later comments that are coming in as a result of my post are still focusing on whether women are better at being home and raising kids or better at being at work. You are all missing the point. Women can be successful at both, but our socieity has evolved in such a a way that makes it nearly impossible to be working at raising kids without giving up on one or the other in some ways.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

80-hour BS

Yes, I am outraged by Harvard University President Lawrence Summers' explanation as to why women may not be rising to top math and science jobs. But I seem to be outraged for a different reason.

There has been an overwhelming number of stories published about his comments and the bubbling aftermath. Most news stories focus on Summers' suggestion that women are not on par with men because they may not be biologically hardwired to handle math and science as well as men.

That biology crap was just one reason he gave. Yes, it is disgusting, and yes, it should be written about and attacked. And yes, I am outraged by it. But I think it is really unfortunate that the news has predominantly focused on that point in particular. But along with biological differences, he also mentioned discrimination, as well as "the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks," as reported by The Boston Globe.

Hello? Why isn't there more rage and media coverage of that comment??!! Could it be because people actually buy into that? He mentions biological differences and people get outraged and walk out of his lecture. They think the man is insane! He mentions that women and mothers do not want to work 80 hours a week because they have kids and people keep on reading, looking for the next outrage to be revealed. That reluctance to feel anything or to notice that comment for what it is--gender-bias bullshit--is another example of how much society accepts the status quo when it comes to women and work.

It is ridiculous for anyone to work 80 hours a week. And working the equivalent of two full-time jobs certainly should not be a criteria to advance in business or academia or elsewhere, for men or women, whether they have kids or not. When I was the managing producer of a top Internet site, I would cringe as I scanned the cube-farm as I headed for the bus after a nine- or ten-hour day. Men (yes, these were mostly men) tried to out-stay each other to show how important they were. Oh how important you look when you are still at the office at 7:30 pm, or 9 pm, or whenever. Really, let's be honest: when you have planned to be at work for 12 or 14 hours, there a whole lot more gabbing and coffee breaks filling the time. When you have mentally set yourself up for a grueling long day, why work hard to get out at a normal time.

It does not matter whether or not you have kids. This is not a parent issue or a women's issue. This is a sanity issue. Whether it is to get home to get to put the kids to bed, catch the latest episode of CSI, have dinner with your friends or spouse, or just sit on the couch and masturbate, everyone deserves a few hours to decompress before showing up at work again. Not wanting to work 80 hours a week does not make you a slacker or undedicated. It makes you normal.

So maybe because men are used to trying to show how important they are by staying longer than anyone else, they assume that women can't handle the requirements because they have kids. That is a cop out. I think Miriam over at the Playground Revolution summed it up nicely: "sounds like old-fashioned sexism to me."

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Is younger easier?

Women are delaying having kids so that they can focus on education and career. But at least two women I know advocate that women should have kids earlier in life, not later, as a tactic to plan their way around the career-family dilemma that so many women in their late 20s, 30s, and 40s struggle with.

Instead of a career interruption coming when you are a few steps up the corporate ladder, the parenthood interruption would come before you have really even grabbed on. Having kids earlier in life clears "a nice runway (for moms) to explore their careers once their kids (are) old enough to be in school," said a former high-tech exec, who now works for a non-profit in New York. And even then, it is not always easy. "There are summers and after-school care, etc., etc.," she added, "and you've still experienced a career interruption."

But her point was this: when you are young, you have not put in a lot of years on the job. Therefore, you are not walking away from a career after making big strides. You have just delayed getting started. Another friend has no regrets having her kids at 19 and 22. Sure it was hard when they were young and money was tight, but when she was 40 and fabulous, she visited with her kids at college, not with their teachers at PTA meetings.

This plan is a little late for me and my group of mom friends who are in our 30s, but it is interesting (and a little scary) to think about me having a 10-year-old son. I am just warming up to having a two-year-old. And I am hoping that once he is in school I will still have the energy to at least stand near that ladder, even if I cannot climb up it.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Belly as burden?

In recent blogs, I have considered the challenges that face pregnant women as they interview for jobs. But when you are the boss, the challenges could affect your bottom line.

Kristen, who owns a public relations firm near Boston, started telling clients and potential clients the news once she could no longer keep it a secret under baggy shirts. But when the time came, this self-assured businesswoman with more than 10 years of PR experience fumbled. "I could barely get the words out. I was embarrassed, scared to tell them," Kristen said. "It was very awkward."

Kristen's business partner will be handling their clients while she is out on an eight-to-12 week maternity leave. For the most part, clients have been supportive. But Kristen has been concerned that potential clients will see her belly and not her business. So in an attempt to offset any uneasiness, Kristen's business partner recently started joining her in meetings with new business prospects. She hopes that seeing this other capable person will help clients feel that her temporarily leave is a non-issue.

Her biggest fear: that new business will be more and more difficult to sign as her belly grows. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Buzz, buzz, buzz

Maggie Jackson at The Boston Globe posted an interesting column today about the three myths of balancing work and family. They are: mothers shouldn't work, work-life issues affect only women or parents, and you can't have it all.

I have been thinking a lot about the second myth. Anyone who thinks that work-life issues affect only women or parents has been living and working in a sealed, air-tight container.

It reminds me of book that I liked when I was a kid called "Buzz, Buzz, Buzz." It is the story of a succession of bad things that happen because a bee stung a bull, who made the cow so nervous that she kicked the farmer's wife, who then yelled at the farmer, who then hit the mule, who then kicked over the shed, which scared the goat, who butted the dog, and eventually we get back to the beginning again where there is a bee buzzing about, who unknowingly started this circle of negativity.

Single women, single men, married couples, professional and blue-collar workers alike are affected by families' abilities to find a balance that works for everyone involved. If mom is not happy, it percolates over to dad, who then takes it to the office, who is grouchy to the security worker, who then snaps at other employees, who then type snotty emails to co-workers, who then lash out at other drivers on their way home.

"We all shoulder a balancing act whose joys and burdens ebb and flow at different times in life," wrote Jackson. Her bi-monthly column called Balancing Acts, "inspires e-mails from executive men, young singles, and others juggling work-life issues."

The bee buzzing about in the work-life scenario is the employer. Reporter Friend worked an arrangement with her boss to work from 5am to 2pm, so that her day is finished in time to pick up her young daughter from school. She has been with her company for nearly nine years. Why leave when you have what you want?

The perfect balance is different for different people. But knowing that your boss is supportive of family, and having family-friendly options like flexible work schedules, or job-shares--whether you need them now or might sometime in the future--will likely keep employees happy. Happy employees leads to productive employees, which hopefully leads to happy parents, partners, and spouces. I guess we can learn a lot from children's stories.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Changing perceptions

It will be very challenging to change society's perception of women, pregnancy, and maternity leave, if women themselves feel uncomfortable with their legal right to interview and accept a job while pregnant.

I am not trying to be unsympathetic towards businesses that are trying to fill job vacancies, only to be faced with a vacancy when a new hire goes on maternity leave or paternity leave. I do not run a business nor do I claim to know what that frustration is like. But employment laws exist for a reason. And women are already often at a disadvantage in the workforce, earning just 77 cents for every dollar men received in 2002, even when we have similar education, skills and experience, according to the AFL-CIO.

As Anonomous said, if a position has certain requirements, such as the need to be able to lift 25 pounds or be on-site for the first six months of employment, then an employer could choose not hire a pregnant woman. That is only because the woman does not meet the job requirements. That is like not hiring a reporter because he or she cannot type. It is not illegal; it is not discrimination. The person does not have the right skill-set for the job. On the flip side, a woman would need to disclose that she could not do those things during the hiring process.

That said, if a job really does not require lifting or being on-site, and the employer on said those things because he suspected the woman was pregnant, the employer is asking for a lawsuit. Pregnancy discrimination claims have jumped 40% from 1992 to 2003, even though the nation's birthrate fell by nine percent during that same period, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Shying away from jobs, disclosing unnecessary personal information, or feeling deceptive because you are exercising your rights will likely make discrimination toward woman more prevalent and socially acceptable.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The road obscured

This blog was started to see if I could still type after being out of work for two years, to buff my writing skills, and to unite women as they transition from career to motherhood, a journey that often leaves women feeling displaced and confused along the way.

The idea was the developed out of the frustrations of many women that I have met since I have been home with my son. As Scolding Friend, a.k.a. Peppahminx, pointed out, I did not quit a full-time job because I did not have the option to reduce my workload. I was in a career shift, attempting to take on broadcast journalism after being dissatisfied with where my career was headed as the managing producer of a popular web site. For me, there was no job to go back to.

Just because I am writing about the internal struggle of women I know, not exactly as I experienced things, does not invalidate the premise: It is unfortunate that in 2005, women rarely have a choice beyond a) working full time, and b) not working, after they have a baby.

This blog is not an attempt to pit working women against at-home moms. It is not about whether you can afford to stay home or whether your family needs two incomes to live in the Bay Area or anywhere else. (I know of a family who moved to a less expensive part of the country because having a parent at home with their child was more important than where they lived.)

I am in control of my destiny and I am doing what I want. I am parenting, writing, and actively pursuing freelance work. And hopefully I will have some soon since I just heard back from a local magazine I've been trying to work for (!!).

So, to my dear Scolding Friend: Just because you do not relate to what at-home moms are struggling with does not mean it is all in our heads. We are exchaging ideas, encouraging each other down new roads, and supporting each other's decisions as we try to fill that hole we can not always put our finger on. That does not make us bad or spoiled or mopy or whiny; it makes us human.

Stick turns blue: Part 2

My husband, who has been a hiring manager at many jobs during his career, and I were talking about my previous blog, "When the stick turns blue," last night. He thought I should point out that it is illegal for an employer to ask if a woman during the interview process if is pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant.

As a hiring manager, he would not want that kind of personal information because it would only complicate things. If he knows a woman is pregnant and hires someone else, then it would be difficult to prove that it was not discrimination. "It's a difficult situation to be in no matter what," he said.

There seems to be a lot of controversy over this subject. Women have no obligation to tell an employer they are pregnant. BabyCenter has many active message boards on this very topic and the comments support and denounce decisions on both sides of this dilemma.

Many boiler-plate employment applications include this anti-discrimination text: We consider applicants for all positions without regard to race, color, religion, creed, gender, national origin, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status. These applications should be updated to include "fertility status" as well.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

When the stick turns blue

A few months ago, Attorney Friend was interviewing for a new job. She and her husband were not actively trying to get pregnant, but not actively protecting against it either. That nugget of personal information really does not seem appropriate or relevant to share with a potential employer. Or is it?

Two days after she got the job, the stick turned blue.

Offering up any information about tentative plans to reproduce only gives company a reason to lean towards a comparable candidate without such plans. To be fair, there must be employers out there ready to hire a woman on the spot for being so forthcoming and honest. But taking that chance, I do not recommend. Why give a potential employer any reason to discriminate?

If you are already pregnant while job-hunting, how much should be divulged to a possible employer? Babs commented that a friend "didn't mention to her new employer, during the interview process, that she was pregnant and waited to tell them until (she)…was four months pregnant. She felt it would hurt her chances of getting the job if they knew before hiring her."

It is illegal for employers to discriminate against women, whether or not they are pregnant. Still, whether it is conscious or unconscious, I am sure that women of childbearing age are discriminated against occasionally anyway. Babs also said she interviewed for jobs while she was pregnant and wondered if an employer would "resent that I had withheld the information?" A pregnant person is entitled to a job just as much as anyone else. If the employer resents it, that is their problem.

If a woman is qualified, it should not matter whether she is single, divorced, old, young, white, African-American, pregnant, thinking about adopting a baby, or planning on becoming pregnant. Qualified is qualified. Period.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Planning blindly

Women are expected to have a "return to work" plan outlined before their maternity leave starts. That is like booking a hotel for your winter get-away before you have picked a destination.

When it comes to work and pregnancy, women are forced to make decisions and set timelines around something completely foreign and forever life-altering. Too often talks with employers focus on "when" a woman is coming back to work, not "in what capacity." And women tend to say yes to full-time duties if the only other option is quitting altogether. This leads employers to feel misled when a woman changes her mind to be at home.

No woman knows what it is like to be a mom until she becomes a mom. It is insane to think a woman will know whether she wants to work full-time or part-time or not at all until her stomach is deflated, her stitches are healed, and she is awake (albeit sleep-deprived) at 2:47 a.m. Maybe then, and only then, she will know what she wants. And maybe she won't.

New mom Lizelle commented that she laid out a plan to go back to work after three or four months post-partum, but "after spending a little over a month with our baby girl, I am having second thoughts about commitment / involvement, FT / PT, cash rich / time poor, and the list goes on."

Some women have to head back to work after the baby is born for financial reasons. Some want to head back, or think they do. Others may not want to return but are afraid they will forfeit their benefits if they say so.

Perhaps when women feel protected and that they have options, they will be able to be more honest about their plan with their employer and with themselves.

A Family (friendly) Company

S.C. Johnson’s tag line—A Family Company—seems to mean more than the fact that it has been run by the same family for five generations.

The maker of household products ranked seventh place overall by Fortune on its list of the best 100 companies to work for in America. The Fortune list appears in the magazine’s most recent issue, and you need to be a subscriber to read it online.

In my opinion, S.C. Johnson ranks even higher for women with kids. The company, whose products are probably under your kitchen and bathroom sinks, received top marks for parent-friendly perks like childcare and extended maternity leave.

More than 13 percent of employees have kids enrolled in regular on-site childcare. That is higher than any other company, when measured as a percentage of the company's U.S. employees. The company also tied second place for offering 30 extra days of paid leave beyond the time women are eligible to collect disability. Other perks for parents, which were not ranked by Fortune, include flexible work schedules, paternity leave, paid sabbaticals, and telecommuting.

Finally, S.C. Johnson ranked #1 for having the smallest turnover. This was measured by tallying the percentage of employees who left a company voluntarily during the 12-month period surveyed.

If companies take care of employees by offering perks that help balance work and family, perhaps loyalty is given in return.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Not giving up

I have been getting a lot of email about whether it is better to work, or not work, or work part-time while you have a baby at home.

One friend's email started out commiserating with me and wound up scolding me for even thinking about wanting a job. She worked full-time after both of her maternity leaves and wishes she could have been home with her kids during that very short period of time. Being at home with your babies while they are small is “a season of life” that goes by so quickly, she said.

It is true. Work and bosses and commutes and deadlines and stress will be there in a few years if I decide to go back to work full-time. She does not understand why I would want any of that, even if it would only a few hours a week. She has never had the choice to be home, so she admittedly does not know what it feels like to have a chunk of your identity cut out of your life.

Instead of tying to balance home and work, Scolding Friend said if you have the option and luxury to be at home, enjoy! If you want some creative outlet, she recommended taking a class or volunteering.

I know what I want, and I guess I am not ready to give up so easily.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Holding back

Mothering in the Ivory Tower is examining gender inequities in academia. Her December 5th post is based on an article entitled, "Where the Elite Teach, It's Still a Man's World," which appeared in a recent issue of Chronicle of Higher Education. The article stated that men held more than 70 percent of professorships at top research institutions in the 2001-2 academic year in the United States.

I’m not a part of academia, but I suspect that the inequities found in American universities are prevalent in other professions as well. On the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, what is the ratio of men to women? What is the ratio in boardroom? Or how about corporate America in general? How many women are rising up to the director level and beyond? Moreover, of the women who make it to higher levels, how many have children?

A friend of mine--you’ll be hearing a lot about my spectrum of professional mom friends--managed a deal with her employer to work four days a week after her maternity leave. She has regular hours and is close enough to home that she has lunch with her son daily. She has also been in her job for a number of years and would like to advance in the department. But before there is even the prospect of such advancement, she already wonders if she would decline the opportunity if it presented itself. She is already concerned how a bigger job with more responsibility and longer hours would impact her current arrangement.

We are holding ourselves back. It is happening in the corporate world and probably in academia. This is not a problem that affects one industry or another.

Beyond volunteering to leave our jobs to raise families, jobs with fewer responsibilities typically are easier to turn into parent-friendly jobs with flexibility or job-share options. So even if a woman does not have kids, she might want to someday. And it is possible that is consciously or unconsciously preventing her from aiming too high.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


For seven years I worked a string of editorial positions -- reporter, managing producer, editor, and as production assistant at a local television show in San Francisco.

Since I have been an at-home mom, I have met amazing women who also had impressive and fulfilling jobs before they became parents. We did not quit our careers. They quit us. Companies could not merge parent and paycheck.

Instead of heading back into those high-paying, highly respected jobs, we lower our expectations. One friend has given up on her legal career for now as she turns a hobby into a flexible job. She is taking the work-from-home road as a scrapbooking consultant. It is transforming her into the host of the modern day equivalent to the Tupperware party.

In essence, we are underemployed. We are not under-ambitious. It is hard work to raise a baby! But mention the “B” word at work and get ready to be written off. How many times have you heard a friend dread telling her employer that she is pregnant? How many women do you know who were put on the “mommy track?” There are woman who get to scale back their responsibilities to work part-time, but it is not the norm. Moms do not fit into the corporate culture. As a result companies are missing out on the talents of driven and dedicated women.

And instead of being journalists, attorneys, accountants, early childhood specialists, paramedics, software engineers, and public relations experts, we are at home missing a part of ourselves.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Finding the place in between

So who am I, Mother in Chief? I am an educated woman with a decent resume who wants to be home with my 20-month-old son. I love being a mom, his mom. But I am struggling with my identity. Like many moms who are at home full time with their kids, I want to work and continue being intellectual stimulated and challenged. Work should compliment my job as a parent, not replace it. A paycheck would be nice too.

It is common for people to gain self worth from the job they have and the money that subsequently appears in the checking account. I gave that up to be at home full time, and it continues to take effort to claim that self worth from other sources. At the end of the day, my house is a mess and my shirt is stained. But I take comfort knowing that I get to share all the little stuff with my son every day.

I am not going to tell anyone to put their kid in daycare so that they can get a job, and I am not going to tell anyone to quit their job to be a full-time parent. What I am going to do is talk about finding some other place in between.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Too few choices

When a woman has a baby, she usually gets two choices.

She can hire a childcare person so that she can continue her career, or she can be at home with her child. For some reason, there really doesn't seem to be a way to mix the two.

I fall into the second category. I'm grateful that I even get to choose to be home with my son. Some women need to put their kids in day care or hire a nanny so that they can keep the paychecks coming in.

But there should be a third option: a way to mix motherhood with career.

That's where I come in. I'm determined to find a way to be a mom and to continue a meaningful career too.

Suzanne, Mother in Chief