Wow. Quite the week for work-life balance discussion. And quite the week for women’s issues. It seemed the debate lifted a notch with some serious new data telling the story of the health of the American workforce from Ellen Galinsky at the Families and Work Institute and more data coming out of Harvard via the Wall Street Journal to demonstrate that working less can really help you do more – true productivity. On the downside, still more data via leadership guru Marcus Buckingham at the Huffington Post told us women were getting sadder perhaps because of too many choices? Then the New York Times really stuck it to us with Maureen Dowd’s compounding piece. Oh and there was last weekend’s article on SAHM having to go back to work after years out because husbands are losing their jobs – and most of them are having a very tough time of it.
The “are you a feminist if you opt out of the work force to raise your kids?” argument reared it’s head again and then Eli Lily was spotlighted as a top 100 best companies for working mothers whilst in the same breath canceling one of their prime flex benefits. And it would seem drilling down that some of the companies listed offer policies without cultural support which means no one really uses the flex arrangements (although I remain thrilled that there are at least 100 big companies trying). I’ve worked for one of them (Ernst & Young but a long time ago) – they are trying. However the list needs to come with a warning label – a company can have all the policies “on the books” it wants. But if top down messaging, by word and action doesn’t reinforce, then on the line employees don’t get real access.
In the meantime I’ve been stretching my own work-life balance pretty thin with sick children and a couple of great business opportunities that have me mothering and working at all hours – demanding, all coming at once of course, but super exciting for me (and I wouldn’t really have it any other way). Which is why this post is a few days later than I intended. Got to take care of business!
There is some great analysis out there on each of these developments – read these fabulous commentators I’ve been getting connected with in the past few weeks. Leanne Chase of Career Life Connection, Cali Yost at Fast Company, Morra Aarons-Mele at the Huffington Post and Families and Work Institute and Lauren Young at Business Week. If you have time follow the comment threads on any of the links I’ve provided – there are a whole lot of people with things to say on all of these stories. I won’t replicate here except to say that I find the conversation compelling, exciting and disheartening all at the same time.
One blog that I typically enjoy shocked me with “as important as childcare and homemaking roles might be, they are not likely to dramatically improve the collective.” You’re kidding, right? If raising grounded, secure, nurtured children isn’t dramatically improving the collective, I have no idea what is.
I struggled with the furor around the NYT piece on women re-entering the workforce because of the narrow stereotype of these women trying to on-ramp, as pampered and privileged (indeed, some of them may have been). In all the discussions of how women who stay home are failing society, it is rare that the financial scrimping, cost-cutting and even debt that goes with a one-income situation is ever discussed. The “stuff” is sacrificed precisely so the family AND by definition the collective can benefit overall.
Having said that, I do feel it’s imperative that professional mothers (a term I came across yesterday on a Dare to Dream blog on one woman’s decision to stay home in her fabulous essay on the “Economics of Motherhood”) keep their skills in play and their finances progressing, with social media and face to face networking, part-time work, a small business, further study, consulting or whatever that looks like.
On a related note, I fundamentally have to disagree with the premise that feminism is not about having choices. Being constantly reminded that I am not a feminist because I am wasting all that incredible education and 18 yrs of corporate life is getting a tad dull. The fact that my children and therefore generations will benefit from the full impact of those experiences (assuming I am proficient, but that’s a whole other post) would appear to have no value because it cannot be easily monetized.
There are huge battles to be fought; agreed. But until the debate can embrace, acknowledge and value professional mothers, we cannot proceed beyond the ridiculous “mommy wars”.
Finally, I invite all of you, of all genders, all marital and child status to take ownership of whatever flexible work practices exist (or don’t) in your organization and fight to have them apply to everyone. Non-parents, we don’t want special treatment, we don’t want to single you out as the one without kids who can do the longer hours, the endless business trips. What we do want is for your to join us in getting your voice heard about what work-life balance means to you and have your flex needs met too.
It’s not just parents who have other demands in their lives. I challenge and invite you to join in this debate as a player instead of feeling negative towards your parent co-workers. I for one would welcome the contribution. This is universal people. I repeat, this is not just a Mommy issue.