Sunday, February 21, 2010

Working moms and productivity

A friend sent me a two minute news blurb the other day on how women in the work force who have children are not promoted to the same extent as those without children. Initially upon watching the segment I felt like I was *supposed* to be outraged but instead I felt somewhat responsible. I automatically felt conspicuous as a cause. There are women like me that contribute to the preconception that being a mommy in the work force may lead to less productivity. Don't get me wrong. When I'm at work. I work hard. I'm passionate about what I do and often times that carries over to doing work at home or being on committees or other little extras. But when it comes to attending meetings outside of my work day I can't just stay on a whim. I have kids to pick up at 3:30 so I have pretty strict boundaries. And boundaries in the American work force are not a very welcome thing. I'm reluctant to give up the precious time that I've been given to be a mom to two litle ones. Anything "extra" that I might have dedicated to giving to work in the past I am now dedicated to giving the kids instead. But on the other hand, there are women who are absolutely dedicated to their jobs and will do anything to get ahead. They seemingly are able to do this while balancing their roles as a mom. Maybe their husbands stay home with the children so that they are able to dedicate 120%. Or maybe they have family in town that offer additional support and therefore they have less guilt at being away more. The women who are able to give 100% to their work deserve to be promoted for their extra efforts and not held back just because of their parenting status.

The article said that in order to get ahead you need to have solid and reliable child care for when your child gets sick. Is my childcare solid and reliable? Absolutely! But if I have to choose between work and mommying a sick child, I'm quick to put on my mommy hat. This happened recently with Coben and his myriad of illnesses. My kid was sick and it made for a distracted mom. Unfortunately the worst of it was on one of my short weeks where I only work two days. One day was so bad that I chose to stay home. Coben had diarrhea, vomiting, a fever, coughing, etc... Not only did I not feel it was fair to subject Alicja to Coben's virus but really, when it comes down to feeling like crap, I feel like a kid needs his mom. The next day I pushed myself to go back to work but only lasted a half a day since Coben's fever was not breaking, he was sleeping around the clock and his eyes were now glued shut most of the day. The following day I took him to the Doctor and was told that he had a double ear infection and pink eye on top of a cold virus. We started antibiotics which caused severe diarrhea. Coben already hadn't eaten for a week and now everything he was eating was exiting his body was quickly as it entered. And just when I thought he was on the upswing I woke up at 6 on the day I was to return to work to find a child who had a bone dry diaper after 8 hours. Dehydration can be a pretty serious thing for a little one. Since the Dr. wasn't open yet I went to work and found myself absolutely distracted by Coben's health the first two hours of my day until I could make a phone call to bring him in and was then told to bring him right in. What would a mother who is able to dedicate 100% to her job do? I honestly don't know how a working mom is "supposed" to juggle these things. Because the structure of our employment system (with the exception of some really progressive companies) requires me to make a choice. And I will always choose my family. But the truth is that while I was unable to be at work, I spent hours at home taking care of the work that needed to be done. This was not noticed. What is noticed is that I was not at work therefore I was not working. Nobody called me out on this and my dedication is not in question but I imagine if I actually worked in a traditional system that promoted a person that my sick days would not go unnoticed.

So I am not surprised that working mom's don't get promoted as often. And it's because I understand our jacked-up American work system that won't even take a chance by hiring a newly married woman who they perceive might, God forbid, get pregnant. And forget hiring someone who (no matter how well qualified) may already be pregnant. And if you happen to be employed through your pregnancy it astounds me how many women don't get paid time off for any amount of maternity leave. I appreciate the great strides that have been made that allow me to be a working mom and I understand that it is my choice to put my children over my work. But I'm not a single mom who doesn't have the luxury of that choice. Or a mom who is financially responsible for the family because her husband has been laid-off or has a disability preventing him from working. This is where my outrage comes in. We have more choice than ever but we are still dealing with antiquated companies that fail to recognize that they actually may have the ability to retain some pretty fantastic working moms. Mom's aren't quitting the workforce because they are flaky since having children. Many of them are being driven out. Is is possible that working-moms can be just as productive as their childless counterparts if given flexibility, the potential to job share, opportunities to telecommute, and/or on site childcare? And I'm not just talking about moms here. Rob has the opportunity to be a fully-invested dad because he is fortunate to be in a position that offers family-friendly policy. I know it sounds a lot idealistic and extremely kumbaya-ish but it's being done. Look at McGraw-Hill and Johnson & Johnson who is at the top of the Working Mother's Magazine top 100 Family Friendly Companies and has been for the past twenty years!

I know that some of my more conservative readers are going to insist that a woman must make a choice or that she belongs at home for those first few years. I don't disagree that within our current contstraints that a woman must make a choice. But maybe where the choice needs to lie is not with working versus caring for your kids but instead with where you choose to work so that we can strive for systemic change.

Ummm. That 2 minute news blurb really kicked off some emotion. I went into this blog thinking I would sound off with a couple of SENTENCES. Thanks for staying with me. :)


MiMi said...

BRAVO! The system is indeed skewed and we all loose because of it. All those bright, energetic, willing women who are overlooked and/or underemployed could be making wonderful contributions. Your blog needs to be published in a wider-reaching forum. And I'm just saying that because I'm your mother-in-law.

Krumpledwhiskers said...

Thanks. A wider forum might actually require me to be a little more organized in my thinking rather than just a bunch of rambling while nursing at my keyboard :O)

MiMi said...

I just realized I left out the "not" in my last sentence! Brain fog is not limited to sleep-deprived parents. But I'm sure you knew what I meant. And seriously, you write so well and with such passion, it ought to be out there.

Sonya said...

Hear, hear. I'm nervous about the prospect of leaving work for my maternity leave and then returning, but it's nowhere near as bad a feeling, I'm sure, as it is for some. I'm lucky enough to work for a non-profit that will allow me to reduce my hours to 4-days/week, work from home for 2, and bring baby in to the office the other 2. I'm also getting retrained in a new area (from fundraising to GIS and web design) so I can more easily work from home. I'm lucky that my small organization has always been incredibly flexible for working moms, something started by our executive director. In fact, I was hired in 2006 to help her out as she reduced her hours to care for a new baby and a 4 year old. However, we only enjoy the flexibility that we have because we're small and have a culture that recognizes the need to keep talented staff. In addition, we all voluntarily cut our hours for one whole year and deferred retirement contributions to weather the recession in 2009. That kind of loyalty is rewarded with flexibility, but it's also a sacrifice that we had to make to keep our jobs. We also have a new hire, part-time, who has been with us a year and is trying to get pregnant again. I'll admit I was a bit worried when I heard she was trying -- she was going to be MY backup! But she's talented, and we don't want to lose her. So we'll retrain her to do some of my work, juggle schedules, and make it happen. The downside is, I'm afraid, that some of our employees might feel like they're always having to make accommodations for us breeders (they don't say that, or anything to me about it really). So we watch morale closely and try to be fair. The other negative is that it's damn hard to hold a staff meeting and get things done. When half of your employees work part-time, have kids with health issues, and a culture of flexibility is built in so that people are encouraged to take care of their people first (as it should be, imho) it's almost impossible to have all hands on deck at once. When you do, it's such a rare event that everyone does a brain dump and you feel overwhelmed. It makes me, the pregnant one, wish we had more focus on our work! I wonder if our organization is progressing and doing the best job it can or if we're holding ourselves back and not being as productive as we could be. So there are no easy answers. And it's our culture to blame mothers and so it's no wonder that we blame ourselves for not doing everything perfectly. Even though I have it good, I'll always feel like I'm falling short somewhere, I'm sure (not working out enough, house not clean enough, not working hard enough, not being a better mother, whatever). Our best is never good enough when we set ourselves up for failure in a system that expects the world of mothers and gives them a big raspberry in return.

Krumpledwhiskers said...

Oh Sonya, you brought up so many points that were also running through my head as I was typing. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about what I was going to type and just started typing on an emotional level. I initially started with this idea that you can't have your cake and eat it too and that you need to make a choice. I was apologetic that my choices may negatively affect those that make different choices. This is certainly not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray that it's not even funny. In order for non-breeders to not have to pick up the slack of the breeders there has to be a major systemic change. Purely by the nature of what they do, not every company or agency is going to be able to acommopate working moms..or at least those that must put their children first. I was horrified shortly after having Cady when I was in the middle of a suicide assessment and realized that it was 3:30 and I HAD to pick up Cady. Prior to having Cady I could work from sun-up to sun-down and see anything that I did to completion. Having to ask for help and have somebody pick up the pieces on that assessment was my first realization that I would have to make a choice about my posiiton and fortunately for me there was a better fit doing work with teen parents. So, we absolutely do still have to make choices. I can't expect to walk into a position that requires travel as an essential component of getting a job done and to say, "I have kids so you must offer me flexibility. and give me a travel exemption and someone else can pick up the slack." But I can advocate for change in positions that are really operating from an old school philosophy of non-flexibility just because it's the way things have always been done and because they have the mentality that you must be seen to be working. I'm sure many of us have jobs with downtime where we sit there going, "Really? isn't there a better use of my time?" And I can make a choice about where I work and rather than work in a company that forces me to do the unthinkable and make a choice between my family and my work, find one that is able to offer the flexiblity that I need to be the best at both my work and being a mom.

Krumpledwhiskers said...

---I'm sure many of us have jobs with downtime where we sit there going,"Really? isn't there a better use of my time?"--- Paula Keenan

To quote myself. Great example. I actually typed that last response while at work. I can't see students because they are testing. I'm caught up on phone and email responses. My reports are done and I have my group planned which isn't for another two hours. So for two hours (pending crisis) I will dink around while I am here at work because I have to work these hours. Yet I will do at least two hours of work "on my own time" at home since students and teachers will call and email me on my day off as there are things that come up five days a week whether I am "working" or not.