Thursday, August 4, 2011
Value in the Workplace?
I just finished reading Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You're Worth by Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, which deals with the issue of women being undervalued and undercompensated in the workplace. Unfortunately, I am currently dealing with that very situation myself and am in the process of strategizing effective ways to get my salary boosted, so when I saw this book in the library, it caught my eye.
Mika discusses the ways women are their own worst enemies and sabotage themselves by worrying too much about being liked, not being straightforward and assertive enough - or worse yet, apologizing when asking for what they want. Speaking from her own experience, her successes and failures, she talks about how women underestimate their value, are unable to say no, and believe that if they just keep working harder, the boss will notice them and reward them.
Of course, we all know that rarely happens.
Anyway, you are probably wondering what this has to do with the issue of childfreedom. Well, the book was very good and contained much sage advice from Mika, as well as from the many prominent women she interviewed for the book - people like Arianna Huffington, Suze Orman, Valerie Jarrett and Elizabeth Warren - women who have all faced similar challenges at some point in their careers.
Where the book jumped the shark was in the next to last chapter entitled Motherhood: The Game Changer. When I got to that chapter, I took a deep sigh. I knew what was coming - the usual pro-mother propaganda that we have grown to expect from every media source. In a nutshell, this is what Mika and her prominent interviewees say in the Motherhood chapter:
1. Mothers are discriminated against in the workplace and their earnings go down for each child they have. While some of this can be attributed to taking time out of the workforce, research shows that even mothers who don't take time off earn less.
2. Mothers are not taken seriously in the workplace and are seen as "soft", especially if they talk about their families while at work.
3. There is a stereotype about mothers that they don't pull their equal weight at work. While this is true for some mothers who have difficulty "doing it all", there are many mothers who work even harder because they know how limited their time is.
4. Having children adds to a woman's value as an employee. Mothers use their time more wisely. "We have babies to protect, so our decision-making skills revolve around real-life issues." (I guess those of us who have a husband, mortgage, pets, bills to pay and other responsibilities are living in an imaginary fairy land or at Club Med?). Mothers are more conscientious, disciplined and responsible due to having children and those things add value in the workplace.
5. The key for mothers is to work for family-friendly companies who appreciate the importance of family. The "right boss" will let a mom leave early so she can get to the Halloween parade in time.
6. The "bad bosses" referred to in Mika's book are usually women without kids.
7. There needs to be a national child-care policy that makes it easy for women to enter and re-enter the workforce and offers complete support for paternity leave, so the husband can share equally in family responsibilities.
Here is my response.
Mothers earn less because they do less. They take time off to have a child and then when they come back to work, they are tired, scattered and obsessed with their child. I know this from being a supervisor and having seen it too many times. It's all over once a woman has a baby. She is late for work, she is on the phone making personal calls all day long, she is constantly calling out sick or leaving work early to attend to problems with the child. Even when there are no emergencies at home to deal with, her mind is on her child. I have seen women come back from maternity leave, only to spend half the day waltzing around the office chit chatting about their baby or showing everyone who will look the latest photos. We all chit chat, and we all have personal photos to share, but moms do it in excess.
Mothers are perceived as "soft" because all they are soft. Once a woman has a child, all of her mental energy and focus goes to the baby. She loses interest in current events. She loses her edge. She's no longer driven. She treats her job as a necessary evil to keep food on the table and diapers on the baby, and nothing more. It's not her focus anymore and it is certainly no longer a priority.
I have never met a mother who worked harder than a non-parent. I've seen some moms who work just as hard, but never harder. I have seen many moms who simply don't pull their weight once they have kids. I've been one of the people who's had to pick up the slack because a co-worker mom left early yet again for this doctor's appointment, or that school meeting.
I take offense to the idea that mothers have "real-life issues" to deal with, so they get down to business and get the job done. Yet another attempt to portray motherhood as the only true way to "have a life". If having a husband, household, bills, pets, extended family, friends, career and multiple interests is not a "life", than what is it?
I am all for "family-friendliness" when it comes to the work place, but the problem is, family friendliness doesn't usually extend to the needs of single and childfree workers. How often do we see parents accommodated with flexibility in time off and leaving early and catered to as though their every waking moment is a priority, yet when a single or childfree person requests the same courtesy for the things that are important to her, she is denied? "Family friendly" should be changed to "employee friendly". All employees should be given the same amount of flexibility to deal with personal or family issues that arise, whether they concern children, pets, partners, ailing parents or whatever.
I am a boss. I am also a woman without kids and I try to be "employee friendly". On several occasions I have been told by my staff that I am the "best boss they ever had." I think my childfree status makes me more compassionate to my staff because I know what it feels like to be discriminated against in the workplace - to be assumed to "have no life" because I don't have children at home, to be assumed to have all the free time in the world to stay late, fill in for the absent moms, when the truth I have a very full and active life and multiple obligations. So I try to be fair to all employees, regardless of their home situation. If one of my employees needs to leave early to take her dog to the vet, I have no problem with it. If another employee's child has a doctor visit, I am fine with it. My objective is: be fair and offer the same flexibility to all employees. In exchange, I expect my staff will not take advantage and abuse the situation.
My feeling about a national child care policy is this: If a couple wants to have a child, that's great, but before doing so, they should figure out who will take care of the child, who will work, who will stay at home and how all of this will be paid for. Having a child is a choice, it's not a necessity for life, so I do not agree that the nation as a whole should pay for and accommodate the choice of people who want the lifestyle of having kids. If I decide to purchase a home (another lifestyle choice), should I expect there to be a national policy that provides assistance to me in making my monthly mortgage payments? If I decide to pursue a graduate degree, should there be a national policy that requires a company to hold my job for 2 years while I go to school? I don't think so. So why should having a child be any different? It's a choice, people. If you don't like the negative impact that having a child has on your career, think twice before you have one.