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.


Rhona said...

Ugh, I agree. I am Canadian but I would certainly NOT pay a cent toward some national child anything! That makes me so angry.
Also, I work with a bunch of mothers and they are constantly on the phone with kids, making appointments and taking off early to take care of children. I don't complain but I don't appreciate it if I have to stay late because of the extra workload. This has happened seldom thank goodness though. I will say that I had a childfree boss who was strict with fairness and unfortunately, one woman (single with 3 kids-one sick) was fired due to the lack of production, constant abusing of taking time off and taking care of personal matters at work or during working hours.
It all comes down to I could care less about moms and their problems with their kids. It's not my problem so, work! I see it in my mom now. When we were young, she stayed home and all she did was concentrate on the children. Now, she has her life to herself and it really shows. Her career is a high priority and so is her life. Maybe there should be a bill passed where mothers are mandated to stay home so we don't have to hear crap about how much more they do than singles and childfree folks. Good grief!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if it is discussed in the book but how many times have us non-parents heard, "So-and-so doesn't have kids so they can cover the holiday" or something similiar. As in my holiday (thinking Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th) is any less important to me or to my family to have me there just because I don't have children.

My boss, who is a mother of three teenagers, works incredibly hard and puts in very long hours. I feel sometimes as this blog is aimed at "bashing" the parents of young children and not older children. My boss doesn't need to be home anymore when her kids get home from school or to drive them around because they are pretty self sufficient at this point. Her kids are honor roll kids and one is in college so it isn't as if she is neglecting them or not being a good parent.

When her kids were younger, her husband worked nights and she worked weekends all so they didn't have to have child care and both be present in their children's lives. She is the first to admit it was hard but when she was at work, she knew her spouse was taking care of the kids so she didn't have to worry about the care they were getting.

I think it is crap, however, that parents get schedule flexibility. Working as a nurse, I personally haven't seen it but I know it does exist. All the places I worked had the idea that you were hired to work these hours and if you can't do it, then this isn't the place for you. If you can find someone to cover your shift (like I mentioned above about the holidays) then you can have off but if not, you're working.

I think an argument can even be made for smokers having, in some cases, access to more frequent breaks. They can take a few 5-10 breaks during the day to smoke, but if I were to sit and do nothing for 5-10 minutes, I would be questioned why I wasn't working.

I do agree with you about a childcare policy and that value is not added to an employ simply because they have children. Dealing with a two year old's tantrum is nothing like dealing with adults in a professional atmosphere.

It is a choice to, or not to, have children. People simply need to respect others choices even if those choices don't line up with their own.

Spectra said...

I work with a woman who is only there part-time. She is also a mom and will not shut up about how much better she is at her job because she's a mom. Hello, last I checked, working in a microbiology lab has little to do with being a mom. I work with a couple of other women that don't have kids or have adult kids that don't live at home and our boss is awesome--she knows we want to have a life and don't want to spend all our time at work. Moms who claim they are SO discriminated against make me sick--hello, YOU chose to have a baby. Deal with it.

Anonymous said...

All so very true :-D

My irk is that comment about women being able to prioritise better because they have babies and know what is important. In my experience those that are childfree have a far better perspective on what is really important in life (how we treat people, keeping to our word, getting the job done even if it means staying late,...) We are not the ones constantly claiming 'human rights' over totally petty things that could never, ever be human rights. We are not the ones busy claiming that everything is discrimination even though we had a CHOICE to be in that situation. We are not the ones stupid enough to believe you are entitled to have your every whim catered for at the cost of everyone else. All we ask for is fairness in the workplace and that everyone contributes equally. That's completely fair and reasonable and ANYone (not just moms) who doesn't cut it should be given the heave-ho.

I am lucky, the few mothers in my workplace rarely talk about their kids and none of them want to be grandparents, none of them even like children (unless they are their own) and they all have a good perspective on what is REALLY important. No petty crap from them :-)

Temujin said...

Another form of discrimination that's pretty widely accepted, too, is that companies are still a little more reluctant to fire people with children than fire people without children. Same thing with married people getting more consideration than single people. Many companies are still stuck in the 1950's and prefer to think of married fathers as more stable and reliable than single or childfree men.

The place where I work can't really give more time off to parents than non-parents, and it's really rare to sub for someone else. But, a lot of people here work on a part-time basis, project by project. When there are not enough projects to go around, parents tend to get more consideration than non-parents.

Are any of the "expert women" interviewed for the book childfree? Somehow I doubt it.

I can believe that becoming a parent teaches you some things that can be applicable to the workplace. First question from that -- is that education worth the cost? Second question from that -- is becoming a parent the best way to get those skills?

Naamah's Choice said...

Great post! I couldn't agree more. Even as a teacher, I've covered off for co-workers leaving early to do things for their kids. "Oh, you have gym outside today? Great! Can I leave my class with you for 20 minutes, I just need to..." This is actually not allowed, but it happens.

redwings19 said...

I think - and hear me out - that kids need to be taken care of. A national program to keep them healthy and educate them will ensure that we don't have complete idiots running the country when we are elderly. These kids are going to be in that position, so in that respect they should be helped.

Their parents, however, are another story. Their parents CHOSE to have them and not use the free birth control from Planned Parenthood. In the last year I am the only one left in my department. Everyone - male, female, parent, non-parent - has either been fired or left. The old crew very much was focused on their children and how hard it was. The new crew - which I was promoted to supervise! - not so much. It's an even split and I rarely hear anything about the few kids that are there collectively.

My goal as a supervisor is to be fair, balanced and make a policy for staffing that does not discriminate against a person's outside life. Sadly, in the 60 days since I have been promoted, I've already had to defend that to MY boss. First-come, first-serve always. The team knows the skeleton crew number, and where to check for days off, and that's that. End of story. In additoin, only vote when the guy who is in the National Guard is available to vote. An older worker has season tickets to the local baseball team, and that is just as important as my dogs and their appointments, or my co-worker who has court dates for her teenagers. Balance and respect.

The notion that having kids makes you better is bunk. You are just as good as your intentions. No more.

K said...

So very true. You've expressed my exact thoughts on this. I've yet to meet more than a couple of mothers of school-age or younger children who actually pull their weight. I dread working with them, because, since I have no children, I'll be expected to pick up their slack.

For a while I had worked with a new mother; we were both hired on at the same time, for similar hours and the same kind of job. It was barely 15 hours a week. She was late all the time, took more breaks than she was allowed to, and took sick days multiple times in the two months she was there. She was there maybe half her hours each week, and several times I was called in on days off to cover for her.

On the couple of occasions we worked close together - it was just the two of us for the last 2 or 3 hours - she went on break and didn't come back until I went looking for her; I found her in the break room on the phone with her husband (talking about the baby, of course) and it was another 15 minutes before she returned to work. So her second 15 minute break in a 5 hour shift - a break she wasn't even supposed to have - turned into over an hour break. I ended up having to do a bunch of her work, too, just to get us out of there.

She didn't work harder, wasn't more disciplined, responsible or conscientious. She screwed all of us over several times. After agreeing to cover a shift for me the night before my finals, she showed only to claim her baby had had surgery - which was BS, I learned later - and she needed to go home, so guess who got called in to work close (which had us there until midnight, and I had to be up at 6 the next morning)?

Another co-worker had needed a day off to tend to some personal issues and ended up called in because Mombie's baby supposedly had the sniffles and she had to be with him, never mind the fact that her husband was home and fully capable of taking care of the baby (she was always saying what a good Daddy he was). She tried to claim discrimination when they finally sacked her but I don't think anything ever came of it.

A woman shouldn't get special privileges for making the choice to have kids, when no one else gets those same privileges for adopting a pet or going to school.

Mirella said...

The discrimination against those of us without children, especially in the teaching field, is unbelievable. It is assumed we should take extra curricular activities and we are available to go on an assortment of camps, while those with children can weasel their way out of it.

What you wrote about child care has given me a new perspective. As a feminist, I've always felt that govt funded child care might be necessary to enable greater equality for women. But you're right, it is a choice and as such needs to be planned for appropriately.

Serenity Yoga said...

100% agree with this.
I work in IT, which is about 90% male dominated (where I live anyway not sure about USA) but of the few women who work there I've seen some of the worst slacking ever.

Where I work now doesn't have many women...there's about 6 including me in the office out of 40 and only a couple are parents. The company is pretty good about letting people out early or come in late for any reason as long as you make it up, which is fair. But some places I've worked have been so discriminatory against single people and pro family people.

People with kids nerve had to do overtime, or on call, or even stay til 5:30pm. They didn't have to cover bank holidays because they had kids, which apparently is more important than my life. Which is one of the reasons I've moved on from those companies - who wants to be treated like a second class citizen because I choose not to produce a child?!

I think people choose to have a child, they chose to have all the crap that comes with it, and why should they get special dispensation? I'm sick of mothers who think they've more rights than other people because they managed to carry a baby. I'd love to say, you know you're not that special, if you were and it was so hard then you wouldn't see thousands of babies born each year in your city, never mind the world.

Roxie Harlow said...

My boyfriend and I have discussed and been disgusted by this repeatedly! He works with his sister's boyfriend (who happens to be the father of her child+2 from a previous relationship). He gets to show up late, leave early, and take time off from work because of his children. My boyfriend gets yelled at if he asks for time off. Also, his family makes fun of us for be too busy to do things with them because we can't possibly have a life since we don't have children. They think what we do with our lives isn't as important or as valid just because we're childfree.

Also, we were unemployed for quite awhile (due entirely to the recession/state of the economy) and were unable to get much help because we're childless. It seems the majority of government help + medical help only goes to those with children.

I also work in a place with nothing but mothers. Most are mothers of older children (twenties and late teens) and have grandchildren. They're always taking calls from them, taking time off for them. I work at a bank, and just this week I was taking care of all the customers in the drive up myself because one lady was figure out the mess of her daughter's bank account all day. I'd NEVER get away with that.
I sure wish things would become more equal for the childfree.

Dave said...

Two comments:

(1) Any of you read Elinor Burkett's "The Baby Boon" in which she, a childfree woman, talks about how she changed the time-off rules after she became a managing editor (for the New York Times)? Her predecessors always allowed the parents to take the holidays off while the childfree people (such as herself) always had to cover those undesirable shifts. Burkett changed things so that these holidays could be taken on a rotating basis so all of her subordinates had a chance to get an equal number of these desirable days off. The parents went a little crazy while the childfree workers were delighted to no longer be treated like second-class workers.

(2) At my former company, which was not overboard on the all the family-friendly stuff, nevertheless had a bad but common policy about health insurance eligibility. In my last 17 months, I became ineligible for group HI coverage because I had reduced my hours below their minimum. However, when I asked to be reinstated into the HI program (even paying 100% of the premiums, a no-brainer or so I thought), I was told that it was "fiscally unaffordable" and was being lumped with high-risk people in their late 50s and early 60s (I was 45 at the time, 3 years ago) who worked only a few hours per week.

I pointed out that the company was not only offering but offering subsidized HI coverage for hundreds of people who worked ZERO hours per week. Some of these people were retirees but most of the others were spouses and children of covered employees. This meant that if I quit my job and married a coworker I (and any kids we had) could get coverage but working there 12 hours per week afforded me no coverage at any cost.

I soon quit the company although it was the awful commute which was the main reason.

Temujin said...

I guess I've been fortunate not to face that level of anti-CF discrimination.

I wonder if anyone has considered "inventing" some children at home just to get more time off. How hard could it be? You could just use the picture of the kids that comes with the picture frame....

I guess the downside would be you'd have to talk about them constantly and listen to other parents talk about theirs. Maybe if you say you have 12 kids they'll stay away from you.

Seriously, though, when someone leaves early to pick up a kid, how do we KNOW that's where that employee is going? How do we know the kid isn't just a license to get out early? Is anyone checking up on this?

Amy said...

Ok, listen, I've been reading your blog for quite a bit of time now. As a childless, unmarried woman who plans on staying that way, I agree and relate with a lot of what you say, as well as disagree.

I don't comment, but I just have to say something about your comment that there are no women with children who work harder than women without.

My mother, who has two children, worked and still works harder than any man or woman, married or unmarried, at her job. One could say I'm biased, but that is not really the point.

The point is, while I agree with a few things you've said here, I cannot agree that every woman with a child or two does not work harder than a person without.

That is putting people in a box, plain and simple. As well as an insult to single mothers who sure as hell work harder than anyone else I've ever seen.

rabbit2976 said...

Are you hiring, because my workplace sure doesn't get it? Lol.

Sadie said...

Yet sometimes, the Mother's are treated better. I recently filled out a job application for a local company, They are not hiring at the moment but will be in a couple of months, their busy season is fall to Xmas. Two months ago, a friend, recently divorced, moved to my area and was instantly hired at this company. I believe they took pity on her, as she is now a single mother of 3 who is not receiving any child support.