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Working Woman or Mom? It's Time for Change, Not Choice

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Neale Godfrey
Neale Godfrey

Our heads may have hit or even broken through the "glass ceiling," but as working moms, our feet can still be stuck in quicksand.

When I was a young, qualified, single mom, trying to find my way as an executive in the all-male banking industry, the first question I was asked was "Can you type?" I worked more hours and twice as hard for the luxury of being paid half of what my male counterparts were making. There was no way that my "mom" life could intersect with my "business woman" life.

In order to attend my kid's championship lacrosse game or have a parent-teacher conference, I couldn't ask for "personal" time. Instead, I had to have the dreaded "24-hour flu," or "get that root canal I've been postponing." I'm not an advocate of prevarication, but my bosses couldn't know I was taking time off because of my children -- in some cases, that I even had children. The image of "Neale the mom" would supplant the reputation of "Neale the Executive," which I had earned.

You've Come A Long Way Baby! Woman!

In recent years, the labor force has increased most dramatically among married women. Today, 70.6% of mothers -- even those with the youngest children -- participate in the work force. Being a mom is a difficult enough job; being a mom who works outside the home can be overwhelming.

In 1993, President Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act which requires companies with more than 50 employees to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave along with continued health benefits for the birth or adoption of a child along with some other situations. There are many exceptions to this law, which ultimately covers about 40 percent of workers. When it comes to paid leave, the U.S. is ranked among the least generous countries.

That landmark legislation was twenty years ago and there have been few gains in the following years. If you're lucky enough to be included in the group that is entitled to leave, you also have to be fortunate enough to afford to forgo twelve weeks salary. Even then, returning to work and leaving your 3-month-old behind is no simple feat.

Recently, there has been a lot of chatter surrounding two very powerful women: Yahoo's CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Mayer-- a new mother herself -- has decided to bring remote workers back to company facilities. This appears to be a step backwards, because modern technology has been considered very promising for the future of working parents. Being able to telecommute to work from home is a very appealing idea. Nothing can take the place of face-to-face time completely, but women and men need the flexibility to work at home. Of course, working from home brings its own set of complications and obstacles -- which I will address in an upcoming blog. Few other women are fortunate enough to have a nursery in their office.

Sandberg -- also a mother -- has written Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. The book focuses on women in the workplace and how they can grow their careers and their lives. She has been the subject of much discussion. On one side, Sandberg has very strong credentials -- two Harvard degrees, worked in the Clinton administration, helped Google soar. On the other side, many feel that she is not a role model because powerful men helped her up the ladder. She is no typical working mom because of her wealth and position. To her credit, Sandberg acknowledges the women who came before her.

While I support all working moms, Sandberg focuses on what women can do to better themselves in the workplace. That is only part of the prescription. We strive to be perfect moms while being sterling employees. In order to make this possible, we focus on "We need to change" or "We could be better at this." No! We don't need to "lean in," we need to stand up! The world has to change to accommodate working mothers. This is not a "women's" issue, it's a societal issue.

We used to be told "You're not qualified," -- but now we are. Now, women earn more bachelor's and master's degrees than men Women have made tremendous strides, but that "Old Boy" network is still hanging on. We have to continue our mission to change the culture.

If you have a working mom story or other comment you would like to share, please use the space below. I'd like to hear from you.