Me Being a “Doer” – December 2010 Meeting at NIGP with the Chinese Delegation from the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing
Me Being a Mom – October 2009 with my son at a social networking event for local professionals in Myrtle Beach, SC
*Big Disclaimer: I’m lucky enough to work for NIGP. And I am thrilled to tell you that they have truly embraced me as a M.A.D. Woman! This article, in no way, reflects on my current employer, rather on the challenges facing women who seek a balance between children and career.
DEAR EMPLOYER: I’M A M.A.D. WOMAN…DEAL WITH IT!
I’m a Mom And a Doer, and therefore, I am a M.A.D woman. Beyond a cute acronym, I am truly mad and enraged at the notion that I cannot be both a mother and a successful career woman. Twice today, I was told, in not so many words, that I needed to choose between a child and a career.
I’ll be the first to admit, having a child early (age 21), before truly establishing a career, has had its effects on my ability to be as flexible as a single, twenty-something, who can fly-by-night on a whim, at the request of their employer. However, since having my son (who by the way has been such a blessing that I wouldn’t trade him for anything) I have refused to succumb to the “you can’t have both [career & children]” mentality.
I’ve instead adopted the “either you’re flexible to my situation, or I’ll take my talents elsewhere” mentality. In other words, I know that I am a valuable talent resource for any potential employer. I am tenacious and passionate about achieving success and doing a “great” job for my employer. I am backed by a boat-load of education and a skill set that includes research, writing, and the ability to network like a pro. AND…P.S. – I also have a 5 year old son. If an employer is unwilling to provide opportunities for me to learn, grow, and advance, while also maintaining a decent work-life balance, then I have no quam with relocating.
Does it really sound like I’m asking for too much? According to a recent report by Deloitte, my “either you’re flexible to my situation, or I’ll take my talents elsewhere” attitude is becoming the norm for women around the world.
According to Deloitte (2010),
[w]hen opportunities are lacking, workers today can more easily migrate to where the good jobs are. Indeed, a recent Gallop poll says ‘a good job’ is what people the world over desire most—and, historically, they have shown a willingness to move for it. This holds especially true for women. As described in Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu’s March 2010 report Paths to Power: Advancing Women in Government, more educated women than men move from their country of origin in search of greater opportunities. (p.9)
So why should employers care? Isn’t it easier to hire someone who is without child; who doesn’t have such demands for a work-life balance? Isn’t it easier to hire someone who won’t need an emergency day off because their child has the flu? While it may seem easier to hire a “doer” instead of a M.A.D. woman, there are some associated risks to both a country and a company for adopting such a wimpy attitude towards work-life balance.
According to Deloitte (2010), “[c]ountries and companies that lose educated women suffer a double loss—they lose a worker and a potential mentor…In Japan, Eiko Shinotsuka, a commissioner in the National Personnel Authority, cites’… insufficient utilization of women as human resources, particularly their intellectual resources,’ as a factor in the Japanese economy’s lackluster performance” (p. 9).
So why do countries and companies lose educated women? It is no secret that women comprise about 50%, if not more, of individuals who achieve higher-level education degrees, yet women are largely underrepresented in management and executive positions around the globe. I hypothesize that it may be the result of companies’ wimpy approach to the work-life balance issue.
Over the past 50 years or more, in the U.S., women have moved from a traditional role as “wife, mother, and homemaker” to the “new norm” of “career woman”. However, I hypothesize that the massive underutilization of women’s talent in the workplace, and lack of representation of women in leadership positions is the result of companies’ failure to meet women at a point between the two extremes.
Let’s face it! We have encouraged women to seek a professional career outside of the home. But…have we empowered M.A.D. women; or have we created a world where women truly must choose between career and children? In some countries where women chose career over children, the very population and continuance of the country itself was endangered over the long-term.
According to Deloitte research (2010),
[i]t’s working mothers that are key to the long-term viability of countries, with both the public and private sector having a stake in the outcome. Paying women to have babies, the way Russia and other parts of the world have done, has had very limited success. Instead, countries that have made it possible for parents to have a family and work are reaping the reward in higher fertility rates (See figure 6). What works is more high-quality child care and flexible work options—and the fostering of cultural norms that encourage women and men to provide both financial and emotional care to their families. Doing so will help reverse these trends and provide, to use Goldman Sachs’ phrase, a ‘demographic transition’—a period in which the working-age share of the population grows more quickly than the overall population, supporting higher savings and per capita income.
In Japan, the government is also trying to create an environment where young women and men do not have to choose between parenthood and a career. In 2009, the Japanese Diet created new legislation around child-care leave that calls for a six-hour workday limit and an exemption from overtime for employees with children under the age of three have. Dual-income families are allowed childcare leave until the child reaches 14 months. The Japanese government wants to be ‘better than the United States’ in terms of supporting working parents, says Ted Childs, the retired global diversity director for IBM. He views Japan’s actions to indicate an ‘economic war for talent’, that is, an issue of national competitiveness. (p. 15)
That being said, if I can encounter two individuals in one day, who tell me I must “choose”, it leads me to believe that this may be a majority view of women in the U.S., and a potential reason that we see underutilization of women as human resources within the public and private sectors. If my hypothesis is right, the U.S. stands to lose more than just its share of women in the workforce; it may also lose in terms of GDP, population growth/ continuity, and national competitiveness.
The solution would appear to be simple: Build better work-life balance policies and the women will come. However, it is really not that simple. The American cultural norm, as a whole, generally embraces the “live to work” mentality rather than the “work to live” mentality. Therefore, changing policies in both the public and private sector would require a cultural shift at large (but that is a very extensive topic for another day).
In the interim, M.A.D. women will continue to face the challenges of balancing children and career. Employers who provide a better work-life balance for these women, will undoubtably access a largely underutilized resource of brain power, tenacity, and professionalism. Employers who fail to embrace M.A.D. women will likely continue to exist, but perhaps with less of a competitive edge in the “war for talent”.
P.S. – To all employers who are adverse to hiring a M.A.D. Woman: I really don’t care if you’re too scared of “my child’s inevitable sick day”, that will cause me to call out of the office for a day, to recognize the unique talents, ambition, and drive that I bring to the table…I’ll find an employer to work for instead of a wimp. Let’s face it I’m a M.A.D woman and capable of anything that I put my mind to.
Deloitte. (2010). The gender dividend: Making the business case for investing in women. Retrieved on March 2, 2011 from http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-Global/Local%20Assets/Documents/Public%20Sector/dttl_ps_genderdividend_130111.pdf
Beautiful work Candace.
This post doesn’t apply only to women, Candace! Many fathers would like to spend more time with their children, and regret the amount of time that they feel they must give to their employers….and make a choice to change so that they can be there for their families. I am grateful that my jobs have all afforded flexibility to work from home and achieve that balance a bit better.
I’m a MAD woman too – with a 3 year old – and it helps to have a VERY supportive significant other who shares EQUALLY in the sick days / appointments and other things that come with being a parent. I wouldn’t change it for the world either and my son’s father is understanding in my quest to have an identity separate from our family – I’m with you girl!! I’m also lucky to work with some awesome MAD women including Martha Dorris, Bev Godwin and Sheila Campbell – hey, if they can do it so can I 🙂
I applaud you M.A.D woman! You have it much better than I did 30 years ago. I’m an older M.A.D woman.
Anyway, stand your ground. Family is the most important facet of your life and your son deserves your attention. There are many opportunities for a woman of your caliber and talents. You’ve got a big fight ahead since this requires a huge cultural change. However, you have the guts and tenacity to work for a championship organization who believes in work-balance.
As far as Japan goes, women are foregoing marriage and focusing on their careers. Women are having less children and now the country’s crying because the population has grown small!
Change is definitely coming!
Here, here. Great post. My wife and I both struggle with this world–and we both work for amazingly flexible employers (this is relative, for sure). As Andrew mentioned, many fathers these days are seeking more family time, or even taking on the role of primary caregiver to give their spouse career-breathing room (or like Alycia said, sharing the responsibilities). Even in flexible workplaces it seems that there’s a rift between those with kids, and those without; especially as people delay having children and don’t understand the challenges parents face (“Why can’t I have a sabbatical – she took maternity leave!” Hey, clueless – it’s not a vacation).
I think society in general has become either less family-friendly, or never really adapted to the dual-income family. And in high-cost regions both parents usually need to work just to meet expenses. And don’t even start to talk about the cost of halfway decent childcare or accommodations for nursing mothers.
But, as your conclusion suggests, we can meet these challenges. And when we’re in charge we can make sure we create corporate cultures that not only tolerate working parents, but actually try to make things easier for us so we can be M.A.D. productive!
Thank you gentleman and M.A.D Women for all of your comments.
@Rob – I think you’re right. Society in general has become less family-friendly. I hate to say it, but technology contributes to this problem, rather than finding solutions to solve it. What do I mean? In a world of 24/7 connectivity employers expect you to be available at all times. It doesn’t matter if you are at your son’s soccer game (love that commercial) or your daughter’s ballet recital when the infamous Blackberry buzzes with an “emergency” work situation.
I believe employers could harness technology to provide better work-life balance (i.e. teleworking). However, responsibility for establishing clear guidelines and boundaries is truly the responsibility of us, the employee, to communicate with our employer. If you allow those boundaries to be pushed (i.e. responding to e-mails while you’re supposed to be on vacation) then it will become expected.
As for adopting to the “dual-income” family in a “high-cost region”….I empathize with anyone living and working in the D.C. area. I am a M.A.D. Woman…but also a single mom which places even further emphasis on my employer’s need to understand.
In the past 10 years I’ve had to deal with my father’s stroke and my mother’s fight with cancer. Both required frequent unexpected absenses. In one case my cell phone rang and I stood up and walked out of a meeting between my boss (a Congressman) and an Assistant Secretary with an over the shoulder explanation “My mother needs me In Phila ASAP”. The boss called within the hour to ask how she was doing and assure me there would be no problems with me taking as much time as needed. NEVERTHELESS, I took the elctronic leashes along, stayed connected and never abused the flexibility granted. When asked why I was working on briefing papers in my mother’s hospital room I replied that she was sleeping and the reason my boss let me have so much time was because he knew I would make sure my work got done. I also went out of my way when I got back to thank the rest of the staff who had picked up the slack I simply had not been able to cover. Next I volunteered to take some of their meetings so they could have some family time as well.
Too often we tend to focus on the need for the employer to accomadate our personal lives regardless of the strain that may impose on our fellow workers or the problems that may arise for the organization. In one of the organization’s I worked for, a very senior executive diverted an enourmous amount time to family problems without either stepping aside temproarily or focus sufficient attention on critical organizational weaknesses. The organization went under within 18 months and 20 people faced sudden unemployment.
So by all means attend every soccer game, be there for your children when they need you and above all take care of your parents as they age. But bring along the blackberry, laptop etc and remember the people who pay your salary, as well as your coworkers, also deserve your best efforts. Do not let family obligations become an excuse for substandard work or shift your responsabilities onto other employees. If you do, at least don’t complain when those who picked up the slack for you are promoted ahead of you.
Great post Candace. Would love to have someone like you working for my company. Thanks for sharing. This comes at an interesting time as my wife is looking to get back into the workforce after five years of raising our four children. Stay strong.
Even your name says “Can” as in can do.
You sound not only like a great mom and employee but a wonderful wife as well. Someone who can do it all.
@Andrew – yes. Quality of life is for everyone guys and gals. Instead of M.A.D. we can be D.A.D. 🙂
This is a great post. I’m a M.A.D woman with a 3 1/2 year old and its hard with a husband sharing responsibilities. I work at a great place that is truly flexible for the working parent and has made it easy to be successful. I wish more places were like it. However, I’ve also seen when individuals have taken advantage of these flexibilities and let their work be affected.
Well said Peter! I too had tremendous support from my agency 11 years ago when I needed to take a month off and travel 1200 miles away to share end of life care for my mother. I originally thought I’d have to take LWOP, but the FMLA and a supportive supervisor came to my rescue! My sister, who lived locally, didn’t have the same work flexibility and could not take days off. Have laptop will travel! While my mom slept, I quietly disconnected her nursing room phone line, connected my laptop modem and worked away. Being able to be there for my mom and knowing my office supported me made a world of difference. Because of this supportive arrangement, none of my work went undone, all projects stayed on track, and I received an award for my accomplishments even though I was out of the office for over a month. Being willing to do what it takes to balance your life and your career went a long way in my success. I applaud those managers whose ability to recognize that talent isn’t dependent on being physically present 40/week, and those employees who know and do what it takes to find a way to manage work and life. It creates a win-win for everyone!
What an inspiring post! (Not to mention you have a beautiful little boy!) I think many of us face this situation. I know many friends who have had children right out of college and are facing these problems when starting their career. They are well educated, ambitious, and want to be rockstars for a potential employer. The best part is that if given a proper chance, these young women would be Superwomen: Great employees and even greater mothers! It can be done!
You are proof of that and your attitude is inspiring. Rather than settling, you have set your standards high! You know the talent you bring to your workplace and that you can do both! Way to go! Thanks for writing this post, Candace!
WOOT! I’m a M.A.D woman with teenagers. I’ve been single and M.A.D also. Now, I’m looking ahead to the possibility that as an only child I will be my parent’s go-to when needed. I’ve had the great fortune to work in a small company that allows flexibility. I do, however, notice that if I answer emails at midnight (my fault!) the customer thinks nothing of intruding by email 24-7. I think sometimes it is as much my responsibility for setting and maintaining expectations as it is my customer or company in making flexibility possible. Building a two way street and respect for each other is key. GO M.A.D woman!
@ Faye – I’m right there with you. I’m a single M.A.D. woman and an only child. My parents still live in Ohio and my father’s health has been a bit worse lately. It has added very real thoughts of not only saving to send a child to college, but saving to assist with my parents’ care later in life.
@Patt – If only more offices were like yours. I’m a firm believer in supporting the employee’s personal life needs in addition to career goals. Having been fortunate enough to work for a flexible employer, I too have been able to keep projects on track while traveling to spend time with family when needed. It keeps me happy and much more productive than being tied to an office 40/ week.
@Patt Franc — Thank you for the kind words.. I should probably clarify that neither my father’s stroke nor my mother’s cancer became EOL situations, although both were touch and go for awhile.
I think one of the most difficult aspects of work/life balancing for bothe employer and employee is planning. My current boss knows I will be taking long weekends every month to spend time with my parents. They are easy to schedule and can be moved around to meet organizational needs. It is the sudden phone calls that require immediate responses that impose the real strain. Much as they might want to, employers cannot simply put organizational imperatives on hold while employees deal with urgent family emergencies. As I noted, one organization I worked for tried to go that route and the results were not good for anyone.
As human beings we need to understand that family comes first and be willing if necessary to make the career sacrifices necessary to be there for our family. As employees, we need to understand we were hired to do a job and if the job does not get done, the consequences for our employers and fellow employees can be devestating. Whenever possible, we should balnace the two obligations and provide full value to both. But if our family obligations are so overwhleming that we simply cannot, even with our best efforts, fulfill our obligations to our employer; than we should have the courage to step aside temporarily, or permanantly if necessary. Our employers should be supportive of our family needs but not to the extend of emperiling organizational objectives or existence.
Because I do not mind sharing…this was a project to show how busy women are that I put together last year. Granted life has gotten even more busy since living in D.C. Metro, but here is a typical day in the life of a M.A.D. Woman!
Great video. You could do a follow-up showing firing up your computer again AFTER flashing the 10:12 pm clock to go back to work (for when we flex our schedules for the kids).
@ Rob – you are so right. I used to put my son down at 8:00 and then work on my M.A. until about 1:00 am every night. I am proud to say that I finished my M.A. this week and will walk in June 🙂
@Candace congratulations on your master’s degree! I’m often proud of what I’ve accomplished on my own, but I’m amazed at the women who do the same thing…with a child! Great vid, I posted it on the GovGirl facebook page.