by Neale Godfrey
(reprinted from Forbes.com, original post date: June 11, 2017)
Gone are the days when we, as working moms, would be questioned by friends and family, and employers about “choosing between having a career and raising a family.” I remember a time when I had small children and was recently divorced; even my working mother questioned if I could “have it all.” Just when I thought all those issues were behind us, I had a rude awakening with graduate students I mentor as an Executive in Residence. What are these students of a top Ivy League university concerned with? They are not quite sure that they will get “support” from their partners, family and corporations when it is time to have a career and a family.
The Donna Reed Generation May Be Alive And Well
Most of you have never heard of Donna Reed and her TV show in the 1960’s. Go ask your Mom or Grandmother; they will tell you. Donna Reed was what we called a “typical” American housewife in those days. She was home with the kids, vacuuming and ironing while wearing both a pearl necklace and small high heels. Dad was out being the breadwinner and was home each night at 5:00 pm, so the family could have dinner together. (The biggest disconnect for Millennials will probably start with the whole family eating happily together at 5:00 pm sharp while the teenagers talk and interact with their parents.)
We thought that those days were gone. Today’s women with children are working; gender equality is a mainstream ideal. According to the Department of Labor, “Seventy percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent employed full-time.”
But, not so fast; David Cotter, Ph.D. and Joanna Pepin Doctoral Candidate released a study depicting a different trend. The study entitled, Trending Towards Traditionalism? Changes in Youths’ Gender Ideology in March 2017, sets the stage: “We often think that each generation becomes more modern, egalitarian, and tolerant than the last.” Surprisingly, a survey high school students over a 40-year period showed a large proportion of students holding egalitarian views about gender-based roles from 1977 to the mid-1990’s; however, this view has begun to trend in the opposite direction since. In 1994, 42 percent of the high schoolers agreed that the best family was where a man was the main income earner and the woman took care of the home. That number rose to 58 percent by 2014. That trend is a shocker to me.
The Council on Contemporary Families also conducted a study, Nika Fate-Dixon: Are Some Millennials Rethinking the Gender Revolution? Long-Range Trends in Views of Non-Traditional Roles for Women and their findings paralleled the above findings from Cotter and Pepin. When surveying mostly men, their confidence that working moms are just as good mothers as stay-at-home moms is falling. It appears that our young generation of men is moving toward a more “Donna Reed” view of the role of women than their parents. We are taking a large step backwards.
Money As Life’s Report Card: The Old Myth
When I got divorced, my Mom said, “Of course he wants a divorce, you are more successful than your husband and you earn more money.” These old views are slipping into our modern world again.
Refinery29 conducted a study and released an updated article, Millennial Women Are Conflicted About Being Breadwinners, showing that, “38 percent of American wives made more money than their husbands.” Ashley C. Ford, who reported for Refinery29, made clear that many of these women are uncomfortable with that situation and are even ashamed and feel that there could be negative repercussions in their relationship because they out-earn their partner.
Best Companies For Working Moms
Working Mother lists the top 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers each year. A.T. Kearney, a management consulting firm, topped the list for 2016. Companies are beginning to offer family-friendly policies; not just for moms, but also for dads, as well. But, the process is slow. Women are torn between the demands of a family and their own career. The decisions are not easy. Until all of society figures out that only women have babies and that this role benefits all of us, they will not step up to the plate to really treat mothers as revered workers and not like a pariah.
Everything shifted when I was pregnant. During serious business meetings, co-workers cooed at me and wanted to talk about baby clothes. I remember a time, while I was a bank president and pregnant with my son, people would come up to me (men and women) and put their hands on my stomach and ask me about the baby. Can you imagine a customer putting his hands on a male bank president’s stomach and asking how he was feeling?
Before I gave birth, when we were having planning sessions, invariably, when a meeting was set in the future, someone would say, “Oh, that’s right, you won’t be here.” That felt like a hot-dagger was being thrust into my heart. I knew it would be tough, but I wasn’t willing to make the choice between having kids and having a career. By the way, at that point I was a single mom.
As tough as it is to balance the career mommy-track with mommy-hood, my big advice is; when at work, stick to the business at hand. Why? Because many workplaces are very competitive and any chink-in-the-armor will give your co-workers a chance to move into your territory. Minimize your conversations about your kids; even if you have been up all night with your fussy baby, come into work with a bright smile and great attitude.
I wish it were different, and in lots of work environments it is; however, in many more, it is not. We need to show companies that we can have careers and kids. We need to make employers understand that they should accommodate that reality and that women are good for business.
Stay with the corporation; don’t drop out. We must be the agents for change. Remember the words of Gandhi when he said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Although, I’m just guessing that he didn’t have a child who was breast feeding every 3 hours throughout the night!