Working Mothers Rant

Currently reading “Lean In” and have lots to think about on the subject of the current status of women in the workplace, but came across this article and needed to share it. I actually started to simply post the article with a brief comment on the blog’s Facebook page, but quickly saw the paragraphs adding up and moved over to this space. Forgive me in advance, I feel a rant coming on.

On the surface, I think this column is trying to point out some fantastic female CEOs and the successes they have achieved for their companies. Great concept, honestly, for a column. Recognizing the great work being done by women in all facets of industry can only help to provide positive role models for young women AND men, not to mention continue to make the female face in the corporate world a less unique one.

The problem with the column, in my opinion, is that it reinforces stereotypes of women in the workplace. First off, the headline “Working Mothers Can Be Great CEOs.” Have you ever, EVER, read a headline or business article talking about working fathers and the need to defend their ability to be a great CEO? I mean, E-V-E-R? Second, “can be?” Speechless. Third, it proceeds to highlight stereotypical female characteristics and how these can be useful to companies.

For so long women were told to act like a man to get ahead. Now we are being told to maximize or play up our feminine wiles to succeed? Of course mentoring, collaborating, listening, offering flexible arrangements and other items the columnist points out are good for business. They would be good for a business run by a woman OR a man. They are good for male and female employees. They are good for single workers, gay workers, parent workers, older workers. They just make good business sense. And quite frankly, these attributes are probably found in the best male leaders as well as female. Because the CEOs this columnist features recognized and provided these types of solutions to their respective companies doesn’t mean they are successful leaders ONLY because they are women, it means that they are intelligent, aware and solutions oriented people who have found the most effective ways to lead their companies and employees.

The hubby and I watched Tina Fey on Inside the Actor’s Studio this week and she answered a question from the audience about how to navigate being a great female director in an industry dominated by men. Her answer – be a great director. Don’t think about being a female director or needing to prove that you’re good at it because of or in spite of being a woman. Just do your job and do it to the best of your ability.

If we could all just take a step back and stop qualifying leaders by their gender, because the only times we describe a leader by their gender is when they are female. Let’s simply applaud our best leaders who create opportunities for all of our citizens, who make work accessible and who support our families by advocating flexible arrangements for all workers.

Yes, there is room to be made for more female leaders and yes, I’ll have more to say about that once I finish “Lean In” and digest it for a bit. But “Working Mothers Can Be Great CEOs?” I think I need to launch a similar set of columns. How do these titles sound?

  • Working Fathers Make Great Dinners
  • Working Fathers Can Be Terrific Caregivers
  • Working Fathers Make Housework More Effective

Presence

When I started this part time working gig, a friend told me to be where my feet are. I love this. So true. So simple. And yet, I have a devil of a time living by it.

For some reason, when I’m at work, I always remember the camp forms I need to fill out or the class snacks I need to pack and when I’m at home I’m making mental lists of the tweets that need to be tweeted or the pitches that need to be pitched. Those days when I can’t seem to keep my brain and my feet in the same space are exhausting. I feel overwhelmed and unproductive. I get short-tempered. Then I load even more guilt on myself for not handling the entire situation better so I don’t get to that point.

Circular? Yes. Productive? No. Frustrating? You betcha.

I recently gave up the workout class I have been participating in since the six year old was a mere six weeks old. I loved every aspect of this class – the workout, the fact my kids could come along, the fresh air, the friends I made (seriously, moms, check them out. I have in no way been compensated to say this). It was hard to say goodbye, but my kids are older. The schedule is tougher with all the increased commitments of work and school volunteering. When I hadn’t made it to a class in two months, I had to say goodbye.

Needing to fill the hole, I have started going to a yoga class at our local Y. I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never done yoga, but was intrigued and thought it would give me something fresh to jump start a new workout routine.

Yoga might be the best gift I have ever given myself. Not only do I feel my body responding in extremely positive ways, but my spirit is lifted every time I walk out of the studio. Taking an hour to do something for myself, by myself has been revolutionary. Being able to simply breathe and be without a litany of tasks clouding my brain has given me a fresh perspective to start over those afternoons. The soft voice of the instructor, the purposeful movement, the sense of peaceful community have all done wonders to my mental space.

I am ridiculously in tune with my body – my husband would say too much so. I think I knew I was pregnant with my second child within days of conception. I could just tell. My cardiologist has agreed when he has assured me some of the issues I’ve presented with are extremely common, most folks just don’t ever feel them. I am very concerned when something seems off in my body, which can often lead to crazy assumptions that I must be coming down with something (this is the point at which the hubby thinks I need to be less in tune with my body since sometimes an eye twitch is just an eye twitch and an achy back is just an achy back).

But in yoga, it’s all a positive. It’s being in tune in the most fundamental way – listening to what needs stretching, filling and emptying. Letting go of concern and simply taking a mental inventory of the aches and the pains and the good and the satisfied. Being present, focused and healthy.

So to all of you mamas out there trying to find the elusive balance, remember, it’s about presence. Find something that makes you feel present. It doesn’t have to be yoga, it can be a walk, a run, a hot bath, meditation, whatever makes you grounded and keeps you from thinking of all the need tos and haven’t dones.

Be present. Even if it’s just an hour a week. And if you’re still insisting on balance over presence, come join me in a nice chair pose.

Flexing

Since last week, I’ve been mulling over what I want to say about the recent memo coming out of Yahoo! requiring all workers report to campus, eliminating their work from home stance.

I admittedly do not have an MBA nor do I particularly have a mind for “management.” I am a communicator. I am an observer. I am a seeker. I am not a numbers person. I am not a manager, nor do I ever truly care to be one. I like working with others on a team and having a role to fulfill and a skill set to offer. I like putting my head down and working alone to put that skill set to work and create change. I like learning from others’ strengths and allowing them to do what they do best.

I do not work at Yahoo! or a company like it. I do not claim to understand their culture, their specific needs for corporate change or how to fix their bottom line. I do not know if people are taking advantage, in the most negative sense of the term, of the telecommuting option or if this is simply a nice tactic to trim the personnel fat without having to make hard layoff decisions.

I do, however, work in a flexible environment.

As I’ve said before, I work part time and a lot at home. The company I work for is relatively small and a start-up. A lot of folks have young families. Travel and late nights and weekend events are par for the course for many and the mentality is very much see something that needs to be done? Do it.

When I started this gig, the understanding was that I would primarily work from home. It soon became apparent, as folks were getting used to who I was and what I could offer, that I show my face every so often in order to get to know everyone and experience how the business worked. I currently go to the office on days when both kids are in school – so three mornings a week. If I need to attend a meeting outside of those hours, I have often brought a little assistant with me to the office.

This face time allows me the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues, track down answers to unreturned emails and, often, have a quiet, kid-free zone to work. The ability to work from home, however, gives me the opportunity to spend time with my kids, be there when my six year old gets off the school bus and volunteer at my children’s schools. Many of my tasks are writing or research related and can be completed outside normal business hours. My social media tasks have no business hours and I am able to check on them whenever and wherever.

Today’s constant email, text and social contact are making the traditional 9 to 5 schedule a thing of the past. People have access to work wherever they are. I think it’s unrealistic to not offer flexible work environments. I, for one, am able to participate in the economy, find fulfilling work and contribute to a company I believe in because of it. If the job required a 9 to 5 in the office schedule, frankly, I’m not sure I’d be doing it.

That being said, there must be parameters, boundaries, expectations. Flexible work environments are a lot like raising children. You want to give kids the freedom to explore, learn and take risks. At the same time, they need boundaries to still feel safe and confident. My kids always behave better when they know what is expected of them. Freedom breeds creativity and confidence in them, but inattention leads to acting out and, shall we say, mischief.

So provide freedom, but be attentive. Insist workers spend a certain number of hours a week in the office, require attendance at monthly staff/team meetings, offer events/seminars/learning opportunities that get people together. Sure, it might be harder work for management to enact boundaries and monitor the work-from-homers, but isn’t that their job? To manage? Why risk alienating talented workers who may be more productive without the extra-long commute or the complicated child care arrangements or, frankly. without the distractions of a cubicle environment?

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I can say that truly flexible work environments are good for workers. They are good for families. They are good for employers. I hope that, at the very least, this move by Yahoo! will help keep the conversation about flex schedules going.

My fear, though, is that it will give employers the permission to remain inflexible.