parenting, working and getting ahead

Argh. This morning I saw yet again a news article about parenting being an obstacle to one’s career aspirations. I am lucky: I haven’t really run into that problem. I do know people, though, who have run across those barriers. In frustration for reading and hearing about this yet again, I am rerunning one of my favorite blog entries from several years ago, written when I worked for WCET.

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If you are a parent whose children are in child care or school, you know the drill. You live by the sitter, center or school’s hours and rules. You know every after-school program and its benefits and drawbacks. You have the illness policy committed to memory.

I read an interesting article recently on MSNBC.com titled “Female bosses carry child care burden.” The gist of it is that women most often take care of child care issues, and that there is a perception difference when women in authority take care of business at home. Before I continue, I’ll just make my disclaimer now: I’m lucky. My employer values the family and expects that employees have responsibilities that exist outside the workplace. And my husband views child care as a partnership, not “mom’s responsibility.”

My "barriers to success" 😉

So I read this article, and I’m left asking the same question I always ask: Why? Why is parenting devalued in the world of business? Why do we think that taking care of one’s children (or parents or other loved ones) is a liability? There are popular books about succeeding in business that focus on rather ruthless qualities and practices. Some even give lip service to “work-life issues” (as they are often called), and authors express a wish they had had more time with children or spouses … but then emphasize that total life dedication to work is the best road to the corporate suite. I’m not buying it.

That which makes me a good parent makes me a good employee and a good manager. I’m responsible. I’m proactive. I’m creative. I have a sense of humor. I can keep my frustration in check and avoid slapping someone. I’ve learned that intimidation is not useful in interpersonal relations. I have learned much of that the hard way since becoming a parent. (I have excellent colleagues who learned most or all of those lessons in other ways, but becoming a parent in my 30s was my journey to becoming a smarter adult.) But while I’m proud of growing into those qualities, they come with the little things you don’t expect and still must deal with. Kids get sick. Kids are cranky or need a few more minutes of reassurance some mornings. Kids have Scout meetings. Snow days happen.

Still see parenthood as a liability in business? Wake up. Work-life policies reap benefits. Parents who know they don’t have to fear for their jobs if their child gets sick will often work longer and harder hours in the long run. Here’s just one article touting it: http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/stories/2003/10/20/focus8.html. There are many others. The great news is that a company doesn’t have to have a massive budget to honor work-life issues. What it needs is compassion. Call again upon your own parenting or interpersonal skills and think that over.

I’m going to ask you to think about your mom. If she ran the home, like mine did, she likely had most if not every quality of the best in the corporate suite. But, like my mother, her time and place may not have offered many options to work outside the home. So like the rest of us, she did her work every day, networked with others, and set and achieved her goals. Did you want to try to stare down your steely eyed mother at the end of the day if you knew you’d been up to no good? Your mother knew her business, my friend.

Until our society and its businesses and industries understand that motherhood … no, parenting, does not preclude excellence in business, then management will be missing some highly creative and productive people. And until we recognize that ignoring child care and other work-life issues is a problem, then some people will never even get the chance to wonder if they could advance.

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