I know we’ve come a long way, but, man, sometimes it feels like we have a long way to go. This week for me has been one of those times.
What’s really got me going is the approach of two of the highest profile, most successful working moms in the country to “helping a sister out.” The two ladies I’m talking about are Marissa Mayer, Ceo Of Yahoo!, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.
Mayer made waves this week by ending Yahoo’s! flexible work-from-home-policy, a lifeline for a lot of working parents. Put aside the fact that studies show such workplace flexibility increases productivity. Sandberg on the other hand has a new book coming out encouraging women to be more aggressive in the workplace and to “lean in.”
Taking on more workplace responsibilities even as they expect children.
Sandberg’s glossy rollout includes a plan for women to create their own “lean in” circles with other women where they’ll learn Sandberg’s tricks for gaming the status quo, and invites women to submit their stories to the lean in website, as long as those stories have happy endings.
No crying over spilt breast milk please.
Now, the two are quite different: Mayer doesn’t see herself as a working mom role model. (Hey Marissa, here’s a tip: You are!) Sandberg embraces her iconic working mom status and is seeking to build a “social movement” to help women advance in the workplace.
But, both fundamentally misunderstand the challenges facing us working moms. We overall earn 77 cents on the dollar compared to men, and some economists now estimate that the gap is accounted for almost entirely by the “mom gap”–the penalty in salary that comes with being a mother.
Researchers at Cornell have shown that an equally qualified mother is less likely to be hired, less likely to be promoted, will be offered a lower salary and will be judged more harshly for absences than male and childless counterparts.
These theoretical mothers aren’t “leaning back” or failing to be ambitious enough, they are penalized immediately just by having borne children. Meanwhile, we are torn in two trying to be perfect moms and perfect employees, and feel ourselves to be failing to meet this impossible bar in ways big and small every day.
It’s not surprise then that between this double bind and the crappy deal they’re fighting at work, women are starting to pull back from the workforce. The percentage of stay-at-home moms wanting to work full time is declining and fewer married moms with younger children are in the labor force.
With employers like Marissa Mayer, can you blame them? Mayer demoralizes her employees by basically saying, “we don’t trust you so we have to see you at your desk with our own eyes.” While Mayer strips her employees of workplace flexibility, making their lives that much more difficult, Sandberg chides us for not leaning in, gives us a laundry list of additional areas where we need to improve, and adds attending lean in circles to our To Do list. With role models like these, who needs enemies?
By the way, I wrote most of this rant from home after putting my daughter to bed, before coming back to the studio. How’s that for productive?