When I read this article about having children and career, it was like the journalist had picked my brain (wait a minute, I don’t have any left…) during my sleep (er, what sleep?). In fact, I started writing a blog post raising the same issues a month ago. But my frustration got the best of me and after 1500 raving-ranting words, I decided to spare PWPL.
Where to start? First, she is right. About everything. About gaping resumes. About “doing time” in jobs for which we are overqualified. About having to gain the trust of our employers after putting our family first. About refusing promotions for unclear reasons.
What does this all mean? Does it mean that raising children is not valuable, productive work? Why is it so wrong if maternity and motherhood affect women more than men?
Well, it’s a question of measure. What the author takes issue with — and what I certainly have a bone to pick about — is not so much that young children cramp our style for a couple of years but that these years seem to extend way past early childhood. Motherhood marks you in two major ways that are not directly related to the demands of young children. First, motherhood leaves a gap of productivity in your resume. This gap has nothing to do with actual productivity while your career is slowing down to a crawl. It only means that this new kind of productivity and life experience is not recognized by the workplace. Secondly, motherhood marks you because you are assumed to be unable to take on as much as your child-less or male colleagues. I had this discussion recently with my child-less male colleague: maybe I cannot take on as much but it should be my choice. When have I not picked up my Blackberry on evenings and weekends? When have I missed a deadline? And last night at 1 am, when I was touching-up some communications material for a morning announcement, it was my sleep I was sacrificing. Not my colleague’s, not my kids’, not my boss’.
What frustrates me is not that motherhood makes a difference but that it doesn’t need to make as big a difference as it does. With today’s communications tools, why do I need to pass up a promotion because I cannot make the 7 am management meeting? Or because I cannot travel for meetings? Why do the years spent at home managing not-for-profit sports organizations, school meetings and family vacations count as “productive gap”? When I get up at 5:30 am every morning of every week and manage to feed 8 people three square meals a day, run 20 km a week, work 40+ hours and keep the sanitary authorities from closing down my kitchen and bathrooms — and much more — I don’t feel unproductive, far less! Why does the job market see me as a slacker?
Andrea adds: Let’s stir things up a little, shall we? Let me take the perspective of the single, childless sucker who can go in early, also stay late, make every meeting, put in overtime, do the weekends… and does not get the joy of children in his/her life, in fact goes home to eat cereal hunched over the sink for dinner…Should someone who needs negotiations and special deals, can’t be present at various meetings and may or may not need to take off at a moment’s notice to care for child X, Y or Z get promoted over that person? Maybe. I don’t rule it out. But the point is the workplace doesn’t owe any of us anything. We earn the right to be there. If I happen to realize I work for Ebenezer Scrooge who won’t let me get a new coal scuttle, I leave. Or I choose a workplace with rules I like. Or I create the work environment I like by starting my own business.
I just think we as humans make choices and generally speaking, we can’t do it all on Tuesday.
Véronique adds: To this I would reply that it is not about making it to X,Y, Z commitment or letting your child-less colleague pick-up the slack. Of course, if you do the work you shouldn’t be passed-up for promotion by someone who doesn’t.
But the problem arises when you do the work and are passed-up (or not even considered) for promotion because you have children or because you took time-off to stay with your children when they were young. When you start questioning the status quo, you realize that many hiring/staffing rules don’t make sense; it’s just the way things are. For instance, I recently had to pass-up a great job for which I was perfectly qualified but lacked experience. I was sure I could figure it out quickly, given my life experience. And if anybody had given me an interview, they would have seen it too. But I wasn’t even considered. Why? Because I was home for 2 of the 5 years of required experience. That’s what gets me. So now I am “doing time” in a job for which I am so overqualified, it’s not even funny. I am so overqualified that I don’t even get considered for interviews: people know I am just “passing by” on my way to something better. Truly, I am just about to drop the Masters’ degree in law and the University teaching experience part of my resume. It scares employers.
As for leaving a job you are unhappy with or choosing a workplace with rules you like, come on! Have you looked for work lately? My job is paying the mortgage on the house that shelters my 6 children. I am not about to get fussy about the new coal scuttle!
Overqualified and all, I like my job: I have the best boss and the best colleague. I am not bitter, just frustrated.
Andrea adds: But this is my point! Those childless suckers “did the time.” They spent the hours getting other people coffee. Fact checking until 3 am. Being available for more and more work that was “below them” too. And then someone else enters the scene: someone with experience but of a very different kind. And if they are never given the chance to start where said childless sucker did ten years ago, then that is wrong. But if they aren’t willing to start where said childless sucker did, years ago…then that is a different question. My point here is that life looks differently–could a woman or man who takes ten years out of the working world possibly be in the same position as someone who didn’t? How would that be fair?
Veronique adds: You are misunderstanding my point. Of course, it wouldn’t be fair. I am not saying that mothers shouldn’t expect to bring their boss’ coffee. I have no problem with “doing time” and I don’t consider my work to be “below me.” I take pride in doing the best job I possibly can getting my boss’ dry cleaning. My problem is when “doing time” is as good as it gets. Mothers do the time – the fact checking at 3 am, the coffee, the dry cleaning run – but don’t get ahead because they have family obligations. Even if these obligations don’t get in the way, even if they get the job done.
I was thinking about this whole issue while making supper tonight. Returning to work after having children is like being an immigrant in a foreign land. You used to be a doctor or an engineer. You leave on a journey to another country. When you get there, your diploma is no longer worth the paper it’s printed on. Your credentials are not recognized. Your experience is not acknowledged. You tell people that a broken arm or the laws of physics do not change essentially between two countries. Nobody believes you. Or they pretend to believe you but never give you the chance to prove it. When you finally find work sweeping the floors at a clinic you tell yourself that you will move up and show them what you are capable of. When you apply for the receptionist’s job, they tell you that you don’t have the appropriate experience. You try to explain that you have been sweeping the floor in the receptionist’s office for 5 years, you know you can do the job. Nope. You ask if you could help the receptionist and gain experience. You are told that people in your country of origin are known to have long afternoon naps and since the receptionist works afternoons, well… we don’t think you’ll be able to pull it off. It sounds extreme but I have been in jobs interviews like that.