Who Needs Men-emies (Part II)

Part I of this post reflects on the Marie Claire article suggesting that single women in the workplace are impacted negatively, professionally and ultimately personally, by married/married with children colleagues.

Taveras believes that “businesses are increasingly sensitive to helping parents manage their time”.  This statement is laughable and goes unsupported with fact or examples.  I wouldn’t have to go far to find many working mothers who would strongly disagree, myself included!  In our capitalist society, land of the stimulus package, her belief that companies are seeking to help parents manage their time better confirms her skewed perspective based on personal feelings rather than fact.  Companies love money and they employ people to bring it to them.  That is all.  The larger the company the less likely they would be seeking time management options to assist your parenting capabilities.  It’s much more likely that they would have a corporate mandate that you learn to manage your time well and they only time they care about is the time that impacts your JOB.

She quotes different women who feel slighted by working parents and uses anecdotes to support her beliefs while attempting to make them seem scientific.  Anecdotes aren’t hard to come by on this side:  I recall working on a side project in the office while attempting to accomplish sales goals directly related to my position.  When I detailed why I had chosen to lower the priority of this project because I had “ a lot of work on my plate” that was actually more relevant to my hired position (goals that could actually lead to the evaluation of my success or not), the male superior suggested that the end of the school year and two hours that I had left early was the actual reason that I prioritized the projects.  Never mind my closure of two sales contracts during that same period of time or my after hours commitment—including responding to 4 am emails to prove that I’m always able to work.  This type of anecdotal perception of the working mother and it’s impact is well supported by years of scientific data.

Her arguments about working parents also confirm a suspicion that I’ve had regarding the corporate mindset: To some, becoming a parent means that your professional ambition was sucked out during the birthing process.  Nothing could be further from the truth! There are many of us who are concerned about our ability to further our careers and ascend the corporate ladder.  Having children or getting married may refocus your priorities but it rarely changes core ambition.  Actually, my desire to be successful increased upon the birth of my children.  I knew that I would never be a full-time stay at home so I focused on making my career a value add for my family, which meant harder work and yes, sometimes, longer hours.

Corporations follow the “skin in the game” mentality too closely to allow a mere woman to change their mantra for the sake of her breastfeeding hours or youth basketball games.  It’s much too easy for them to justify promoting a man (yes ladies, we are the least of each other’s worries), so we have to make the argument tough.  To Ms. Byrd, I say, “please email me a list of the companies that have moved wiping dirty baby bottoms ahead of cleaning up on the bottom line,  while still offering the opportunity to be promoted”, it’s just not happening!  If in-house day care is the ‘assist’ that companies are offering, I’ll tell you that it’s another method to encourage longer working hours (yes, the powers that be even thought that through).

The article would have been better focused on teaching women how to develop work/life balance without feeling the threat of job loss…it’s possible and should be expected!  As a matter of fact, rather than suggesting that women who leave at 5 pm to be responsible parents (who may also be working from home as I did many nights when my children were young) are slackers, she should suggest that they pair up with a more experienced employee who has figured out how to address balance in a productive way.  I guarantee you can find a female executive that has nurtured corporate revenues and a household family budget successfully, although not without a few growing pains—and you will have to be willing to forgo the easy path that this article seems to believe working mothers have.

In her effort to promote her argument, Byrd misses another demographic: the single, working mother.  As the sole provider in a household or primary caregiver, you have the irony of needing to accomplish everything but not being able to risk your job. Therefore, the nose to the grindstone mentality may take over.  There have been plenty of cheer practices that I’ve walked into late or last-minute calls for a ride that I’ve arranged on my daughters behalf without expecting a childless/unmarried employee to pick up my slack!

We want to be seen as equals in the workplace, yet Ms. Byrd, supports the “look at Sally” mentality. Pointing fingers and shifting blame.  Instead of focusing on what you believe someone isn’t doing perhaps time would be better spent focusing on what you CAN do.  There is significant power in demonstrating balance.  While working mothers may be perceived to be spending less time in the office, I can see many great lessons of those same women putting in more “concentrated” hours throughout the day to accomplish everything necessary should they need to leave on time.  Because those of us who value career and family recognize the need to burn the candle on both ends, we may spend more time with our heads down and engaged in work while the single person may be able to take lunch every day without fail or spend a little time building interpersonal relationships at work that could turn out to be very helpful to career growth, I don’t hold a grudge based on that but in a section of the article a woman complains about moving up the career ladder because she fears never having a family.  I’m less saddened by the fact that she’s choosing to work long hours and more concerned that she feels she has to choose.  Bob in the corner office is doing both!

You can do BOTH just be aware that sometimes the balance will be imperfect!  Melissa Mayer took time to focus on her career growth, plenty of time!  I don’t get the feeling that she perceived her life as wasting away while she worked long hours as an early Google employee.  There’s no irony that she reached what is obviously a career pinnacle as the Yahoo! CEO before deciding to be a mother.  She also wasn’t married during this period time, I’m sure by choice.  She has proven that you can have it all, maybe not everything at once but this may be the mantra for many working mothers.  Ironically, she has also been lambasted by women for her short period of maternity leave, while I read very few articles with men questioning her work ethic or qualities as a parent.

Most of us won’t reach the heights of CEO of a publicly traded conglomerate but I’m sure that many corporate women have prioritized career over family and then family over career while still being successful wives, mothers and employees.  You see how that works, you can have them both with varying priorities.  You can even flip flop your priorities day-to-day or hour to hour.  During work day, I am not focused on my two teenagers, I’m putting in a valiant effort as a conscientious employee.  When the bell tolls, I put on my mother hat and swap priorities.  There may be days when I don’t swap hats at 5pm and I hang around longer but I know when it’s necessary for me professionally.  Additionally, there are days when I have parenting responsibilities that I manage during my day, because I have to.

Ultimately, creating one more issue in the office between women, one more level of cattiness, detracts from the chasm of disparity between the sexes in the workplace.  Less pay, less promotions, less opportunity, and greater expectation to choose between family and career, outweigh the few extra hours that you perceive are being stolen from your single life due to someone else’s work choices.  Our resources as a group can’t afford to be filtered down by one more girl fight!  As a matter of fact, this particular fight has a high potential for returning to your doorstep:  the woman you complain about is actually the woman you’re complaining you aren’t right now but want to be.   If you are a single woman with a mission to be married one day, remember that you will be in the workplace as a wife and mother soon, unless you plan on embracing the single life indefinitely–no problem.  Why embrace and promote this false notion that working women are an office handicap when the fight that you are promoting will eventually become your own.

Last statement in this lengthy but necessary article:  My balance is not the catalyst for your imbalance so I suggest that if you fall into the category that Ms. Byrd is championing, you  find a way to demonstrate the ability to manage your life, career and time.  The article does nothing for the perception of women as whiny in the workplace but does, I assume unintentionally, aid the negative perspective that women in general have to deal with and combat.  Less time working against each other and more time supporting the greater good could mean less Lily Ledbetter based fights in the future.

With Women Like This…Who Needs Men-emies? Pt 1.

working mom

I gave up on women’s magazines along the lines of Cosmo and Glamour right around the time that I was sufficiently confident I didn’t need advice on how to please a man.  While it’s entertaining and I’m a lover of fashion and a bit of gossip, I didn’t have enough time to allocate to fluff so I began weeding out my magazine consumption. Who survived the cut?  Marie Claire.

Marie Claire was like having a GNO with the best girlfriend.   You know the one…smart, interested in you, informative, fashionable and mature.  She was Ms. with shaved legs and a smoothed out feminist vibe.  I like to think of her as the girl you’d marry if you were a boy, liked girls, or she wasn’t imaginary.   It always seemed like we agreed with one another; she would say something and I’d smile or nod my head in agreement while congratulating myself on choosing my friends so wisely.   But even your best friends can disappoint you.  Enter the July edition of Marie Claire and article by Ayana Byrd, The Single Girl’s Second Shift.

According to the article, single women are suffering workplace discrimination at the hands of their married counterparts, including: 1) Carrying an unfair burden, batting “clean up” for the married-with-kids co-workers. 2) Being perceived as people who “don’t have lives. (Making people think that) No life means no need for balance.” 3) Having work shifted to them because “she’s single, she has time to do this.”

In a lengthy article, the author discusses this major issue “simmering below the surface”.  With a plethora of feeling based surveys of single workers and a book written by Bella DePaulo, a PH.D., who is cited as America’s foremost authority on the single experience and who happens to be the author of numerous “marriage bad, single good” articles, she opines about the impact of married people on singles in the workplace.

DePaulo has coined the term “singalism”, which doesn’t need much of a breakdown for definition:  racISM, chauvanISM, sexISM, you get the point.  Basically, singles feel that they are being forced to carry the lion’s share of the work hours and work load to accommodate the busy lives of working women—while she avoids the direct hit that she would take by verbalizing gender, it’s obvious that the impact she is reviewing is the one caused by women on other women.  You can just see her target on female parents in particular—you know the ones that are using their kids as crutches as they limp out of the door at 5 pm.

My irritation with the article may not be for the reasons that you think.  I’ve worked with women at all stages of motherhood and I am one.  As a matter of fact, I’ve been an office professional as long as I’ve been a mother, having chosen to get married at 18 and have children by 21 (no, I’m not Amish or a member of the Duggar family).  While I’ve had school plays, cheerleading competitions, and sick children in the mix, I’ve also had to fight to prove that I appreciate and value my career, just as much as the single girl—now I see that the justification is necessary to women as much as men.  I knew that I would have to manage my career closely in order to progress.  When I was going through a divorce, I kept it out of the office out of concern that someone would assume that I would use it as a crutch.  That’s right I managed an entire divorce with children transitioning from middle to high school without forcing a single working woman to shoulder the burden of my disintegrating marriage.    All of this while working in the cut throat world of sales where you’re only as good as your current numbers, so taking time off could be the death knell when a new territory or opportunity to lead arose.

I can also look beyond myself to a Corporate Sales Manager that works far longer hours and more Saturdays than her single subordinates or male counterpart in the business as she balances being the parent of three young children.  She has done what I would recommend any professional do if they are seeking personal and professional fulfillment:  Adjust where necessary.  Some days may require a heavier workload than others and others may necessitate the peace of mind afforded from quality personal time.  She isn’t striving for perfection or looking for someone to share her responsibilities, instead she has the maturity and focus to identify what it takes to get the job done.  Does she find it easy?  I can’t speak for her but understanding the duality of the role of working mom and successful employee, I would say “no”, but unlike the single people noted in the article, she doesn’t have the expectation of ease and comfort in all situations.

To avoid sounding contrary for the sake of, I’ll give in to certain things:  Working mothers take time off for things that single women can’t/don’t use as an excuse, working mothers will often adjust their hours or ask for that time so that they can take care of parental responsibilities—often carrying the burden more than working fathers.  And, full disclosure, I’ve worked with women that have children and taken days off when school is closed and I’ve given the “get a sitter” eye roll because it had become excessive or seemed like something they should be prepared for, so yes, GUILTY! I’ve also worked with women who have taken time off for personal ailments (cramps, etc) while I’ve had to save those sick days in case of kid emergency so I’ve dragged myself in through the flu!  I’ve also worked with singles that miss work because of mismanaged late nights out or worse, have come in with ‘walk of shame’ stench.  You know the look:  haphazard pony, ballet flats because their balance is still off, and the outfit that is more casual than professional because they didn’t have enough planning time between the club, rolling out of someone’s bed, rushing home to change and making it to the office.  My point:  slackers comes in all forms.  Ms. Byrd assumes that the slackers impacting singles would be married, I say don’t make the argument about the people you can’t identify with and rather than giving you a platform to whine, I’ve included tips to help:

Suggestions for dealing with true slackers in the workplace:

1) Focus on the things that will make you rise to the top and you will have less time to reflect on what’s being done around you

2) Toot your own horn.  It’s okay to engage in well timed, smartly phrased self-promotion, which doesn’t include pointing fingers.

3) Refrain from negativity.  Going to HR or your supervisor to continuously point out what others are not doing will eventually make you the target.

4) Understand that it’s not your job to understand.  There may be things happening with a co-worker, in the office or out, that may not be within your rights to know.  If it doesn’t involve you directly, keep it moving and stop trying to figure out why they “aren’t in on time, leave early or don’t seem to pulling their weight.”

5) Be insightful enough comprehend your motivation for complaining about a colleague.  If there isn’t a direct, unavoidable impact to your position, it may not require addressing.  Also, if it feels like “complaining”, it probably is.

6)  Spend more time managing your career and emotions with the perspective that you’re in control of both of those things.  If your mission is to be promoted and to grow in the workplace, any time spent pointing fingers is counterproductive to that cause.  When there is work to be done there are few successful leaders that care more about who’s accomplishing it than that it’s being accomplished, when they see you willing to dive in, it does more for you than anyone else.  Don’t let your emotions get  in the way of that perspective.

7)  Seek and create your version of balance.  There were instances of women feeling like they weren’t able to enjoy their personal  lives because they were working too frequently.  If you’re working too often this is less about the other person and more about you.  I always believe that anything we WANT to do, we DO.  Schedule your work out sessions, networking events, and regular happy hours and build them into your calendar.  It’s very likely that your boss has pastimes that they enjoy and will respect that you have found an outlet of your own.  Also, finding an opportunity to do more than work creates a better employee, many surveys have cited that employees with successful downtime are more productive during the workday.

8) Don’t assume that the “powers that be” are blind to workplace happenings.   This isn’t a school project that requires working in teams at home while the teacher is unaware of who is pulling the weight.  If you are working in tandem and producing the lion’s share of the work, believe that it won’t go unrewarded or unnoticed. Corporations and it’s managers are proprietary about money and rarely want to pay people for the work that they aren’t doing.  Outside of the less rare but often discussed cases of nepotism and workplace favoritism, leaders typically promote those that are comfortable diving in.  If you feel that your work is unrewarded, refer to #2.

9) Learn to say “no”.  Leaders respect professionals that can be decisive.  The “no” sentiment doesn’t have to be conveyed in a cutting manner, it can be creatively and respectfully delivered.

10) Referencing #9, Be courageous.  If you absolutely believe that you have a reason for declining the work, you shouldn’t have a problem delivering the news, just remember that nothing is done without risk!

Notice that points 1-10 reflect on the most important thing that you can do as a professional:  focus on what you can do without making it about someone else.