Recently, I've also been acutely aware of articles written by professional women (with variable colors of hair) who have eloquently recounted the extreme challenges of successfully balancing career and motherhood. These articles have been an interesting insight for me and have helped me realize I'm definitely not alone with the ongoing struggles I've faced trying to strike a healthy work-life balance since I've become a mother. One thing I've certainly noticed is that ever since I've lived in the outskirts of Washington, D.C. and have worked in a corporate setting, I feel so much more guilt that I'm not the best mother or best employee I know I could be. But the only way I could be those things is if was given more latitude and unfortunately, the degree of latitude I require has been lacking in my corporate America experience.
What I've come to realize is that the best way to obtain flexibility is to be discreet. This has been extremely difficult for me since I'm open and honest to a fault (Exhibit A: this blog). If you're overly vocal about the fact that you need to attend a parent-teacher conference one afternoon and take a child to a podiatrist about an abscess on her foot the next day (and for the next three consecutive Fridays for follow-up visits), it will raise eyebrows. People will suspect you are not fully engaged or dependable. And even if they don't openly express that, you have a feeling. So instead, you don't even mention that you need to take a two hour lunch to accomplish these activities. You know you are a professional who will get your work accomplished and meet any and all necessary deadlines, so why is it that you feel like a piece of inventory that belongs to a company between a set number of hours each day?
If you're not there during those set hours - even if you're accomplishing your work at other times, there is guilt. And if you are there but have to leave at exactly 5 to be home in time for Girl Scouts, there is guilt. And if you're not feeling guilty about work, chances are you're feeling guilty about your home life and something you should be doing there. When I look around at the fathers in my work circles, not a one seem fazed by these competing priorities. But the mothers? They all seem run ragged, even those who are better than the norm at disguising how well they've got it "under control." This morning, I read this quote by Gloria Steinem in The Washington Post and it has been resonating with me all day:
My generation often accepted the idea that the private/public roles of women and men were "natural." Your generation has made giant strides into public life, but often still says: How can I combine career and family? I say to you from the bottom of my heart that when you ask that question, you are setting your sights way too low. First of all, there can be no answer until men are asking the same question. Second, every other modern democracy in the world is way, way ahead of this country in providing a national system of child care and job patterns adapted to the needs of parents, both men and women. So don't get guilty. Get mad. Get active. If this is a problem that affects millions of unique women, then the only answer is to organize.I'm not exactly sure what organizing looks like, per se. But I do know that when my organization recently reached out and asked it's personnel about our opinion on how well they were incorporating diversity and inclusion in the workforce, I didn't hold back and gave my company failing grades. The fact that less than 10% of our current management team is comprised of women (three women total) - and only one of those women is a mother - would indicate that the potential for upward career growth and mobility on a management track is extremely low for a woman in our organization. And lower even still, if that woman decides to have children.
My employer is a big one and I would think indicative of Corporate America. So why are those statistics for women in management so low? Is it because that the oil and gas sector really is a good old boy club and the glass ceiling is real? Or is it because of the sacrifices that most women are not willing to make to reach those higher levels? I suspect it's some combination thereof.
I've never wanted to be a manager. But I'm beginning to rethink that position. Maybe management is the proper career trajectory if I'm going to continue in my career and have any hope that women be provided the same opportunities as men. The way I see it, only with a diverse and inclusive management that genuinely understand the criticality of work-life balance, will those needs ever be sincerely considered.
Then again, there's that scenario where I resign completely from the work force and we move to Vermont to raise sheep and homeschool our children because we're nothing if not unsettled.