Tuesday, May 28, 2013

the path (xv)

Thinking back, I don't think I ever really explained much of what has happened with me at work. For that matter, I think the last I wrote about it was in October when I drafted up that post about surviving severe weather.  Let's see, what's happened since then?

Well, I can't really go in to the details. 

But ... I can say that my situation has improved dramatically for which I am extremely thankful. I'm fortunate to work for a great company, with a lot of wonderful people, and I was very disappointed at the prospect of leaving.  It was quite unexpected that on November 1st,  I was assigned a (new) temporary manager and on January 1st, I was moved in to the "Think Tank" with a group of scientists, the majority of whom possess PhDs and more than 30 years of experience. As the only woman in this group of 12 mostly gray-haired men, I often find myself wondering why in the world they selected me?  Do they not realize that I had a significant learning disability in grade school and am still sometimes stumped by fractions? Thankfully, I haven't had to deal with too many fractions as I've been working on some of the most environmentally complex projects that face our corporation.


Meanwhile, my former manager, who helped me to become a stronger and more spiritual person, was moved out of our organization and to a heavily guarded location in the Asia-Pacific region.  I sincerely wish him the very best in life and hope that he grew from the experience of working with me, as much as I grew from the experience of working with him. Now that it's over, I can truly say I'm a better person because of it.

Due to my experiences in the workplace over the past few years, particularly since I've become a mom, I've had an especially keen awareness of stories regarding women trying to navigate the path that often straddles motherhood and career-hood. These stories are seemingly everywhere - in the newspaper, books and film.

Last week I watched the movie Mona Lisa Smile.  This film came out two (um, make that 10?) years ago but I saw it for the first time last Tuesday.  When Katherine Watson [Julia Roberts] realized that her female students from the 1953 graduating class had it in their minds that they were destined to be homemakers and wives to their husbands, and not the scholars or professionals that Katherine thought they were in school to become, she angrily told her Wellesley College Magnum Cum Laude students, ".... you physics majors can calculate the mass and volume of every meatloaf you make."   

She then flashed up slides of women modeling brassieres and irons and told her class, "You can be so much more." Towards the end of the movie, one of her students, Joan Brandwyn [Julia Stiles] is accepted to Yale Law School, but turns it down because she wants to start a family instead. Her decision is unfathomable to Katherine, who implores her that she can have both her career and her family.  Joan's reply is that she would regret not having a family and being there to raise them, more than she would ever regret waking up one day and realizing that she could have been a lawyer.

(This was the most poignant part of the movie for me.)

The expectations - and demands - that so many women set on themselves to be academically successful and then successful in the workplace can be so high.  Joan probably could have had both ... her career and her family.  But from my perspective, it's not always "that" easy and I think that a lot of women in this day and age are fooled in to thinking that it is or should be.  While I believe that it certainly could be easier than it is to raise a family and maintain a career, a few things need to change within our own mindsets (and corporate environment) and that isn't going to happen overnight.

Consider, neither of my grandmothers worked out of the home; nor did either of Charlie's and both of our mothers were home with their children full-time until they went to school. Generationally, working mothers in the professional environment is still a relatively new occurrence and yet, there are a lot of women today who take grave exception to any notion that mothers are not as capable and focused as men in the business environment.

Last week, I read an article in The Washington Post.  The title of the article was, "Billionaire investor's take on motherhood roils U-VA."  The article was about Paul Tudor Jones, a hedge fund billionaire, who said during a symposium at the University of Virginia that as long as women continue having children, the hedge fund industry is likely to be dominated by men. He was quoted as saying, "As soon as that baby's lips touched that girl's bosom, forget it."

He was referring to two women who worked with him and once married, became mothers, and no longer had the intense focus needed for macro trading.  His comments caused an uproar among women educators and those in the business world.  WHAT ROILS ME is the outcry to his comment and that Jones has since released an apology for stating what I consider to be The Obvious.

Women, if they chose to have children, will likely discover that they have a bond to their children that is greater than any bond the world of chemistry has ever known.  In 99.999% of the female population, once a woman has a baby, everything changes: her waist, her bosom, and yes, even her intense focus.

Several years ago, Johnson and Johnson launched a brilliant ad campaign built upon the truth, "Having a Baby Changes Everything."  One of my favorite phrases in this campaign is, "You were always destined for big things. So who'd have ever thought the biggest thing to ever happen to you would be the smallest?" 

Why in the world should we attempt to cover up that a woman's focus has shifted after the biggest thing to ever happen in her life?  It's not a handicap or a function of inequality .... it's a reality.  And the more that people try to argue against this fact that a woman's life is no different after she's become a mother (particularly in the workplace), the more challenging and longer it's going to take to have POLICY in place that is going to more readily allow mothers the flexibility (and desire) to continue with their careers if they so choose, or need.

At least in my case, I was on a rapidly upward mobile career track, until I had children. And then things slowed down.  It should come as no surprise that taking almost a year off for maternity leave, and then working part-time for a year, before taking off another year for maternity leave, followed by another year of part-time work would put the brakes on my accelerating career.  Before children came in to my life, there weren't distractions such as school plays and swim meets and sick little ones that only allowed me to get two hours of sleep at night. There certainly weren't pictures on my desk that would prompt me to daydream about what they were doing and what I might possibly be missing between the hours of 8 AM and 6 PM.  And there wasn't the sometimes gut wrenching guilt that can derail me when I'm packing for a week-long business trip.

Some women love to work. Some women have to work. If you're in the latter camp, it's nice when you enjoy what you do and don't feel bitter about being away from home.  I'm fortunate in that I thoroughly enjoy my day job, but I'm a mother first and foremost. And even now, as a 20+ year veteran in the prime of my career, I wouldn't hesitate giving up a week rubbing shoulders with executives, to instead spend a day at Disney Land with my children on their birthday.  My focus, like most of the working women I know, shifted once I had children. 

I've lost count of the number of women who, if given the option, would give up their full-time, hard-earned careers to have the ability to spend more time home with their children at various points in their child's life.  Even for those women who were the most gung-ho career women to ever live and have hired full-time nannies so they can continue on with their gung-ho careers ... yes, even for THOSE amazing go-getter women, it's irrefutable that their focus has shifted from what may have once been an all encompassing career to the little beings that they are now blessed to raise.

Very few of these women would like to give up their careers completely.  But all of them, crave some degree of flexibility.  What I've discovered is that you're either lucky enough to work for a company (or manager) that allows flexibility, or you're not.  There is no policy governing flexibility because flexibility is dictated by business need. This makes sense economically, but there are other factors that could be considered which may include job sharing and/or work place and/or work hour flexibility.

Time and time again I see highly qualified women stepping down (or stepping aside) from promotions because the pull to be a mother is greater than the pull to be an executive. It's not that she couldn't be a CEO, it's that she wouldn't be a CEO under her current work demands or arrangement.  What a woman brings to the table is often so different than a man and that skill set cannot be discredited. Most woman that I know offer communication, collaboration and coordination skills that are an integral part of continuous improvement in an organization.  And as I've written before, allowing employees to find a healthy balance at dictated by their life circumstances (i.e., children), will ultimately yield a more productive, energized, loyal, healthy and diversified work force.

So my response to Paul Tudor Jones would be this...

"Women aren't going to stop having children. So until such time that there are policies surrounding improved flexibility in the workplace - the hedge fund industry; nay business world, is likely to be dominated by men. If we want to see more women in the workforce, especially at higher levels, we must allow them the flexibility to attend to their #1 priority - their family. "  

It's because so many women come back to work on the premise (or under the expectation) that they are going to accomplish all that they accomplished before they had children (and then some), there is a tremendous amount of anguish among the working mothers I know and their numbers in the upper echelons of management are lacking.  Most women who have children bow out of the game, or turn down the promotions because of the impact it may have on their time at home.  There aren't enough hours in the day, fuel in the tank, or years that our children need us. As Phyllis Schlafly so eloquently wrote, ".... maternal tuning-in never turns off."  So it's simply a choice most of us have had to make regarding where our best energy will go.

Understanding the sacrifices that I'm willing to make, and those that I'm not ... our family has found a balance which for the most part, works. As fate would have it, I have a husband who is incredibly supportive of my career and was able to establish a career for himself that allows him the flexibility to be home with our children. It's safe to say I wouldn't have reached my current level, in the well respected "Think Tank", if I wasn't focused in the workplace. But I'm definitely not as focused as I was before the four biggest things to ever happen in my life, arrived in less than three years. I made the conscious decision to have children; I made the conscious decision that I wanted to be a mother.  It was a choice.  But without Charlie willing to make the choices that he's made, it's unlikely that I'd be at the level I've achieved in my professional life, especially given the general lack of workplace flexibility I have, which is comparable throughout today's corporate America.

Last month, I told my current supervisor, a man whom I've truly admired, that one of my career ambitions is to move in to a role of management. After a lot of soul-searching, I've determined that the primary reason I'd like to move in to this type of role is so that I can be better positioned to understand, and hopefully remove, some of the barriers that are deterring other women from advancing professionally within our organization.  So I told him that from a diversity and inclusion perspective, it is important that there are more mothers represented at the leadership level.

Little did I know how quickly the corporation would respond to my request.  Next week, I'll have someone assigned to work for me for the first time in my 12-years with the company.  I'll be the direct supervisor of a young woman pursuing an engineering degree. She will be coming to work for us and I'm sure that when she comes in to our office that has a 20 / 80 ratio of women to men, she is going to quickly realize that her gender is outnumbered 4:1. (Look at that ... two fractions in one sentence!)  

I'll admit, I've been somewhat conflicted expressing my interest in management because I feel like I'm toeing a very fine line between "The Professional" and "The Mom" and I don't want to fall too far over to "The Professional" side.  However, it's clear that there needs to be more working mothers at the management level who are balancing careers and family and visibly demonstrating that sometimes the balance works and sometimes it doesn't.  People need to see and understand that, while also seeing the value that working mothers continue to bring to the table.

There are days I still struggle with our arrangement and question if it should be me that is home with our children - while Charlie is in the office. (I don't know if my guilt or maternal instinct is stronger?) But more often than not, I see my children looking at me as a woman who is capable of supporting her family and my employer looking at me as a dedicated employee who has her priorities in the right place. As a result, I feel empowered to lobby for policy on flexibility in the workplace, while also continuing to demonstrate the critical business need for women in the workforce today....


For those women who will be in the workforce, tomorrow.


(Post Script: I'm trying to scratch the itch of something I've been meaning to write for quite a while and am not sure if I grazed the mark or missed it completely. Forewarning, chances are moderate to high that this will be edited several times after it's posted.)


  1. I completely agree and what a lovely written article. That would have taken me FOR-EV-ER to write!
    I'll burn my bra with you! LOL

  2. The relief I felt giving up a department chair position at the end of this year was palpable, and I'm in a dream spot of working for a man who knows that the drive to take my child to school WILL mean I'm 2 minutes late for my first class regularly...and says that that's fine.

    You just said EVERYTHING I've been feeling.

  3. Very profound! Thanks for sharing.

  4. I really needed to read this today as I struggle with moving into management and the impact it might have on my children.

  5. I can NEVER thank you enough for putting it all out there Jen! I love to read your perspectives - always so uplifting, so encouraging, so ON. i was pregnant when i started reading your blog five years ago and i feel as though you have given me so many valuable lessons and advice ever since, even though we haven't ever met!!!! thank you thank you!!!

  6. Good Girl Jen---I think you are doing an outstanding job at both Motherhood and Professionally and I am so proud of you and your accomplishments.
    We all have options in life and you made the decision that you wanted to have children and you have been diligent in their care. You and Charlie are doing a super job of communication and it looks like the children are enjoying their life.
    I have been a single Mom for most of my married life---and at this stage of my life, I have few regrets---hard work and choices are all our options.

  7. I love your blog, and also love this blog http://thegreatumbrellaheist.blogspot.co.uk/

    She also often writes about the struggles of being a working mom (she has triplets too!) You two need to have a chin wag :)

  8. Bravo......that is what I have thought ALL along. You (general) are lying to yourself if you say women aren't changed when they have children AND there isn't a constant struggle. You are seeming to find a great balance :) But not with a lot of hard work on your family's part.

  9. Thank you for paying forward your experience & for wanting to ensure the generation of professional women who follow you don't have to fight the same fight. You will be a wonderful mentor for your graduate student.

  10. Did you see this -
    All about helping mom's find flexible work arrangements!

  11. This is a wonderfully articulated piece. Amen and go girl!!

  12. Awesome post. I'm a female engineer and a mother. I'm struggling with the thought of ramping up from part time. I feel the way you do, and I am trying to figure out a way to approach management at my smaller company. The lack of females in any senior position there is just ridiculous.