Monday, May 14, 2007

Are Moms "Opting Out" of Careers or are They Pushed Out?

Professor Pamela Stone of Hunter College has written a provocative new book called Opting Out? Why Women Really Leave Careers and Head Home. In it, she explores the reasons why more and more educated women are leaving their high-powered careers after having children to become full-time homemakers.

While articles in the popular media typically present the trend as being a backlash against feminism and all about women freely choosing home over work, Dr. Stone found that most of the time leaving was primarily due to work not family considerations. "I really expected that I was going to hear them telling me all about family and all about the pulls of family. But instead what I found is they were talking a lot about work, and it was the conditions of their jobs that were really forcing them out, forcing them into making a decision."

Stone's research showed that women "encounter obstacles of all sorts, that the workplace can be hostile and chilly to mothers, despite family-friendly rhetoric to the contrary.... Married to fellow professionals, who face the same pressures at work that they do, women are home alone and go home because they have been unsuccessful in their efforts to obtain flexibility or, for those who were able to, because they found themselves marginalized and stigmatized, negatively reinforced for trying to hold on their careers after becoming mothers. These women had alternative visions of how to work and be a mother, yet their attempts to maintain their careers on terms other than full-time plus were penalized, not applauded."

E.J. Graff of Brandeis University was on NPR this past weekend with a truly depressing statistic for moms: part-time workers are paid a whopping 21% less on an hourly basis than if they were doing the same job full-time. That's even without taking into consideration employee benefits, which often do not cover part-time positions. Plus the fact that employers often discriminate against those on the "mommy track" when it comes to promotions.

Feminism was supposed to be about opening up choices for us women but four decades later it seems that we are left to choose between either the traditional female role of full-time homemaker or the traditional male role of a high-powered full-time career. That's fine for those women who wish to pursue those, but what about all of us who would prefer something in-between? Why are there not more options for part-time, flex-time, telecommuting, job sharing, and the like? Why is there such widespread discrimination against workers (primarily moms) who choose to take advantage of these types of arrangements?

I've requested Professor Stone's book from the inter-library loan and am very much looking forward to reading it. I certainly hope that the business climate improves in terms of work/life balance by the time my DD's generation start their careers. I'd hate to see them forced to choose between motherhood and career the way that my generation has :-(

No comments: