Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Give Working Moms a Break

A few months ago I attended a conference for women in publishing and during one panel discussion, the audience - 90% female - sat rapt listening to Kara Swisher talk about how she gave birth while holding a BlackBerry in one hand. For those not  familiar with Kara, she used to write about the online technology business in the Wall Street Journal and now is a partner in AllThingsD.com, a go-to website for coverage and analysis of what's happening in the digital world. She is whip smart, funny, and no bullshit - if you've never seen her 2010 evisceration of interview with Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook's privacy issues, it's worth a look. 

So when Kara talked about how offended she was when, upon arriving back to the office after giving birth to her first child, her boss offered her extra time and flexibility to complete her assignments, I believed her. "What did I need extra time for?" she roared, clearly insulted at the insinuation that motherhood had changed her ability to do her job.

From across the conference room, a petite young woman stood up and made an observation, one that I would wager 75% of us in the room shared. "That's really great that you didn't need extra time. But me? I needed extra flexibility after I had my kids. And I think we need to talk more about the root cause of why there aren't more women in upper level management positions," the absence of public policy that would support the efforts of women to be good mothers and good workers at the same time.

The woman was Katrina Alcorn, who writes the terrific WorkingMomsBreak.com blog. It seeks to shine a light on all the ways that public policy is stacked against success for families with two working parents, and to open up conversations about how to improve the state of play. Having admired a woman who wasn't afraid to offer an opposing (and, given the room, somewhat un-PC)  counterpoint to Kara, I was thrilled when a mutual friend introduced us, and even more so when Katrina invited me to guest post on her blog.

Of course, I have unique qualifications: when it comes to being a working mother, I can say with confidence that I have tried every arrangement that exists. Full time, part time, work at home, work for myself, and of course, temporarily unemployed. That last state came thanks to what my old colleague Matt referred to as "The Ritualistic Shitcanning of 2000," when 300 of us were laid off by my Dot Bomb employer - though I was the only one who was nine months pregnant.

I hope you'll click through and check out my post on WorkingMomsBreak today, about how some days working "part time" just makes me feel like I'm doing two jobs badly. But hey, at least it's by choice.


  1. Being a nurse has always been the most flexible of jobs. I have worked evenings, 2, 3, and 4 days a week, and only Saturdays. But never really a career in the sense of "up a ladder," though many full time nurses will manage that clinically or in management. I've just always looked at it as something I gave up long ago. Wish now I'd gotten that nurse practitioner masters when my child started kindergarten...

  2. So...she's pretty well established these days, what with being a college student and all. What's stopping you from getting the masters degree now?

  3. Read your post - I'm a working mother who for the past 6 years has tried several different scenarios - am back to the 50+ hours high powered career phase but boy do I spend every day questioning what I want to do in life. It IS hard. That woman whose boss offered flexibility doesn't know how lucky she has it. Many of us would kill for flexibility!


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