Why American Women Deserve Family-Friendly Social Policy

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“Women will never achieve equality until mothers do.” – Joan Williams

Motherhood is esteemed as valuable in the US, after all, women give birth and nurture to the future leaders and citizens of our great country.   Why, then, is a woman discriminated against, belittled, and made to feel incompetent and uncommited in the workplace just because she becomes a mother?

Perhaps all the talk about the value of mothers is just lip service? 

Birth is a transforming, empowering, life changing experience.  Yet, once a woman becomes a mother society gives her less opportunity.

Studies show that mothers earn less than women without children.  Controlling for all other factors which could otherwise explain the gap, there remains a 5% average decrease per child in a woman’s pay,” says National Association of Mothers’ Centers Advocacy Coordinator Valerie Young.  “Women with children are viewed as less competent, less committed, and deserving of lower salaries.  In contrast, men with children generally earn more than men who are not fathers and are perceived as more reliable, steady, and motivated to do well.”

With this stark wage gap, one could even say that society cheats mothers out of hard-earned wages, despite the fact that they are raising the future of America.

To support fit and fearless birth and the rite of passage that transforms a woman into a mother, the American workplace must change.  What’s in it for me, someone without children might say?  What’s in it for you is future economic security.  Studies support that early childhood education and quality childcare is critical for development and ultimately produces stronger, more capable workers later in life.  Without a strong workforce, we have no economy.

Without support of maternal leave and family-friendly social policies, our country and its entire economic future is at risk.

To borrow the words of John Lennon,

Imagine if…

…there was no more discrimination against women in the workplace, there was paid maternity leave for mothers and fathers, every workplace had flextime, job sharing, compressed work schedules, the option of working from home when possible, and no child went without quality care from their parents during their first year of life…

… it’s easy if you try…

Actually, these progressive workplace policies, which I believe are basic human rights, already exist in almost every developed country except the United States.  The time to change this to support the American family is now.

For example, in the Netherlands, one attorney states “working part time is now the rule rather than the exception among his friends.”  Fathers are taking a more active role in child rearing, which also allows mothers to continue working as well.  The difference  a flexible, progressive workplace that values the family.  In the Netherlands there are part-time surgeons, part-time managers and part-time engineers. From Microsoft to the Dutch Economics Ministry, offices have moved into “flex-buildings,” where the number of work spaces are far fewer than the staff who come and go on schedules tailored around their needs. “The Dutch culture of part-time work provides an advance peek at the challenges and potential solutions that other nations will face as well in an era of a rapidly changing work force.”  (Read the full article here)

Staying informed with the information below can help you advocate for a modern workplace in your own profession. Policies such as flex-time, job sharing, telecommuting, and the Dutch concept of “flex-buildings”should be considered. At present, only 22% of American workplaces even offer telecommuting.

Remote Working and Productivity

Opponents of modernizing the workplace, (i.e. those who might argue that telecommuting is not productive), should read the latest report from The Glass Hammer on Remote Working and Productivity in the US.

In the UK, businesses are reporting huge savings by instituting telecommuting.  “Fifty-five per cent of businesses are seeing more home working now than before the recession,” said Mick Hegarty, Strategy and Communication Director at BT Business. Productivity is up by 20% in those who work flexibly compared with those who don’t, he went on. BT have generated a saving of between £6million and £7million as a result of improved productivity. (Read more here)

White House Report on Jobs and Economic Security for Women in America

Family support, especially for women, in the workplace, has gotten the attention of our current administration. Here is the official report and Executive Summary on how the US intends to respond to family discrimination in the workplace.  However with the recent squash of the Paycheck Fairness Act, it remains to be seen just how or even if this administration can begin the process of modernizing the American workplace. (Read the Summary and Report here)

It’s About Time

Mindy Fried, a sociologist, questions the lack of paid family leave in the US versus how common it (paid family leave) is around the world. Opponents of the recently squashed Paycheck Fairness Act argue that it is the fault of women for putting themselves in the position to have to take lower paying jobs because they demand flexibility and more time with family.
However, Your Wo(man) in Washington’s Valerie Young disagrees, as do I.  She argues, “Women do most of the unpaid family carework in this country. Culturally and socially, it is more acceptable for women to do it than men. Is that fair? At the same time, women have to support themselves and their families. They work without the benefit of paid sick days, or family leave, or even the ability to ask for an alternative schedule. Is that fair? Is it even a good idea? Paid leave is a political issue, a gender issue, and as Dr. Fried shows below, a class issue as well.” (Read Mindy’s full essay, “It’s About Time,” here)

What Working Women Want

A Rutger’s University conference, “What Mothers Want,” sponsored by the National Association of Mothers’ Centers, gave this report from a recent blog post by Valerie Young.
Pamela Stone writes, “Professional women were three times more likely than their male counterparts to interrupt their employment for “family responsibilities.”  When they return, they frequently turn away from their former fields and enter lower paid, lower prestige sectors of the economy motivated by the desire to “give back” or pursue caring professions or social service.  Becoming a mother has a profound impact on a woman’s values, priorities, and sense of identity.  After a career hiatus, a mother often changes both her behavior and career aspirations.  Motherhood exerts a powerful transformational effect.” (Read “What Mothers Want” here)

The Glass Hammer: Shifting Gender Roles in the Workplace

From The Glass Hammer, an online community for women executives in business, law, and financial services…Director of External Affairs and the Women’s Institute at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, Carla Goldstein reports “Women have been doing double duty since WWII, but now we need to shift our focus and figure out how we can support men and women at work; how do we ensure that parents have the time to nurture happy, healthy families?” (Read “Shifting Gender Roles in the Workplace” here)

The US does not have to lag behind all other industrialized nations in the world for family friendly workplace policy.  American can become an explemplary example of family friendly work ethics, which stand to benefit every worker not just those with children.

When women and families receive the support they need, birth can become a less stressful, fearful process.  Women will be able to face birth knowing that there is someone and something (people and policy) on the other side of the process that will be their to support them. The wisdom of the ancient African proverb does ring loudly with truth, it takes a village to raise a child.

Resources – Organizations that Support Mothers’ Well Being & Rights
The Glass Hammer – Negotiating A Better Work Situation
National Association of Mothers’ Centers
Your (Wo)man in Washington

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