Put “motherhood” on the resume?
Once upon a time, didn’t we fight so those aspects of our personal lives could no longer be asked – in order to prevent assumptions and discrimination? Granted, we can argue that this sort of information gathering is now moot, given the ample digital footprint of many segments of the population.
Still, I was startled when reading Kristin Maschka’s column at Huff Post Women – addressing Marissa Mayer and Anne-Marie Slaughter, stereotypes about working mothers, and what having it all may mean – for us.
Ms. Maschka is unafraid to present compelling (and initially discouraging) data: mothers are perceived as warm and nurturing, and those very qualities are perceived as making us less competent. Yet she nonetheless offers a positive premise:
Marissa Mayer and Anne-Marie Slaughter have provided two amazing high-profile examples of one strategy for breaking through subconscious stereotypes – exposing people to examples that don’t fit the stereotype. You can do that too.
But can we? Can any of us?
Mothers Having It All?
If we’re talking “having it all,” that’s a related issue and I have my doubts. If we’re talking smashing stereotypes when it comes to powerful and competent women who are also mothers, I’d like to think Ms. Maschka is correct.
Yet when she cites Professor Slaughter in the following scenario, in order to illustrate the extent to which Mayer and Slaughter are breaking the traditional “rules” (thus our perceptions), I admit I’m taken aback. She writes:
Imagine what happens when Slaughter introduces herself as she describes in her article,
“whenever I am introduced at a lecture or other speaking engagement, I insist that the person introducing me mention that I have two sons. It seems odd to me to list degrees, awards, positions, and interests and not include the dimension of my life that is most important to me—and takes an enormous amount of my time. …But I notice that my male introducers are typically uncomfortable when I make the request… my entire purpose is to make family references routine and normal in professional life.”
Mayer and Slaughter’s competence is so well established that if they simply talk about being mothers they become major Mother MythBusters.
Perhaps Ms. Maschka is right on that score. From a high profile woman, the mention of motherhood in an introduction would certainly be a Mythbuster, and a surprise. Yet I’m ambivalent on the advisability of putting motherhood “front and center.”
And naturally, it depends on the context.
Is Motherhood Relevant to Your Work for Pay?
Unless parenting has to do with your job description or qualifications needed for the task at hand, I don’t believe we should put motherhood in the mix, just as men wouldn’t put fatherhood into theirs – in the scenario described.
Is that a contradiction with my assertion of all the job responsibilities that come with parenting? The need to appreciate them (culturally) and at least recognize their implicit financial value?
I don’t think so.
As it is, women too often lead with their role as helper, team player, facilitator. It is difficult for us to clearly state: I created, I built, I generated, I achieved. While I fully believe in the value and necessity of these supportive qualities and skills, associating them with motherhood and situating them in a professional discussion seems off base, to me.
Do I mention that I’m a mother when I’m presenting to a client?
Only if it applies to their organization, or the publication I may be pitching.
Do I further clarify that I’m a single mother? Again, only if it’s relevant.
Positioning for Professionalism
A few years back, I gave communication seminars to (women) artists, teaching them how to position their professional background, skills, and artwork to their competitive advantage. Most were accustomed to describing their history and accomplishments, directly or indirectly, as secondary to their time as wife and mother.
By couching their stories in a familial framework, they came across as uncommitted, unfocused, or inexperienced – which wasn’t the case. But it was the impression created by:
- “Well, I spent the past 20 years helping my husband with his business, but… ” or
- “When my children were in school, I was able to…”
My task? I worked to encourage these talented and competent women to reshape their content and delivery. For example:
- “I am a painter with experience in portraiture and landscapes…”
- “I am a sculptor and mixed media artist, focused on installations and public art, with my most recent exhibition addressing…”
- “I am a photographer, expanding into digital photography, currently involved in…”
Is motherhood relevant in these examples?
Post-Baby Working Arrangements
It’s one thing to see pregnant women in leadership roles, around the office, or behind the cash register in a retail establishment. But what happens after the birth? What about environments that are family friendly – or is that a 70s pipe dream that is as unlikely in this country as it was a generation ago?
Does anyone recall Baby Boom? Diane Keaton trying to juggle her high profile position and the demands of motherhood? Sure, that was the 80s, that was Hollywood, that was comedy. But has the underlying conflict ever been adequately addressed?
A small (but related) digression: In my search for images to illustrate this column, “working mothers with children” yielded numerous photos of mothers with babies, a few mothers with toddlers, and mothers with young children – at a laptop or on the phone, but always in a home office. The images were even labeled as such, specifying “home office.”
But how many of us can conduct our work lives from a home office? I did, for a time – and was lucky – though I paid for that good fortune with less visibility, longer working hours, and a perpetual cycle of proving and reproving my worth.
Motherhood Always Impacts Career
Let me be clear. I am not saying that motherhood isn’t a huge factor in our choices – to work for pay or not, to change our hours or working arrangement if possible, to adjust to a variety of compromises as we have only so many hours and dollars to “have it all” or “do it all” – and naturally, we will be impacted by sleep-deprived nights, parental worries, shuttling kids, dealing with related expenses.
One could argue that these impacts are true for fathers as well, or some fathers, depending upon the family situation.
As for my own experience, I will mention that in one position just after divorce, with my children too old for child care but too young to be left alone, on a budget that didn’t allow for a sitter much less a nanny, I worked a job that frequently required my presence in the office until 9 at night. I often had to semi-sneak my children in, set them up with snacks and activities, finish up the evening’s tasks, then haul the three of us home.
Single parent guilt? In spades. Not to mention extraordinary stress.
As for Marissa Mayer and Anne-Marie Slaughter being Motherhood Mythbusters, I say – bring it on!
A pregnant CEO? It’s refreshing to see, but the real issue is – will Marissa Mayer be able to accomplish what Yahoo needs? And if she can’t, will motherhood in some way be blamed?
I doubt it. Then again, affording a nanny will hardly be an issue… Likewise, if she needs time off to deal with a sick child. But would that be true for women in middle management? What about non-management?
When I was pregnant with my boys, I wasn’t the only woman in my 30s holding a responsible position, showing up to the office with a protruding belly, and going about my business as usual. At the time, it was a non-event. The real challenges occurred when babies arrived on the scene, when babies became toddlers, toddlers became preschoolers, preschoolers became children who wanted and needed a parent around – children clinging to a leg or an arm, or periodically sad and distant because there wasn’t enough “Mom” to go around.
Is that the case for everyone? Of course not. It wasn’t the case for my kids all the time, but it happened enough that I did everything in my power to restructure my work life – to my financial detriment, but more able to participate in their lives, and to know the joy of them in mine.
Those wrenching moments?
I might add that they came long before the real challenges began – after school programs or the lack of them, extracurricular activities and the need to chauffeur, emotional issues to be dealt with during and after divorce, adolescent acting out, the typical worries with any teenagers, and fatigue. Extraordinary fatigue.
Teaching managers how to effectively assign tasks, assess progress, and communicate with remote workers – and yes, I realize that doesn’t address non white collar jobs.
Infrastructure. Community. Health care that doesn’t drop you over the cliff when you lose a job. Child care that doesn’t end at age 6 or 7 or 8. A school schedule that better fits a standard work schedule.
Not disregarding the millions in the workforce who are not in “an employment relationship” and work as contractors or independents, and therefore, have none of the benefits associated with other workers – including any improvements we may eventually make in the employment environment.
As for Mythbusters in general, yes, they will shift our perspective and that’s helpful. Moreover, I applaud the desire to illustrate that professions and parenting coexist. But when it comes to American norms, I’m unconvinced this is peaceful coexistence, though I hold out hope that someday, we may get there.
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