Tag Archives: Maternity leave

If I see one more irresponsible gender wage gap article, I’ll scream!

Link: These are the 30 office jobs with the biggest gender pay gaps

The link above is from Business Insider, but there are a ton more totally superficial, uninformed, and infuriating articles like it. (And from reputable sources. See Fortune, and USA Today, and Washington Post.)

Is there a reduction in income when women take time off to have kids? Sure! No one (I hope) debates that. But I’m not sure it’s such an awful thing. Articles use words with negative connotations, like motherhood “penalty” or “tax” to describe it, and some articles and organizations promote the idea that adjustments should be made to make up for the lost income. I don’t agree. If someone is paid appropriately for valuable contributions in a job, and that person takes time off and gives up experience and opportunity to do something else, I would not expect that person to be paid equally upon return to the work force. Simply put: value in = pay out.

Many oversimplify the issue by pointing to the woman who took five years off to raise kids and not work professionally at all during that time (which by the way, is probably rarer these days than people think given the economy and what it costs to raise a family). However, I think a large part of the gender wage gap explanation that isn’t discussed is about the woman simply choosing to work more flexibly (off hours, fewer hours) which translates to less pay. And that’s OK. I’m not sure that’s a “problem” that needs to be “fixed” as many (including President Obama in his State of the Union speech) argue.

Put it this way: If you asked me whether I would prefer (a) a job that will always pay exactly what my male colleagues get for valuable contributions but allows very little flexibility, or (b) a job that will pay for my valuable contributions but gives me all the flexibility I want, I will pick (b) every time. And I bet if you asked around, most women – especially moms – would do the same. And they do.

Gaps in pay are generally attributable to some common-sense factors, and these include things like experience, skills, educational background, standard of living where the job is, and risks involved with the job (hazard pay).

Beyond these factors, however, there is one other that helps to explain the gender wage gap that these frustrating articles never talk about: gender wage differences exist in jobs with the highest degree of what Claudia Goldin out of Harvard calls “temporal flexibility” – jobs in which women can control their hours more, still do valuable but scaled back work, opt out of certain traditional office hours in order to work off-line earlier or later, and so on. Goldin found that a lot of professional jobs where the wage gap exists do, in fact, allow for people to run individual practices or otherwise be self-employed, and it is in those types of professions where that temporal flexibility exists.

Here is a great interview with Goldin from Marketplace’s Freakonomics series:

http://freakonomics.com/podcast/the-true-story-of-the-gender-pay-gap-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

The temporal flexibility concept is very hard to control for in studies and analytics because (1) the data collection systems do not account for it, and (2) it is difficult to define appropriate proxies in the existing data to try to account for it. Really, all I would like to see is the mere mention of this very real factor in the reporting of the “flat” income numbers that are thrown out by the media all the time!

 

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Mommy Wars to the extreme

In Germany, the Mommy Wars are taking a turn for the worst.

Regretting motherhood’ debate rages in Germany

When the societal pressure to keep up a ridiculous standard of motherhood, in large part defined by men who are biologically incapable of having children, becomes the norm, something just isn’t right.

The notion that children’s well-being depends on their mothers and not on the society around them or their fathers, is deeply entrenched in Germany and creates real obstacles to women’s careers. … A mother who returns to the office without taking maternity leave for a year — or often three — opens herself up to being branded a “Rabenmutter” (raven mother) — women who dump their kids in childcare so they can pursue their personal goals.

Women regretting having children because they feel they can’t do it the way they see fit? It’s a sad day.

 

Go ahead and write your next chapter

Will my daughter survive? Yes. Will everything go to hell? No.

Will I worry about it anyway? Why, yes. Yes, I will.

I’ve gone from 12 daylight hours per day with my newborn to 2, maybe 3 if I’m lucky, now that I’ve returned to work. What a change! I’m afraid I’m going to miss all her firsts from here on out. (Turns out I missed a first even when I was home. I was getting a pizza and paying the delivery guy at the door when my daughter rolled over for the first time with my husband watching her for 30 freaking seconds. Sigh.)

Luckily, I’ve got a flexible job – or I’ve made it flexible. I check my email in the morning before going in, feed the baby before leaving the house, get in some good “think time” for the job during the commute, do the usual back-to-back-to-back meetings and calls (reserving time in my calendar to pump three times a day so that my daughter has milk for the next day), get home in time for her evening feeding, and wrap up work after I put her down for the night. The flexibility is in the face time at work: need to come in late or leave a little early? OK. Need to work from home to cover for my stay-at-home-dad husband who has a recurring appointment on Thursday mornings? Sure.

The bottom line is: as long as my network and staff connections continue to be nurtured, and the work gets done, I should have all the flexibility I want. So should it be for any parent at the company. I planned out this flexibility – and got buy-in from my colleagues – before the baby came.

Ours is a small company – about 25 people. And more than half of the employees are smart, ambitious 20-somethings. The rest of the employees who are parents have kids who are either grown adults now or well into school age. I know that many of the younger employees – who are newly married or in long term relationships or simply female – are watching very closely what happens to me; they will take cues from my experience about how successfully this company supports new parents.

I meticulously planned the 6 weeks prior to my parental leave. I gave people new responsibilities where it was needed and then conferred the appropriate promotions upon my return. It helped that we set up the situation for me to have a new role upon my return – nothing sucks more than to step in for a higher level person, do a great job, learn a great amount, and then be told that you have to go back and do your old job, thank you very much. Wait – I stand corrected. What sucks more is to continue to do a great job but not have an appropriate job title and/or compensation adjustment.

I’m not recommending that companies give everyone promotions because one person goes on parental leave. What I am saying is (1) plan well before your leave to minimize problems while you’re away, and (2) have a clear vision for what the next chapter is for you and others upon your return, and give people something to work toward in your absence. For us, it resulted in promotions – for other companies, it might be lateral transfers, rotations to different divisions to get additional exposure, classes for skill development, or pre-approved vacation time to clear heads and get rest after carrying extra workload for 3 months.

Whatever it is, write that next chapter with your team while the current chapter is still playing out. While I have a baby as my next personal chapter, I couldn’t ignore that I had to help write the next professional chapter as well.

I’ll say it: I’m looking forward to going back to work

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a new mother, it’s that people don’t have qualms about judging you every which way. Though I nurse my baby, I’ve seen enough “how dare you choose formula” posts on online mommy boards that I cringe and really feel terrible for the new moms who are subject to those scathing comments.

Well here’s one for all those judgmental people out there: I love my baby girl to the end of the world and back but I CAN’T WAIT TO GET BACK TO WORK. I feel like screaming it from the mountaintops.

Our little girl had a rocky delivery, and a rough start with 12 days in the NICU. She was fussy and generally unhappy when we got her home; it was a tough transition for all of us. Thank goodness we have come out on the other side in many ways, and you know what? It feels damn good! Our little girl is a delight, and she’s thriving. Maybe we first-time parents are doing something right.

But while I’ve cherished all the smiles she has for me, and I’ve celebrated all of her milestones, and I’ve marveled while watching her learn new things every day, I still desperately want to head back to the office.

I’d like to have conversation with other adults, and have it not be about babies.

I’d like to dress in sharp clothes every day and feel great about how I look rather than wear sweats covered in drool or spit up.

I’d like to challenge my mind by figuring out issues around new medical technologies rather than figuring out how else I can entertain a two month old.

And I was going to say that I’d prefer to hear clients whining than my baby, but that’s pretty much a draw.

*****
When I left for maternity leave, I purposely (and purposefully) created a situation in which the idea was not to have things maintained in the exact same way during my leave as before, but instead to keep our team’s goals in sight, ensure they had the skills and support necessary, then let the team run with it on their own while I was gone. (It’s easier to do when you hire the right people from the start.)

Since I’ve been gone, revenues have been maintained and business has grown to support hires. Clients are happy. My staff have tackled things they’ve never encountered before and have grown professionally by huge strides. This is excellent news!

My first order of business when I return in a few weeks is to interview both my team members and our clients to learn their new ways of working that developed in my absence, so that I can do my job to put in place additional support systems, identify areas of quality improvement or increased efficiency, give people an opportunity to identify and commend colleagues who did exceptional work internally or externally, and basically celebrate how far we’ve come.

Yes, it’s a little kumbaya, but I don’t care. My absence was very disruptive even as prepared as we were, and I want my team to know that disruption is nothing to fear, and coming out on the other side should feel damn good.

I did it! Maternity leave, here I come.

I managed to comfortably set my team up for success while I’m gone.

  • Everyone knows their roles and responsibilities while I’m away.
  • I’ve distributed transition memos and have done transition calls with clients and project teams.
  • I set expectations about what I want to see when I get back.
  • I made my team’s needs primary in the transition.

One important factor in the success of this transition was to have a half day team retreat a few weeks before I was scheduled to take off. The idea was to have a safe environment off site in a fun, neutral environment in which people could communicate concerns and anxieties, and set ourselves up in the remaining weeks to address them. The retreat was facilitated by two outsiders, which was hugely important.

And it’s not like we didn’t have fun while we were at it. I made sure we had a luxurious breakfast (banana pancakes!), and we started off by talking about what we’re excited for and looking forward to in the next year, both personally and professionally.

Perhaps the biggest concept in motivating people to embrace this time rather than fear it was the potential upside for their own professional development and careers, certainly within the company, but I acknowledged, even beyond. That thing you always wanted to try your hand at? Well, now is the time.

I’m not saying it isn’t going to be rocky, but if there’s one thing I wanted my team to do more than anything else was to collaborate, cooperate, and coordinate. Rely on each other. I said that when I get back after a few months, I will be in a different role, so no one should expect things to go back to the way they were. Take this time to really show your stuff!

And the effect was immediate. The last few weeks have been characterized more by my team members practically tripping over each other in ideas, volunteerism, and excitement, than my dictating how anything should be. I’ve been mostly a silent party on client conference calls, in team meetings, and in email chains as I watch my staff step up in huge ways. I step in here and there to provide some tips and redirect where necessary, but for the most part, I think they cringe more at what they feel are larger mistakes than I believe they are in the big scheme of things. That’s a welcome sign of their taking personal accountability for their work.

Because we spent many weeks prepping clients, by the time I left, they were comfortable with my team members taking larger and larger roles and eventually felt comfortable as I transitioned out of the calls and meetings altogether.

My last few days on the job ended up being leisurely half days… no one needed me to do anything! My email volume plummeted, and I when I asked, I heard no concerns from clients. I was… bored. (Gasp!) My final “act” was to report to my business unit that we are way ahead of forecast and working more efficiently than we ever have before. How many execs can say any of those things in their last few days before taking a few months off? I’m so proud of my team! It truly is a gift.

 

Stress buster: have a little faith in your people, in yourself

My husband and I took a childbirth class this weekend at the local hospital where I expect to deliver. Maybe it’s my A-type personality, or perhaps it’s arrogance (I will own that possibility), but I don’t see why I shouldn’t work until my due date (or the week of my due date), especially if I’m tying up loose ends and can work from the comfort and flexibility of home.

Granted, this is the first baby for me, so ok, I don’t know how it’s going to play out. But why should I assume the worst instead of assume the best? It’s not the way I live my life, certainly not the way I run my Division, and it’s not the way I want to lead my family.

Will it be uncomfortable? Sure, but what the heck am I going to do otherwise? Sit at home and stare at the walls? Read until I’m bored? Do house chores? Cook? Just… blog? (ha)

I can tell you that I’d much rather interact with my excellent colleagues and staff and clients, be churning out strategies and leading tactical implementation of huge commercialization plans!  I’d rather be measuring our successes, identifying improvement possibilities and putting things in motion. It’s exciting! It’s engaging! It’s stimulating!

It’s stressful!

Yes, it can be stressful. But I’ve always had a high tolerance for stress and uncertainty. It’s what’s gotten me to where I am in my career, and will I believe help me keep my sanity as a parent. But in the last weeks of pregnancy – indeed in these last months of pregnancy – I’ve had to let go of my of that stress and trust my colleagues to carry the torch for a bit while I go over here and push out a small basketball from my belly, feed and change the little thing, and generally spend a few months figuring out how to find things like balance and equilibrium and sleep.

Perhaps stress comes from lack of control. But what is that lack of control but a lack of trust in your colleagues, your clients, or yourself? Stress comes from uncertainty, sure, but can it be actively managed with preparedness and faith?

The “danger” I hear about working so close to the due date is the stress and whether it has a negative impact on the baby. But what if the maternity plan is in place, and everyone knows what they’re supposed to do? Is there really anything else to do but continue to be supportive to colleagues and junior staff, and gently but forcefully tell them I’m not going to tell them what to do, but that they should tell me what they think they should do? Then… leave to have a baby and have a little faith?

Interestingly, I suppose this approach probably goes for both the Board Room and the nursery room, the Executive role and the parenting role. Have a little faith!

Mentoring others: Gee, I should take some of my own great advice.

I have a very promising mid-level manager who was recently promoted and struggling with trying to oversee more initiatives at the 30,000 foot level when what she knows how to do confidently is work at the 30 foot level. Trying to get into the weeds for all of these initiatives is wearing her down, and she’s finding herself not as effective in management as she should be.

I advised that she use her knowledge of what it takes to be successful at the 30 foot level and guide staff to execute on that rather than executing on it herself. It’s a mix of telling people, “Here is what I want you to do,” and if needed, “Here is how you should approach it,” and most importantly, “Here is how we will know it worked.” She’s got the first and second things down pat. It’s the third thing she’s never done before. She never thought about measuring her successes in the weeds; her managers did that!

So how do you take someone new to management and teach them how to effectively measure the success of a project or program, and whether teams are being effective? She answered by starting where she is most comfortable – in the weeds. She said if people do X, Y, and Z (which is what she always did), we can say it’s successful. But checking off the tactical items on a list doesn’t necessarily mean success. It definitely means you’re doing work, but not necessarily being successful at it.

We eventually got to the point where she discovered starting at the client’s business objectives, and how the project or program is designed to meet those objectives, is the way to go. If she starts there, she can define a series of outcomes that she (and the client) want, and measure what the team does relative to those outcomes. If the team has really good direction from her, then she doesn’t need to be in the weeds doing the work – they can run with it, and she can measure it and make course corrections if needed.

* * * * *

That was an awesome and productive conversation with her. And I realized that in my maternity leave transition planning at work, I haven’t done enough effective management of the plan – I’ve been developing the plan from bottom up rather than top down. I am starting where I am most comfortable and familiar – my own version of being in the weeds, outlining who does what when – when I really should be starting at the client’s objectives and defining project team structure and metrics for success during my leave that will give others direction on an approach rather than dictating do’s and don’ts. Arming them with the right approach to a client’s set of service needs will help them be more flexible, responsive, and confident, and hopefully help avoid panic when a situation comes up that we couldn’t have predicted, or one that I didn’t explicitly outline.

I have great staff that are very good at taking my advice. Me – not so great at it, but I should start!