Juggling motherhood and another job

There is no doubt that having a child changes your life immeasurably.

There is no doubt that working full- or part-time and being a mom is a juggling act.

There is no doubt that many women are given fewer opportunities in their careers after children.

But is it fair to say that these inequities are always a direct result of societal attitudes around traditional gender roles? Are mothers in the workforce a constant target for discrimination?

This essay by Marina Jimenez in the Globe and Mail on Monday seems to imply these things. While I don’t completely disagree with what the author says, I do have a slightly different perspective on what she’s written - and a few questions, too.

It was always my intention to work after having Brandon, but my priorities changed irrevocably after having a child. Working 40 hours a week was a necessity, but 50? 60? That wasn’t going to happen anymore. Has my career suffered because I had a child? Not in any way that I can definitively prove. I’ve had my suspicions, though. 

Gender Roles

Ms. Jimenez discusses her view of women running the household (the home CEO) and all that entails.

At night, core demands of this enterprise swirl around in my head like yellow post-it notes flapping in the wind: Register three-year-old for introductory soccer by Wednesday. Sign parental consent form for eight-year-old so he can participate in Kiwanis Music Festival. Remember to dress him in dark trousers and white dress shirt. Pack shorts in his knapsack for gym. Buy bagels so children will have something edible for lunchbox. Buy 20 Smencils for class party. Make that 21. One for teacher. Purchase new pair of swimming goggles.

I think most of us can agree that she’s right in her assessment, though I’m sure there are different levels of involvement from certain men. As a child, it was my mother who did these things. In my own home, I do the lion’s share of these types of tasks. The paragraph directly after the quote above starts with this statement:

Men’s brains simply do not work this way. These are not the preoccupations of even the most dedicated father. And while these tasks may appear trivial, without somebody attending to them, a child’s life falls apart.

That’s a bold blanket statement that seems tinged with a bit of resentment, not to mention melodrama. Do I resent that my husband doesn’t help with these tasks more? Absolutely not. My husband is an equal partner in our marriage. The author states that men don’t think the same as women, but I get the feeling that Ms. Jimenez doesn’t like this inherent difference between the sexes. Do men have to change the way they think in addition to contributing more so that we can achieve equality?

Inequality Statistics

Ms. Jimenez then cites statistics of inequalities in the workplace. Statistics that, to me, give incomplete context for the points that she’s making.

A 2010 Toronto-Dominion Bank study concluded that the earnings gap between men and women is tied primarily to motherhood. Women with no children tend to earn the same as men. However, women who take time out to have children have a persistent 3-per-cent penalty for every year of absence

I can get on board with her 100% when you say that a woman in the equivalent position of a man should be paid the same. I don’t understand - in this day and age - how that still happens. Except…this is tied to women who have taken time off to be on maternity leave. I’m going to assume that the equally paid men and women have equivalent education and/or work experience.

Did this study factor in that women on leave are usually not accruing work experience? Did they factor in that performance reviews don’t happen during this span of time? Salary increases are often tied to those performance reviews. It stands to reason that missing annual increases due to being on leave is a possibility and can account for the discrepancy in salaries. Without answers to these questions, I am left skeptical about this point.

Ms. Jimenez’s next set of statistics is around women in professions such as law, medicine and business - all very demanding jobs. Some feel compelled to return to work early from maternity leave for fear of losing status. No woman should feel compelled to go back to work early. It’s unfortunate that this happens. But I feel it’s important to point out that this is a personal choice. If these women want to make change in their profession and make year-long maternity leaves more accepted, ending their maternity leave early isn’t the way to do it. On the other hand, if they feel this is the right thing to do, but wish they could be off longer, that’s another story.

Other women can’t keep up the same work schedule once children come along and get off the “type-A career track”. I’m conflicted about this. I think employers should do more to support employees with families, because it will affect employee loyalty. But sometimes priorities just change. Climbing the ladder becomes less important when your life changes as significantly as it does when a child comes along. Maybe not for everyone, but I see this as largely a personal choice that often boils down to the sacrifice that is easier to make - a rising career at a certain level or raising a child in a certain way. 

Then the author gives an overview of the low percentage of women serving as elected officials and as directors and CEOs in Canada’s largest companies. While these are clearly male-dominated fields, they are also - like lawyers, doctors and business professionals - very demanding positions that may not be a woman’s first choice for their chosen career, particularly as more and more women start their own small businesses out of or close to their home. I wonder why no statistics were presented about that. I’m positive that would be an interesting number to see compared to 10, 20 and 30 years ago. Perhaps more women prefer to start off as the boss rather than work their way up to it after 20 years.

It’s my belief that women with children are always going to feel conflicted about working outside the home. It’s just that hard to leave your child in the first place. This is a natural instinct that mothers have. Even the author acknowledged that her first trip abroad was difficult and prompted her to make changes. Yes, there are challenges for women in the workplace. Yes, we do have some obstacles to overcome still.

Are the greatest obstacles the things described in this essay?

I’m not totally convinced. What do you think?