My friend Melissa recently wrote about women, working and feminism and it got me thinking a lot about items in the news the past couple of months. First off, there was new Yahoo CEO Melissa Mayer who recently launched a "no work from home" policy and then there is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's latest big seller, "Lean In, Women, Work and the Will to Lead."
I have been both a stay at home mom, albeit for 18 months with baby A, and, for most of my professional career, I have worked full time out of the home in software and internet technology companies, including Yahoo (although back in the Jerry Yang days).
As Melissa states, "I keep reading article after article about women and working, and I’m not sure what to make of it all. One side seems to think I am letting feminism down by quitting work to stay home with my kids, while the other side says feminism is all about choice, including the choice to stay home." I must say I 100% agree with her here. There a lot of increasingly irate voices on either side of the Mommy wars debate over staying at home vs. working and my own position is mostly, "Do what works for you and your family" as well as, "Shut the hell up haters" because if there is one thing I hate, it is some holier than thou person on any side of a debate smugly telling people who don't follow their beliefs that they are failures.
But what of when the babies are grown and in school full time, should a woman then go back to work? Obviously, it is not my position to tell anyone what to do, circumstances vary per person and family. I do, however, read a bunch of personal finance blogs and it is common to see comments and articles about women whose husbands either up and divorced them or died or had a lengthy and expensive illness and all of the sudden these women have to start at square one in making ends meet financially and this is concerning too.
Can a woman who hasn't worked out of the home in 20 years whose kids are now "technically adults" get alimony? I have no idea. The job prospects for them are probably not super high paying. I have an aunt in her 50s who works at Subway sandwich shop full time. She told me once she will likely work there until she has a heart attack and drops near the meat slicer. She was kidding of course (I hope). In her case, she stayed home with the kids, got divorced from my uncle when the kids were 18 (her decision I should add), remarried someone she had met on the internet and he didn't have as much money as she was led to believe but did have a bit of a gambling problem.
I am a big believer in insurance to cover for the slings and arrows of life. Both B and I have hefty life and long term disability insurance. We have a revocable trust and estate plan (ironic since we don't own an actual house yet). What can I say, I am a planner! Next on my list when we turn 50, long term care insurance.
But, as strong as I feel my marriage is with B, stranger things have happened. He could decide to give me the ol' heave ho later in life.
This brings me to my next point (I had a point?). As I mentioned, I am a woman (middle aged at that) and a mom with a career in high tech. This means that I basically work in an industry that mostly favors men and youth. Don't believe me? Well, take a look at this article about diversity in Silicon Valley that I found particularly real to my experience.
For my first position in management, I was one of 6 managers in my division and the only woman. We had a daily meeting with the director of our department and the first 10-15 minutes would be sports talk. Once I discovered that the director had invited every single manager to a weekend golf thing except one. Guess who that was. And sure, I hate golf and honestly, I hated most of these people but still, this was accepted practice.
The company I was laid off from when I was pregnant with A? Our Cambridge, MA office had 50 employees, only 10 of us women. Sure, it was nice having "my stall" in the ladies bathroom and all, but the cut that took me out also took out 5 other women and about 10 men leaving the office with 35 employees, only 5 women.
You might be saying, "Well that is because there aren't that many women and minorities in tech" but you'd be wrong because when a company devotes itself to ensuring diversity, then you get my current company. Half of the employees, including senior management, are women and there is a very obvious ethnic diversity. Our average age of our employees is 40 and most are parents so the "work at home whenever you need"policy is especially nice and not at all taken advantage of (at least to my knowledge).
This is not a scientific study by any means. It could well turn out that my company will fail and there could be a correlation between that and the fact that we aren't almost entirely staffed by young white and Asian men who work 80 hours a week and leave all the parenting to their stay at home wives.
I can tell you that in my own personal experience, many of the men who do have kids with stay at home mom wives don't understand why you can't make a meeting from 6-8pm and I was once told that if I couldn't commit myself to a project by working through the day to 9-10pm most nights for 2 weeks then I should resign from it.
Please note, I did not say all men. I have also met my share of male coworkers who are truly humbled and amazed by the amount of work their wives do to take care of the kids and home while they work. I obviously gravitate to those guys as my favored work project partners.
Melissa Mayer, the CEO who has banned working from home, in my opinion, has taken a huge step backwards for working parents of both sexes. I know some folks who don't work in tech couldn't understand the big deal of not being allowed to work from home. My aunt, the one who works at Subway, asked me what the fuss was about. After all, it isn't like she can make sandwiches from home for customers (well she could but....)
Most people in tech have to work odd hours. If there are software releases, they have to be done in windows when many people won't be using the software. For example, we do ours at 5am. Oftentimes, to test things, it takes a certain level to get the environment ready so that testing is also often done at odd hours. I have had to do a lot of testing after 9pm. I do this from home.
Many people are also parents and have to work around the daycare/school schedules which require someone drop off and pick up the kids at reasonable times, not to mention take care of the kids, take them to doctor's appointments, etc. Being able to work from home allows people to get their work done, meet company goals, but also give them time to say, put in a load of laundry between call in meetings, or make dinner for their kids while a build is being prepared for testing.
This isn't just good for parents! I have worked with a lot of young folks with lots of energy and time to spare. I have seen them burn completely out making their job their lives only to be laid off anyway when the economy and industry went south. People have many interests, and the happiest most productive people I work with are the ones who get to pursue outside interests as well.
Personally, I kind of wonder if Mayer did this just to not have to provide lay off severance packages. In this way, people will just look for new jobs on their own with companies with more progressive work from home policies. I can tell you that being forced to work in an office the entire time would not work for me.
So where is this going? This long rambly post about women, work, technology, blah blah blah. There is going to come a day, probably within the next decade, when it will be hard for me to get a job in my field because I will be too old. It will depend on the company of course, but I don't see the industry changing out of the youth dominance because that is way of technology, it demands fresh perspective and cutting edge skills.
I am hopeful, however, that my skills can translate to a somewhat marketable job above the Subway sandwich pay scale. I am hopeful that my resume can still make me attractive to employers because I am not going to be one of those people who can retire early and securely. Unless I win the lottery, there are no windfalls coming my way.
Whether we get paid for our work or not, we moms do have marketable skills that need to be maintained and expanded. I do think women should "Lean In," and that doesn't mean going for a full time position. It could mean enhancing some interests, skills, volunteering, or whatever a woman can possibly fit in her time depending on her life. I am not the asshole who is going to tell the mom of three kids, all with special needs, to carve out time to learn to code Java. That lady deserves a vacation! But, I might be the asshole who will tell a woman who has kids in high school that she might want to pursue some classes or interests that might help her if she absolutely has to go back to work.
You just never know and to me, feminism is as much about being able to take care of yourself as it is about choice.