I recently attended a networking event for women in business. The keynote speaker was a seasoned professional woman with great experience and some helpful advice. One thing she wanted us to work on was our 30 second “elevator pitch” (a 30 second introduction meant to leave a powerful impact). Many of us bravely stood up to give our pitch, then awaited critique and suggestions from others at the event and the speaker. In my 30 second pitch, I mentioned my passion for issues related to women’s workforce success and of course noted that I blog at workingmother.com on these topics.
The impact of the words “workingmother” on our esteemed speaker was immediately evident.
And NOT in a good way.
The women’s face literally tightened and (maybe I’m being sensitive here), but I think she actually scowled and slightly growled at me. She then said (a bit loudly and dare I say with palpable hostility) “I HATE WHEN PEOPLE USE THE TERM WORKING MOTHER”.
Yes, she said HATE!
She went on to say that “we women label ourselves” when we should just be talking about being working women. And that she will “never understand” why there is a need to discuss or address working mothers specifically.
Despite my immediate urge to jump up and engage in a lively debate, I bit my tongue and let it go. To be clear, I am not a person afraid of confrontation and I welcome the opportunity for intellectual debate. This was however a networking event and I didn’t want to take away the intended focus. As entertaining as an outright debate on the topic might be, these women paid for an event on networking, not to hear my retort or a heated debate. And of course, this was the keynote speakers floor (she was the one invited to speak, not me), so I let it go.
At least I thought I did.
I can’t stop running through the event (and my surprise at her anger) in my head. Did I mention she noted at one point in her presentation that she was a mother of 2? I continue to have that nagging feeling that I had something important to say that I didn’t. So, since this is my blog, I will attempt to alleviate my frustration and try to highlight what I consider to be some of the key reasons why many of us logically, make a distinction in the world of working women for “working mothers”.
Plentiful research suggests that the successful career model is essentially designed for men, with women who desire career success being expected to adjust (Miller & Bryan, 2005). This argument of the male-centered corporate work ethos is prevalent in the literature. Much of the research on women exiting the workforce argues that women exit the workforce due in part to masculine, competitive “zero-sum” environments which are contrary to feminine values. Success in business is often largely driven by a model which defines working hard and effectively as working long hours. The long-hours 24/7 culture is heavily embedded in America’s corporate workforce.
Now, you may see this as an argument for all who desire work-life-balance, or to working women on the whole rather than working mothers, but in fact, the above scenario takes a particularly harsh toll on working mothers who tend to be the ones who pick up the slack in dual income families and therefore benefit most from work-life balance and flex initiatives.
Another obvious issue is the well documented bias against mothers in the workforce. As Joan Williams research suggests (and I highly recommend everyone read her research paper “Opt-Out or Pushed Out”– link below), research overwhelmingly supports a bias against mothers that remains embedded on the job, in the culture, and at home. It is not merely a question of working mothers “labeling themselves”. The harsh reality is that the labels and consequences of those labels are already there. Shouldn't we face them head on?
Finally, consumer spending research suggests that women have a disproportionate level of influence on purchase decision making in households and that moms in fact, have a particularly influential say in what purchases are made for the household. So…if we as working mothers are particularly powerful consumers, why shouldn’t we reap the benefits of this and begin to flex our workingmother consumer power. It seems logical to assume that as a united group; we can have much more impact and more successfully challenge the status quo if it isn't working for us doesn’t it?
Workingmother magazine and other outlets focused on working mothers exist and are well supported because people appreciate and value the support and camaraderie of others who know where we are coming from and the unique challenges we face. We shouldn’t have to make apologies for this, nor should we be made to feel that this somehow works against (rather than for) creating a workforce where women on the whole thrive.
Miller, M.M. & Bryan, L. (2005). Beyond the frying pan: Addressing work issues with women in therapy. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 27 (1), 51-63.