Monday, October 25, 2010

Corner Office Moms

A dear friend (and fellow working mother of 3) sent me a great article in today's Wall Street Journal about University of Pittsburgh law professor Douglas Branson's new book, The Last Male Bastion. Mr. Branson throws a wrench in the "mommy track" theory by pointing out that there are 12 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 List, and 11 of those 12 are mothers.

The article details how most of the women in the c-suite have strong support systems, including spouses that either held down the fort at home or whose careers took a back seat to theirs. What was most interesting in this article is that so few of the women chronicled participated in the story. Further, the number of spouses and adult children that declined to comment was astounding.

I have to wonder, what was the personal cost to these Corner Office Moms? Did they have some secret sauce recipe to making it all work (and if so, why won't they share?) or was it just too messy to put in print?

I've long wondered how we get more women in the C-suite (seriously? 2.4% of Fortune 500 Companies are run by women??) and truly believe that once we do we'll have more family-friendly policies that benefit all employees and will create more paths to corporate leadership for women (mothers, or not).

Perhaps the best takeaway from the article comes from Harvard Economics Professor Carol Goldin, who has studied earning penalties linked to motherhood. "The fact that most big-company female CEOs have children may just state the obvious- that the highest achievers can handle big challenges."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Forbes Magazine profiled a Steve Forbes interview of Irene Rosenfeld, Chief Executive Officer of Kraft, on what it takes to be a female executive and what the future of women in the C-suite looks like.

When asked about balance (for most women, the $1 million question), she said, "I think you have this sense that there is this scale and every day and everything is just perfect. The reality is that it kind of goes like this or like that. And so I think what my advice to young women and men--because I think, increasingly, we're finding that the young men in the company are much more active fathers than, perhaps, the generation that preceded them--my advice to them is to figure out what's important to you and make sure that you take advantage of that.

So if there's an important event in your child's life or there is something that you need to do, do it. I think you can do it within the context of your business responsibilities. I think you can do it by working it out with your boss. But don't come to regret having missed some of these hallmark events. But you can't do all of them, and I think making some of those choices is important."

The key takeaways here are that:

  • There is no perfect balance
  • Some days your family wins, some day your work wins, it all evens out so long as you....
  • Make the right choices for you

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wages Down Sharply for Part-Timers

Today's Washington Post (front page, top of the fold) cover story reflects something we've seen over the last two quarters: hiring is steady and picking up, but wages are flat or down. But what makes this front page news in one of the nation's largest publications? The Washington, DC area has largely been insulated from the devastating effects of the recession due to the dependence on the Federal sector and high supply of and demand for highly-skilled workers.

Some key figures:
  • Median income for part-timers was down double digits in every jurisdiction in the region from 2007-2009
  • Median pay for women who work part-time in the region fell from the highest in the region to 4th place (men fell from 2nd to 7th place)
  • From 2007-2009, median pay for women working part time fell 22% in The District and a whopping 24% (the worst in the region) for women in Fairfax County, my own backyard (compared to a 10% decline in Va. Beach and a 9% decline in Atlanta)
Drawing back to statistics class I know that the averages are dragged down by the predominance of hiring in the last fiscal year in minimum wage jobs (construction, retail, service-related) but it's also hard to determine if these part-time wage earners are working part-time by choice or are under-employed due to economic circumstances.

Although you can't watch CNBC for more than 5 minutes without hearing Santelli describe all of the cash Corporate America is sitting on, I don't think employers are being nefarious here, just cautious, but maybe so cautious that they're shooting themselves in the foot as we climb out of the recession.

Here's the thing, hiring manager, don't go cheap. Sure you can get a bookkeeper who will debit and credit all day long for $35/hour, but in 6 months, after you've spent 3 months bringing her up to speed, she's going to leave you for a $40/hour job and it's going to cost you somewhere between 1.8-3x the annual cost of that employee to backfill and re-train. Those are well-proven, hard-tested numbers and will only prolong this economic uncertainty.

Truly can't afford a market wage? Offer a non-financial incentive to join your firm and stay. Women, particularly, value time over money in many instances and schedule flexibility is free for employers and priceless for employees. Alter work hours (e.g. 7am-4pm), allow regular telecommuting (e.g. Wednesdays, the worst traffic day in the Washington, DC region) or any other combination of schedule flexibility that will bring you the best and the brightest who will stick with you through the recession and beyond.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Having Kids: Changing your life AND your paycheck

The Government Accountability Office, commissioned by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, recently released a report that showed very slow progress on closing the wage gap, particularly among female managers. Perhaps the most shocking data surrounds working mothers: working mothers earn just $0.79 to ever dollar a working father earns, after adjusting for things like education and age. This has stayed the same since 2000.

What does that mean? Even though more women than men graduate from college and post-Great Recession make up the majority of the workforce, working mothers are losing.

Cited in the NY Times , Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Chairwoman of the Joint Committee said, "When working women have kids, they know it will change their lives, but they are stunned by how much it changes their paycheck. In this economy, it is adding insult to injury, especially as families are increasingly relying on the wages of working moms."

What does this mean for us? That the wage gap is largely a function of the work-life balance debate. That what's good for working mothers and their families is to find a way to keep women employed throughout fluctuations in their life and care-taking responsibilities (new babies, aging parents, heck, even sick dogs) so that the can in fact rise to the management ranks.

The Glass Hammer took the story one step further, demonstrating Why Men Matter in the Work/Life Debate. Discussing author and UC Hastings Law Professor Joan William's recent assertion that the work/life debate needs to move away from a maternal argument and embrace paternalistic responsibilities as well. Noting an absence of dialogue, inflexible work schedules and missing voice of the middle class in policy-making discussions, Williams believes focusing too much on the working mother's needs, and not that of the whole family (including Dear Ol' Dad) is hampering progress.

I remember when our twins were born, 6 weeks early with a stay in the NICU, my husband unsuccessfully petitioned- all the way to the VP of Human Resources of his Fortune 100 very profitable firm for which he had worked 3 years- to get 4 days of paid paternity leave instead of 2. His argument was two babies, two days each. They didn't see it that way. We needed more help than any 2 days of paid leave could ever provide but that signal, that "working dads are nice but don't come looking to us for help" eventually cost them an employee.

But I think things are starting to change. At a recent sick child appointment at our local pediatrician's office I noted with smug satisfaction that there were more Dads than Moms in the waiting room. Some Dads were in gym clothes (SAHD?) with tardy back-to-school health forms, others donned the typical DC dark suit and glanced furtively at Blackberries while waiting to be called. But the bottom line is that with more women in the workforce than men the Dads are stepping up, and although change is slow in the making, we're moving in the right direction.