Oh, And One More Thing

Flora is in her school’s aftercare program. It runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

When I picked her up, she said, “Why do I have to be in aftercare?”

Although she was not whinging about it, she really was genuinely curious, it broke my heart a little bit.

I simply explained that both Daddy and I worked, and we needed someplace for her to stay until I could pick her up and take her home.

“Why do you work, Mommy?”

Now, as seen from the last two days, this is a complicated question. Actually, I take that back. My FEELINGS about having to work full time are complicated. But it does boil down to simple economics and the need for affordable health care. So.

And as I spoke about this to my daughter, I realized something.

Women have not been in the American workplace full time, in our current numbers, EVER in the history of work. Or America. Or of women for that matter. As a matter of fact, 100 years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find women working outside of the home.

Now, it was done; according to the 1870 US Census, women made up about 15 percent of the American workforce. Even as early as the late, late 1800s, women were working outside the home as teachers and nurses, in factories, even as ship riggers and stock herders.

We are all (vaguely at least) familiar with “Rosie the Riveter”, and the way women streamed to work outside of the home — mostly because men were off fighting and dying in World War II. (A lot of women joined the military in WWII, also, although they were not on the battlefield.)

In the 1970s, the real workplace revolution began. Women flooded college and university campuses; they flooded the workplace; and they weren’t looking for “traditionally” female occupations. They wanted to be doctors and lawyers, business owners, CEOs, copy writers, accountants, engineers, architects…. you get the picture.

And the workplace was less than welcoming. Sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, equal work for equal pay, access to promotion, and so on, these are battles women are still fighting. Today. In the 21st century.

It’s gotten better. However, I think it could do better, for everyone, not just for mothers, fathers, women. For all workers, blue collar, pink collar, white collar. And it’s not necessary to involve government. Employers can decide (or not decide) to do what ever they like, as long as they follow the law.

The Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938.
FMLA was passed in 1993! It’s not even 20 years old yet!

Part of the brou-ha-ha is, as my husband pointed out last night, employers don’t have to change. That is absolutely, 100% accurate. If no one demands, asks, explores the changes and possibilities, employers can do what they want.

But if employees start asking about changes, employers may start listening. If we reason with them, they may come to the table to negotiate.

I’m not bitching about my situation. I’m talking about it. I’m not making demands or castigating my company as a terrible place to work. I’ve always said it’s a great place. I wouldn’t say differently.

My point, I think, I’m pretty sure is: The workplace is still evolving. It should still be evolving. It should not become static — and it is dangerously close to becoming static. Stubborn. Entrenched. (Again.) I don’t think it’s “ripping” on employers to encourage evolution in the workplace, and I don’t think evolution in the workplace necessarily equals upheaval in society.

I’m not writing from a position of entitlement. I writing from a position of choice. If you see that as tomato, to-mah-to, so be it. But I truly think the workplace should still be evolving. Because society is, families are, technology is.

I believe in employee satisfaction. Not entitlement. Satisfaction. It is better for employers as well. Proven fact. Happy employees are productive employees. Stressed employees, unhappy employees aren’t. They are less productive and probably more expensive because stress = poor health.

Pumping breast milk at work isn’t an entitlement. It’s so a woman can feed her child the best food for her child. I don’t think an employer should be able to de facto say: you have to give your child formula. Evolution, not entitlement.

Telecommuting is evolution. The availability of flextime or part time is evolution. I’m not over here stomping my feet like a child because “it’s not fair!” I’m discussing options that I bet I am not alone in wanting to see in the American workplace. If you like the status quo, that is fine.

I don’t. I want better.

14 thoughts on “Oh, And One More Thing

  1. The new health care law requires employers to give mothers breaks to pump and a clean place other than a bathroom in which to do it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve all the problems with pumping. Hourly workers may be required to punch out, thus losing wages during that time. Also, pumping can take a lot of time (getting to an appropriate place, pumping, and cleaning gear multiple times a day). That work likely needs to be made up. If the mother chooses to make up the time by having a longer work day it will usually result in additional childcare costs. The alternative for certain types of work is to do it at home in the evening or on the weekends, which is another balance issue.

    Wow, pumping is a pain. Someone should write a play about that and have that play performed at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival from September 22-25. Oh, wait. I did that. šŸ˜‰

  2. Funny. I was just thinking “I’m thisclose to becoming an anti-feminist. All this B.S. gossipy, whispering, mean girl crap is why women shouldn’t be in the workplace.” Then I slapped myself and got over being bogged down by other people’s insecurities and inadequacies.

    I think that the workplace has definitely evolved. But that it is inevitable that it will stall. I think there is a limit on what is reasonable to expect from a business owner. Sure, happy employees are more productive. But employees who aren’t present enough (whether that be leaving early for whatever reason, taking pumping ‘breaks’, etc.) aren’t productive either. It’s as simple as “if you’re not there, you aren’t working.” (That “being there” obviously can mean home office or work travel or whatever.) Working with so many small business owners on a regular basis, it’s hard for me to look at their work and drive and think that they should expect less from their employees.

    Would you expect less from the employer? Would the business operate successfully if the employer wasn’t so present? I know it’s not fair to expect an employee to put in the same time and effort as the business owner; they don’t have equal stakes in the success. But, the employee sure as heck should have some stake in the business. It’s the source of their livelihood.

    Also, I think it’s unreasonable for us, as long as we continue to live in such a consumer driven world, to expect that more families should be able to have a SAH parent. Sure, they did it back in the day, but they weren’t spending $150/mo on cable and internet and $500 on iPads and iPhones and huge monthly cellular phone bills. It was a simpler time. People who maintain that simple lifestyle would probably tell you it’s not hard to have a SAH parent. I guess my point is, people seems to always want more without having to give up anything.

    • I have to tell you, I am really hurt by this comment. Maybe I’m being sensitive. I don’t think it’s bitchy or BS for me to express my opinion on my personal blog. I’m not insecure about anything I’ve said here or anything about my life, professional or personal. I’m not inadequate. I am a damn good mom and a damn good employee. I don’t know where your reaction is coming from. I really don’t.

      I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. take care.

      • Whoa, Dawn! I was referring to the ladies I work with, the ones I was tweeting about along the same time ypu posted this link. I’m hurt that you’d think I would attack you like that.

  3. @Pam_Wow, oh great, now we’re both hurt! šŸ™‚

    seriously, i completely didn’t follow the Twitter/blog relationship. I really didn’t know where you were coming from, and it never occurred to me you were referring to the women with whom you work. So, I hope we’ve cleared that up.

    Also, never give up on feminism. It’s okay (sometimes) to give up on individual women. We really seem to have a hard time relating to each other. I just proved that point.

    I hope you’ll forgive my gaffe. I was caught off guard, completely, because you are one of the nicest people I’ve met IRL and on Twitter. I just thought I drove you to the dark side. (Like I’m that powerful. MWHAHAHAHA.) Can we hug it out?

  4. Food for thought: companies are highly resistant to evolution during uncertain times, such as this current recession. I think there are good reasons for that. Perhaps more evolution can be hoped for and expected when then economy turns around.

    • Yes, there’s no doubt about that. I think businesses are struggling now because what worked before isn’t working, and they are worried about trying anything new, let alone enabling flexibility in the workplace.

  5. I remember when my kids were younger and I did have that heart-tug when they asked why they had to be in daycare or after-school program. Part of my explanation to them was (and is) that work is good for me and our family. I am fortunate enough that my job is something at which I excel. It fits my personality and my skills well; I feel successful at work. I am not happy and fulfilled at every moment, but overall, my career fits me. So part of what I say to them may not be exactly what they want to hear…that I choose to have a career, but it is true so I make it part of the message. I hope that as they mature, they understand that I am not with them all the time because there are things that I like to do in addition to being with them. It makes me well-rounded and content. Since I have daughters, I hope they aspire to do things they are good at and that make them feel successful.
    I understand that this is my story and many people are not in the same situation. Some people are under-employed or hourly workers who don’t have a choice about working and that is a completely different situation. I acknowledge that I am really fortunate.

    • I will second that last sentiment: I am lucky to work in a safe job that I find (some day only marginally) fulfilling; my kids are healthy and know I love them even when I can’t be with them; I have a good spouse supporting my choices, and me, his. I am blessed, blessed, blessed, and I hope people understand that I am just curious about the possibilities, not radically unhappy with the boat I am in.

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