You have an essential meeting that clashes with the exact time you need to pick up your sick daughter from school. But you fear having to tell your boss that you need to prioritize your family over work because he may judge you or complain about the lack of commitment you have to your work. Many women need to work so hard to gain respect from their bosses, so they remain tight-lipped about family issues at home. Ms. Long, of Orland Park, Ill said, “I could never say I wanted to see my child’s first-grade play. I had to say, ‘I’m sorry, I have another meeting,” in a recent interview. Be it the mandatory meetings that were held on school holidays, such as the Friday after Thanksgiving or the late-night overtime work that leaves your kids hungry at home, women are still expected to put their work before their family.
Even Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is all too familiar with the uncertain feeling that comes with checking out soon after 5:00 to reunite with her family. She, too, used to be concerned about what others thought of her departure time (which, by the way, is an entirely reasonable hour to head home). But now, she has finally reached the point where she can take off at 5:30 p.m. without the lingering concern of how others were perceiving her. This arrangement has allowed her to be home for dinner with her kids at 6:00. And interestingly, she has been doing that since she had kids. Sandberg shared in a new video for Makers.com. “Now, I certainly wouldn’t lie, but I wasn’t running around giving speeches on it.” Even for such a respected figure, it took her quite a few years to become brave enough to talk about these issues publicly. To make up for leaving at 5:30 p.m., she would dedicate late nights and periods early in the morning to send work emails to colleagues as a testament to how she was still giving her one hundred percent at work. Sandberg even confessed that she wanted to show everyone she worked for that she worked just as hard. “I was getting up earlier to make sure they saw my emails at 5:30, staying up later to make sure they saw my emails late. But now I’m much more confident in where I am, and so I’m able to say, ‘Hey! I am leaving work at 5:30.’ And I say it very publicly, both internally and externally.” There should be no shame associated with heading home before 6 p.m. to eat dinner with one’s children and spouse. Moreover, research has shown that children are healthier, happier, and perform better as students when they eat with their families.
However, as a normal working woman without a powerful position as Sandberg has, it may not be as easy to fight the stigma of going home early. This is especially true in highly competitive industries where many people judge your work ethic and equate your dedication to work by the number of hours spent in the office. Sandberg has started a “Lean In” movement, through the publication of her series of books. “Lean In” is a guide for young women to understand what they needed to do to triumph in the male-dominated workplace. However, it would still take many years before it is truly accepted and practiced in all companies across America.
Given this predicament, many baby-boom mothers, who had grown weary of these conflicts, made the decision to leave corporate life to start their own business. Hence, it has allowed them to achieve the work-life balance that they desired. This allowed many women to make more money as an entrepreneur and gain control over their workload and their time. The flexibility allows them to schedule meetings around their family’s needs.
Ever since a vast majority of married mothers entered the paid labor force, one thing has become clear: the solutions that the previous generations have used probably won’t work for you. Plus, the cost and time demanded to raise children in today’s fast-paced world has drastically evolved. Uncontrollable economic forces are also at play. At any point in time, recession can come along and crush all your carefully thought out plans.
However, we must still concede that working women have it a lot better today than in the past. Employers have become more supportive, implementing not just maternity but paternity leave (even for those who are self-employed). Many governments and companies have also rolled out parental leave schemes that allow employees to be entitled to days off to care for their children. Smart employers have learned to truly value working mothers in the workplace for the diversity and insight they bring.
As more egalitarian attitudes of the millennial generation take over, hopefully, the issues faced by working women would be reduced once and for all.