Working Moms Role Models?

I have been intrigued by the actions of Marissa Mayer, President and CEO of Yahoo!, as well as Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.  These two women have been pushed into the spotlight as unofficial role models for working mothers everywhere.  I have great respect for the fact that they have been able to reach such impressive positions in a male dominated field like technology.  I have struggled fighting the battles myself in my long career in the technology field.  Women just aren’t treated the same and it leaves one always questioning what the right way to handle a situation is knowing that if you “handle it like a man would”, you will get backlash and if you “handle it like a woman would”, you will not get the respect you deserve.

But both of these women have also sparked a lot of debate on what type of role models they are.  Marissa’s recent announcement to do away with remote working at Yahoo! brought bands of working mothers out of the woodwork to complain that she is hurting what women have been fighting for with her decision.  I have to admit that I was a little disappointed with some of her statements in a recent interview with CNN.  The thought that she isn’t thinking about anyone else’s standards of parenthood made me sad that she does have the platform to help change the way companies look at working mothers, but doesn’t seem to care to help.  I suppose that may be because she has the money to have a nursery built right next to her office.  We should all be so lucky!

While, Sheryl’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead has brought it’s own share of women out to debate the aggressiveness that she speaks about to get ahead in a woman’s career.  Women are either supporting her approach or upset that she is pushing for women to do more instead of putting the blame on the corporate culture. Sheryl has built a community to help women band together with the concept of “leaning in”.

I am very happy to see a couple of strong women in positions to be able to speak out on some of the working mother issues in a way that has people listening.  I don’t even mind the debates because at least people are talking and it opens the doors for bigger messages to companies about the struggles working women and women, in general, face in the work place.  I’ve even read that a recent Pew Study found that working dads are now as stressed as working moms. So, just maybe, we can get more working dads to jump aboard and fight for the rights of working women as well.

It leaves me wondering though – why does it take big names to get this debate in the forefront?  With women in the workforce growing in numbers, I tend to lean towards Sheryl’s thinking.  We need to speak up more for ourselves.  And if we don’t, then do we really have a right to sit back and complain?  Why are so many women afraid to speak up and ask for what they need or spark a conversation for improving the workplace for women?

I used to be one of those women that were afraid to ask for things for fear of being looked at as someone wanting special privileges or that cannot handle the job or that it may put a ding on my working reputation in some way, but as I have grown in my career, I have learned that there are many companies that are actually open to the discussion if approached the right way.  Are there things you could be doing to help your position in the workforce?  What are your thoughts on being more aggressive – is it the women that need to change their approach or is it a corporate culture issue?  I would love to hear your thoughts on how to make change happen!

4 thoughts on “Working Moms Role Models?

  1. In a culture where working mothers is a necessity for some families, working at home needs to continue to be an option. I am lucky to work from home. I do not know how I could make it without that option. I even have host families (hosting our au pairs) who work from home. They still need the help from au pairs, but it takes a lot to manage the home and kids.

  2. While I think we, as women, may need to be more “aggressive”, I also think that you have to be the right person (in the right position) to bring up issues and make requests in way that they’ll actually be considered or accepted. So in that respect, we need to keep leaning in as Sheryl advocates. Otherwise we’ll never be in those respected positions that bring with them the ability to speak up. I’m not saying you should have to make it to the C-Suite – I think we can make change can happen in big and small ways across the org chart.

    I also think that organizations need to look at the typical career path for both men and women in terms of life phases. It’s not just working women (or men) with children that benefit from the types of discussions in the news today. It’s also baby boomers with older parents, experiencing the same kind of care-taker role later in life. Bottom line – our society’s approach to the old-school 9-5 work day needs to continue to evolve. Which is why we need to take advantage of these high-profile women bringing the issue to the forefront!

  3. I had my children in 1993 and 1995 and was part of that first wave of moms who stayed in the workforce en masse. After my daughter was born, I advocated for a job-share with another mom; then after she left, I pushed to continue working part-time, 3 days a week. At the time, it was new territory and I continued to be the only mom for a long time to do that. Some of the other moms were envious, thought I got special treatment, but if they had pushed for it they probably could have done it as well. In the long run, it did not hurt me and by the time we all lost our jobs through a corporate downsizing many years later, the men were taking advantage of workplace flexibility by telecommuting from home. Even if it was just to wait for the Maytag repairman to come. What I learned was the men were just as devoted to their families as the women – but they didn’t have that guilt thrust upon them because they worked. But they also saw flexibility as a good thing that they could take advantage of rather than a liability for one’s career. It all depends on how far you want to go in your career. If you really want to go for the top jobs, you probably won’t be able to do what I did. So you marry a man who wants to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen! 🙂

  4. Becky-
    I’m a full time working mom in the Technology field (I’m a director of Technology in a mid-sized company) and this really rung true. I’m probably one of the most outspoken people so I’ve never been afraid to fight for maternity leave, etc even though I don’t always win the battles, it’s worth it to try 🙂 I’m also one of VERY few working moms at our company which doesn’t help me.
    Anywho, I ran across this and thought I’d introduce myself.

    I’m a mom to a 2 year old with another one on the way this May 🙂

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