Yesterday I commented on Ms. Mayer’s thoughts and focused on what her non-existent maternity leave could say to employers and employees about the expectations and needs of working mothers (and parents) or what employers could demand from employees as a result. Today, I want to focus on how this could be positive: Marissa Mayer as CEO of Yahoo! gives her a tremendous voice. She has power. While her initial comment about “working through her maternity leave” has been heavily scrutinized and criticized, another side to Marissa Mayer’s impending parenthood is that she has the possibility to become a voice and an advocate for changes in the workplace.
Ms. Mayer can advocate for more flexibility and more time to attend the events that we need to attend to (doctor appointments, nursery school interviews, parent-teacher conferences, talent shows, etc). She can make these instances “normal” things that we have to deal with, that we shouldn’t be ashamed to say “I have to attend ‘x’ event.” She can make the everyday things that mothers (and fathers) need to take care of part of workplace discussions. She can make these events mainstream. She can shed light as to what the difficulties of being a professional woman and mother are.
So in a positive light, I would like to share three changes I hope will come to the workplace so that women can have an easier time “balancing” work, children, relationships, etc.:
1. Employers should offer affordable, on-site, all- day, childcare.
In a perfect world, I would have the option to have my son close to me while I am at work. Why would this option be a great option?
First of all, childcare costs could be set on a sliding scale according to your income. This would especially benefit workers who cannot afford to send their children to private, expensive nursery schools (of which most are not all day programs!), which would have a great impact on the readiness of these children to go to school (a win-win for society in general!)
Second, Programs should be ON-SITE:
That way, if I wanted to see him during my lunch break, I could. I could take him to the park. If I wanted to pick him up and take him to a doctor’s appointment I would not have to waste an hour to go pick him up, or waste countless hours trying to figure out who is available to take him to meet me at the doctor’s office. (hours I could be spending on innovative creative work for my company!)
Third, Programs should be ALL-DAY: that’s right- I said it. All day, not a two hour (or hour and a half- really??) morning program or a two hour afternoon program that costs thousands of dollars a year (goes back to the cost point) How are you helping me by keeping my child for two hours when I work 8 hours a day?
2. Move away from the 9-5 schedule (increase flexibility)—If I can put in an hour or 2 from home, before coming to the office, or at night, or answer emails while I am at the doctor’s office waiting for my son to be seen, why shouldn’t this count? Nowadays, people are sending emails at all hours of the day, so why should it be imperative that I be at my desk from 9-5? What if I was in the office from 9:30 to 3:30 and then managed to get an hour or so in after I put my kid to bed, wouldn’t that be great? Especially with all the technological advances we currently have, this can be a possibility.
I cannot tell you the amount of time I have stressed out over how I am going to arrange my schedule so that I can take my son to the doctor. I start thinking about it weeks in advance, try to figure out what time I have to leave in order to go home, pick him up and then come back into the city to the doctor’s office. Usually, my wonderful Papa drives me in (yes he really is quite wonderful like that)(and usually I feel so bad about him doing it- but that’s a story for another time).
3. Increase time off during non-peak hours Now, I know employers might think this is ridiculous but in reality, giving an employee an afternoon off on say, Fridays during the summer, (or Columbus Day when kids are out of school and you have to make other arrangements because you have to work) actually boosts productivity and saves money… this time could be used by working parents to spend more time with their children, thus creating happier parents and kids all around. It would increase morale and boosts productivity; because parents would feel valued and rewarded (dare I say a bit less stressed and motivated as well!) and they would prioritize their work and make better use of the time spent in the office.
There is scientific evidence that increased flexibility has a positive correlation with job engagement, job satisfaction, employee retention and employee health! (see the Families and Work Institute: www.familiesandwork.org) There is also evidence that people who take more vacation time are just as innovative and less stressed than people who take less vacation time (but that is a separate issue for a separate blog… I say this as my European friends laugh at my measly 2 week-vacation when they have at least 4!)
In the meantime, while we wait for Ms. Mayer to be in situations where she needs to say “I need time for x, y z” to her Board @ Yahoo!, here’s what you can do to advance workplace rights for moms and dads:
*Stay informed. Find out what the law is in your state! Find out what your representatives’ views are on the subject! For a comprehensive (excellent!) report on the state of Paid Maternity Leave see the National Partnership of Women & Families’ report, “Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help New Parents”http://www.nationalpartnership.org/site/DocServer/Expecting_Better_Report.pdf?docID=10301
Want more time off to attend your children’s events? You may already have it depending on where you live! According to www.progressivestates.org, “Twelve states require employers to allow time for employees to participate in their children’s’ educational activities. The most generous program is in California, which gives parents 40 hours per year to participate in school activities.” (In case you’re wondering, the other states are: Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia. — NY where are you??)
*Become engaged! Call your representative, start a petition, keep up to date on the news and blogosphere, follow www.twitter.com/momsrising and other proponents of changes to workplace issues on Twitter!
Make your voice heard!