An Interview with Working Mother Magazine President and Author Carol Evans on What They Face and How They Manage It
By Sarah Bennett-Astesano
All moms are busy people. But working mothers have one more major responsibility on their to-do lists: a job. If you need reminding that it's challenging to be both a parent and employed, there's always the well-meaning neighbor to observe that, "You must have your hands full," or a popular novel on the shelves, such as Allison Pearson's I Don't Know How She Does It.
Read also: What Working Moms Need
Carol Evans, CEO and president of Working Mother magazine, serves up some answers to mothers' work-life predicaments with her own new book, This Is How We Do It: The Working Mothers' Manifesto. She also takes the issue of moms who work to a new level. Emphasizing the solutions moms have created and the innovative supports implemented by some employers, Evans treats working motherhood as fact, and doesn't rehash the should-she/shouldn't-she debate. Focusing on the routes to fulfillment, Evans highlights strategies and tips from 25 years of Working Mother's readers and combines them with reports on the strides that both companies and governments are making. The book sounds a positive note from the very first chapter, aptly titled: "But We Are Doing It."
We recently spoke to Evans about the state of working motherhood in America. Here's some of the conversation:
What's a manifesto and why do working mothers need one?
A manifesto lays out a set of principles for a group to understand. The seed for this manifesto was that working mothers still get bashed in the press all the time. We've been publishing Working Mother magazine for 26 years. I had left the magazine for a while and when I came back in 2001, I was shocked that the first interview I was asked to do was on the topic of whether mothers should work. I just couldn't believe that 20 years later it was still the same question from the press. I realized that a lot of the general public wonders whether mothers should work. And there's a low level of recognition for the massive size of the group of women who are working, how pervasive it is, how important it is. And so I decided that this group needed a book that proclaims who we are, how we do it, and why working mothers need support rather than bashing.
You make the point that working mothers matter as a group, in part because of their economic impact.
It has changed America to have women in the workforce. It's partly working women, contributing at every level of the economy, that give this country its economic edge. That seems to be widely accepted. But what's not yet fully realized is that at some point, all these working women face a choice - a choice of having children. And if we can't make that choice acceptable for them, and if we don't support them in that choice, then how are we going to keep harnessing this economic power? … If the 71 percent of all women with children who work lose their ability or inclination to work, then we will have a loss of economic strength in this country.
What are the top challenges that working moms face today?
The top challenge is stress. Stress is much bigger than guilt. As kids get older, working mothers move away from obsessing about guilt to kind of reconciling with it. So stress takes its place as the biggest issue.
On the home front, finding quality childcare is huge, and includes the fact that we are surprised that it constantly changes. Most of us re-assess and re-evaluate our childcare arrangements over and over again.
The greatest challenge on the job is the stigma associated with being a working mom. … For the majority of women, there's still stigma for being a working mother, and people who doubt whether you are giving your all.
So what's an example of an innovative idea for combating stress?
The idea of "fusion" is a stress-reduction idea. Fusion means fusing your work and home life more than what might seem possible. It starts with talk. You go home and talk about your job to your children in as simple and as positive terms as you can. And then when you're at the office, you openly talk about your family. Again, trying to emphasize positive things. It's not bragging, it's building awareness that you're a mom. This way, you're not going through the "Superman-in-the-phone-booth" change at night. You're transitioning all the time. And you're a whole person.
It also allows others to get in the same groove. It takes the stigma away. Your colleagues are accustomed to thinking of you as a person who's a mom, your kids are accustomed to thinking of you as a person with a job. You create a bank of positive feelings that carries you through the stressful times.
You talk about flex work as being one of the most popular benefits companies offer. Is that one way that companies promote fusion and reduce stress?
Yes, because flex work acknowledges a person's whole life. There are lots of strategies that companies employ to support employees. But flexibility rises straight to the top. Flexibility can be expressed in lots of ways. For a new mom, it might be through a phased-back maternity leave. Or, for a person whose kids are teenagers, it might be the flexibility to start work early and go home early so that the teenager isn't home alone.
Companies are really stepping up to the flex plate. It's not just because they have been asked to do it, it's because they're finding it's paying dividends of productivity. People aren't just wasting time to have face time. They're using their time efficiently so that they can take advantage of flexibility. Flex is the number one thing moms want and it's something that companies have realized it's not that hard to give.
What else do working moms need to know?
Reacting to the book, a lot of people have told me that telling their own stories and hearing others' stories makes them realize that they're not alone. We all struggle with this idea that our problems are unique to us. But we all share the same problems.
Sarah Bennett-Astesano is the contributing work-and-family editor for United Parenting Publications. She is the working mother of two boys, ages 6 and 9.
Read also: What Working Moms Need
- I Don't Know How She Does It, by Allison Pearson, Anchor, 2003. An appealing novel about a woman juggling her job as manager of a hedge fund with her role as the mother of two small children. Humorous, chaotic and popular with readers in the author's native England.
- The Motherhood Manifesto: What America's Moms Want and What to Do About It, by Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Nation Books, 2006.
- This Is How We Do It: The Working Mothers' Manifesto, by Carol Evans, Hudson Street Press, 2006.
On the Web
- MomsRising.org - This grassroots resource seeks to move motherhood and family issues to the forefront of the country's awareness. It is founded by the authors of The Motherhood Manifesto, Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner.