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Will Michelle Obama Help Working Moms?

By Geniene P. (Contact)

Published February 9, 2009

It isn't easy being a working mother regardless of your type of employment.  There is the constant worry that if your child is sick, can you take time off (your own sick leave or vacation time) to care for them or do you go without pay?  If there is a school function during work hours, can you be there for your child?  If a person takes maternity leave, will their same job at the same pay range be there (c'mon, we all know employers that just fall short of illegal grounds of threatening jobs).  In this job market especially, the pressures are greater.

That is why I am elated to learn that First Lady Michelle Obama "wants to help working women balance career and family".  I like that she has been in the trenches and even took time out (lucky her) to be at home with her children.  There are many challenges facing mothers when they work or when they leave the work force and want to re-enter.

What needs to be addressed:
1) Government level - Encourage companies to offer more flexible work arrangements that still offer benefits.  Meaning, part-time work from home or part-time work (possibly with a lower level of benefits if needed) arrangement.

2) Start the conversation about quality of work time while at work vs. just sitting at work "to look good" because you leave later.  While I was in NYC, it was my experience as well as many of my friends to find that there was competition to leave work late regardless of the quality of your work.  You were judged to be working hard if you left late even if you took a 2 hour luch.  Go figure.

3) The need for more child care arrangements at work including before and after school hours resources.  This coincides with the flexible hours problem when many child care programs close when people still may be at work.  Discounts on child care programs are still needed, too.

4) Begin the discussion on single parents' challenges!  When 50% of marriages end in divorce, businesses need to be more understanding.  I know single dads and moms of divorce who often have severe challenges with work when a child is sick or there is a snow day and there is no one available to watch the child.  Being divorced, doesn't automatically mean the ex-spouse is an equal parent if at all present to parent.  What do I think businesses could do?  Allow an employee to use sick time for a child care issue (not all businesses allow this).

5) Ask businesses to not "punish" women who leave the work force to raise their children for a few years or who want to reduce their hours to spend more time with their children.  I know many women who would be willing to take a temporary pay cut/hour cut to spend more time with their children. However, there is an unspoken policy that if you leave the work force or reduce your hourse, you are considered to be unambitious.  Is it so bad if everyone doesn't want to be a V.P. or CEO?

6) Discuss re-training or back-to-school resources for women who leave the work force to raise their children or who want to improve their skills once they return to the workplace.  This is almost an agist issue. I found, in NYC, that kids with brand spanking new MBA's were preferred (by the board of directors) over seasoned workers with real-world experience (which the hiring managers preferred but couldn't hire due to board directives) who might not have entered the work force when MBA's were deemed "required" and couldn't go back to school when their children were little. I would think this hurts women more than men because we all know who has to rush home, get dinner ready, etc. ;)  Plus, it is usually the mother/woman who leaves the work force for the children rather than the husband/man.

7) Support breast feeding mothers who return to work with private areas to pump and refrigeration to store pumped milk.

I think it's about time that someone focuses on these issues and it takes a woman who has been there and lived it, to bring it to the forefront!  Unfortunately, I don't think business or society has been ready to acknowledge these topics until now when you have vast numbers of women from Generations X & Y living these challenges.  The baby boomers set the stage and broke many barriers but many had to choose between having children vs. climbing to the top.  It has taken the last 20 years of women in the professional/executive/managment workplace to really get this discussion going.  I don't know a mother in her 30's or 40's that isn't faced with these challenges.

Hopefully, Michelle Obama will get this conversation started.

Just for the record: I'm not saying that men/fathers don't need some of the above addressed, too.  But, let's be honest, this historically has been a problem for women more than men.  The work/family balance needs to be respected for all. 

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