Now the pandemic has made this juggling act a whole lot trickier.
But it is not impossible, says Joann Lublin. The longtime career columnist for the Wall Street Journal has just published a book, “Power Moms: How Executive Mothers Navigate Work and Life.”
Reuters sat down with Lublin to talk about how working moms (and dads) can get through this challenging moment of history in one piece.
Q: We need to talk about what is happening to women’s employment right now. What is your take?
A: The pandemic has had a very harsh effect on working women. Some people are calling it a “she-cession,” but I think of it more as a "mom-cession." The brunt of the job losses have fallen on the shoulders of working moms.
Women put a heavy burden on themselves, and the buck still stops with them in terms of taking care of children and households.
Q: How are these employment trends going to play out?
A: If there is any good news to come out of this horrible experience, it’s that this has become a huge experiment in working from home.
Before, a lot of people thought it was unheard of or impossible. But there is a lot of data suggesting this really does work. We need to continue this experiment even as offices open back up, and not penalize parents who work from home.
Q: How did you approach this idea of looking at “Power Moms”?
A: The inspiration came from writing my first book about female business executives, called “Earning It.” I discovered that a lot of these high-level CEOs had kids.
It made me wonder, compared to the current wave of younger women in executive roles – what has changed over the years, what is better, and what has stayed the same? So I interviewed 86 executive mothers, evenly split between Boomers and younger generations like Gen X and Millennials.
I even interviewed daughters of Boomers, to find out what it was like to grow up with a Power Mom.
Q: What has changed?
A: Employers now understand that they have to have family-friendly practices, if they want to attract the best and brightest. That just wasn’t the case with the Boomer generation, because working moms were not seen as committed to their careers.
Another change is that Gen X moms tend to have highly involved spouses - men who "get it," and are committed to their wives’ careers and willing to co-parent.
A third change is improvements in technology, which have now made it possible to work from home.
Q: How can employers help working parents?
A: The workplace has to be welcoming to working moms and dads. The commitment from the top is critical, to recognise parenting as an important part of their employees’ lives.
They need to offer maximum flexibility, and paid family leave, and embrace other benefits like childcare reimbursement. But there needs to be a role model at the top, otherwise parents won’t take advantage of these policies.
Q: Parents are so burned out right now with competing responsibilities. What do you say to them, about getting through this period?
A: Cut yourself some slack. Forgive yourself. Accept the fact that things are not always going to go right. Being imperfect is OK.
And make sure you are staying connected with people who are in a similar boat: In the old days there wasn’t any such thing as social media networks, but now you can find a lot of like-minded people who are going through the same thing, and can help you get through the day.
Q: What do you want Power Moms to take away from this book?
A: Three important lessons: Choose your life partner wisely, especially if you want to have children.
Second, choose your employer wisely – if it’s not a family-friendly workplace, then vote with your feet.
Thirdly, choose your mentors wisely, people to advise and guide you at key moments of your career.
Power Moms also need sponsors: Someone willing to put their own political capital on the line, and risk their reputations by vouching for you and speaking up on your behalf. You need those advocates in your corner.