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The least worst choice

page four

Back into the fray

What happens to women who gear down their commitment to paid employment when they're ready to pick up where they left off is another issue altogether, and so far the news on that front is not exactly encouraging. Some advisors warn it’s extremely unlikely that women who’ve been out of the workforce for three to five years will be hired for positions offering the same level of responsibility or compensation they had in their previous occupations. Others feel the employment patterns of the downsizing culture -- where most experienced workers have periods of unemployment, as well as several jobs listed on their resume -- may be more favorable to women who have an extended gap in their employment record.(32)

According to Ann Crittenden, author of The Price of Motherhood, much depends on the strength of the labor market, but it’s not impossible for moms re-entering the workforce to find exactly the job they really want -- if they persevere and are prepared to do whatever it takes to show employers they have the skills and experience to do the work. “Mothers returning to the workforce also face a tremendous cultural bias against women who stay at home,” says Crittenden, who is working on a new book about job skills and motherhood. “Employers are not immune to negative stereotyping that characterizes homemakers as incompetent individuals.”

Wilcox is cautiously optimistic that mothers who return to the workforce may have their best years ahead of them. “The highest proportion of overall work/life success -- meaning success at home, at work, and with balancing the two -- is reported by women ages 50 - 64 with no children at home. That is the only time that the rate of overall feelings of success of women with children exceeds that of men with children.” Wilcox notes that both men and women feel least successful when they’ve got preschoolers at home.

The trend Wilcox finds the most promising, though, is the explosion of woman-owned businesses. “Women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men. And I'll be very interested to see what sort of impact these businesses have in the future, particularly as women are more able to give their time and energy toward them.” Wilcox hopes that these new women-led businesses will provide a more receptive conduit for women re-entering the workforce. “After all, as the Families and Work Institute has found, women in senior management can be an important indicator in determining the relative family-friendliness of an employer.”

Only time will tell if the resurgence of “sequencing” mothers into the marketplace will merit attention as another stage of the family and work “revolution”. But in so very many ways, the media-driven focus on the fate of well-to-do mothers who bag the full-time-plus-overtime treadmill in favor of the joys of family life is utterly irrelevant. Of course, it’s a pot shot at feminism – a smug “we told you so” aimed at those of us who still believe a woman should be able to combine public achievement and personal happiness without making inordinate compromises in any important area of her life. It’s also a slight of hand, a misdirection of our cultural angst about the changing meaning of family, that deflects public attention away from truly serious social problems that put millions of mothers and fathers and kids at risk every single day -- social problems that could be resolved if not for a pathetic shortage of political will.

 mmo : december 2003

Judith Stadtman Tucker is the editor and publisher of The Mothers Movement Online.

Also on MMO:

The Case Against “Opting-Out”
by Katie Allison Granju

Telling it like it is:
Rewriting the "opting out" narrative
By Heather Hewett

“Go Home!”
When discrimination forces moms out of a job

By Kimberly Tso


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