Women in the Workplace: The Value of a Job that Accommodates Family Life

July 8, 2013 | Karin

Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, sparked a national conversation about why there are fewer women than men at the top of professionals. Sandberg encouraged women to “lean in” to their careers.  To her, it wasn’t a question of whether women wanted more power, more money or better titles.

In her formulation, she’s missing something–that many women actively choose to prioritize other aspects of their lives and fit their jobs into their lives, not their lives into their jobs.  Take Sara Uttech, who is profiled in a New York Times article, Coveting Not a Corner Office, but Time at Home:

Ms. Uttech, like many working mothers, is a married college graduate, and her job running member communications for an agricultural association helps put her family near the middle of the nation’s income curve. And like dozens of other middle-class working mothers interviewed about their work and family lives, she finds climbing a career ladder less of a concern than finding a position that offers paid sick leave, flexible scheduling or even the opportunity to work fewer hours. The ultimate luxury for some of them, in fact (though not for Ms. Uttech), would be the option to be a stay-at-home mother.

“I never miss a baseball game,” said Ms. Uttech, uttering a statement that is a fantasy for millions of working mothers (and fathers) nationwide. (This attendance record is even more impressive when you realize that her children play in upward of six a week.)

Flexibility is valuable to Uttech.  For example, she was able to negotiate with her boss a work-from-home arrangement on Fridays.  The article points to a survey from the Families and Work Institute finding that only 37 percent of working women say they want a job with more responsibilities.   What does Uttech’s day look like?

On a recent Tuesday, which she said was broadly representative of most workdays, she rose at 5:45 a.m. and did a load of laundry before everyone else awoke. Soon she was wielding the hair dryer in one hand and a son’s permission slip in the other; running to the kitchen to pack lunches and help one of her sons make dirt cups (pudding and Oreo crumble) as part of a book report presentation; and then driving the children to school at 7:15 a.m. before commencing her 40-minute commute to the office, where she arrives a little after 8. She heads back out — often directly to the baseball diamond — at 4:30 p.m.

On Sundays, she teaches at her church, and then prepares most of the meals for rest of the week, making great use of two wonders of modern cookery: the slow cooker and the freezer.

Uttech gives a more realistic picture than Sandberg of the choices many women face.  She also touts how her experience as a mother makes her a better employee:

Ms. Uttech says she thinks — or at least hopes — that someday motherhood will be viewed by employers as an asset, as a source of leadership skills and other human capital. Maybe someday managers won’t just tolerate family responsibilities but seek them out in potential hires, she said.

“Because I’m a mom I know how to multitask, and I have all these other skills I didn’t have before like juggling, mentoring, educating, problem-solving, managing,” she said. “And I’m so much more productive now during the hours when I am working. Motherhood should be a feather in my cap, not a drawback.”

As we continue the national conversation about Sandberg, it is insightful to read stories about women like Uttech, who are evaluating the options in front of them and making the best choices they can for their families, even if this doesn’t lead to the corner office.

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