Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Essentially Disappointed

My post about workplace flexibility was apparently very well-timed, as days later the work/life balance debate became front and center in the media when Marissa Mayer, the new Yahoo! CEO, announced that Yahoo! would no longer allow telecommuting.  Mayer also happens to be a new mother.  Many are outraged, they fear that such a rule sends the wrong message about workplace flexibility in corporate America and will disproportionately affect working mothers.  Others, even if they disagree with the ban, feel that judging Mayer for making such a choice is a bunch of feminist essentialism.  That is, if we wouldn't have questioned the decision if a working dad made it, we shouldn't be questioning Mayer (interestingly, the two women I found who shared this sentiment have had work-from-home careers and admit they wouldn't be in the workforce without that type of arrangement.  See here). 

Should we ignore the fact that she's a woman and new mother in the name of feminist non-essentialism?  I don't think so.  We only have a handful of Fortune 500 companies run by women (18 maybe, and that is a record high) and this one was juicy because, as the media kept pointing out, she was the youngest female CEO of a Fortune 500 and she was pregnant when she accepted the Yahoo! job.  I don't think that information is irrelevant or anti-feminist to talk about.  I think people's interest in watching how a young mother of a newborn would handle running a large company shows how important of an issue work/life balance is to men and women in this country.  It is true that if the new Yahoo! CEO were a man whose wife was having a baby, there would be no headlines.  But I think that is ok, because the headlines acknowledge the reality that balancing childcare and career is more of a woman's issue, and that  a new-mom CEO of a large Fortune 500 company may be able to set a great example for a more balanced perspective in corporate America.  If only she were interested in doing so.

Instead, she publicly commited to and took only two weeks of maternity leave and now has ended telecommuting at a company in a poster-child industry for workplace flexbility.  I don't think she decided either because she wanted to hurt working moms/dads - everyone experiences parenthood in different ways, so maybe 2 weeks was enough for her (what!) and she had very reasoned business justifications for the ban, but the message Americans are forced to swallow is, this is what it takes.  Seems daunting and most of us won't make the cut, as not all of us can build a nursery next to our offices like she did or have the help she probably does.  So it is disappointing, at least to me, not because I think she "owes" me anything, but because I made the assumption that if women ruled corporate America, it would look different.  Turns out that may not be the case.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Balancing Act

The second question I'm almost always asked by other moms about my relatively new job after "How's your job going" is, "Do you have flexibility"?  There are many aspects to one's career -- how challenging and interesting the work is, what your future potential/plans may be, how you handle managing others/being managed, etc -- yet a primary concern for working moms is figuring out how others are balancing full-time careers, young children, and otherwise full lives.  It's that elusive, mythical, "work-life balance" we are all after.  I think the balance looks different to every parent, but one common thread in attempting to achieve it is the need for workplace flexibility.  This sounds like a dreaded term to an employer, doesn't it?  It sounds like it may require an employer to lower expectations, or make exceptions for an employee.  The need for it can come across as a sign of weakness, of not being able to handle the job.  So as common as it is to talk about it among other working women, and as necessary as it is for most to getting closer to that balance, many feel hesitant and anxious to talk to their employer about it.  Should women have to wait to be perceived as indispensable before they can bring such issues up?   Should they feel less valuable as an employee or like their future potential with the employer is diminished for needing such an accommodation? 

As I expressed in my lament about the misdirection of Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" comment, I don't think that women will have equal pay/status in this country until we get better about workplace flexibility and address a host of other working women's issues (paid maternity leave, child care benefits etc).  Flexibility might mean different things, and not all jobs allow for the same types of flexibility.  It does not, however, mean decreased expectations or requirements.  It means being creative.  For example, you can't work from home in your regular duties as a physician, but maybe there are administrative tasks that can be done remotely or an earlier or nighttime shift that would work better with your kid's schedule.  If you frequently have evening client events, possibly a later morning start time or a longer break midday would help.  Maybe you'd prefer to work more on the weekend and have shorter weekdays.  You're not "entitled" to these things, of course, but thinking through the possibilities may prevent valuable women from being forced to leave their full-time professional careers or the workforce generally. 

Of course, the choice to have a child is a personal one.  So I understand the argument that if you make that choice, you have to be prepared for consequences, including some to your career.  This is a fair point, but stopping there ignores the impact on women, families, employers and society as a whole.  The truth is, the majority of Americans make the choice to have kids.  Women make up about 47% of the labor force and the vast majority of them are or will become mothers (over 80% of women aged 35-44 have at least one child).  And 77% of moms choose to be in the labor force.  Working moms, therefore, are a powerful group and keeping them in the labor force full-time and allowing them to advance is advantageous to the economy as a whole.  For employers, happier employees likely make for more productive, enthusiastic and long-term employees.  And think about the recruitment and retention benefits if an employer is forward-thinking on these issues.  Plus, parents being able to spend more time with their kids while also being successful in their careers has societal benefits we should all be interested in.  It will never be perfect, but it's something we can improve.  At a minimum, we should stop being afraid to ask for it.  (And, by the way, I'm all for dads and those who take care of aging/sick parents or other loved ones having options, as well.) 

I'm curious to hear from others what kind of flexibility you have, what you would like, what has worked best for you, etc, either offline or on the blog.   

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Just Another Day

Is there anything more chaotic than the weekday mornings of dual-working-parents?  Sometimes it just aint pretty.

This morning we woke up to Noah with a cold (seriously, are toddlers sick ALL winter long??), and he was a snotty, clingy, cranky disaster.  So between our getting dressed, packing lunch, prepping for dinner (yes, 12 hours before!), making tea, etc, we were passing him back and forth, cleaning out his nose, and entertaining him to alleviate the whining.  His sickness-induced clumsiness meant that he kept stumbling between me in the kitchen and Adam in the bedroom, tripping over his toys and spilling milk.  And then crying.  It was just..chaos.  After my daily debrief with our nanny, my hubbie and I both leave.  (Not without each of us taking out 2 bags of trash, of course!)  Finally in my car, I blast the new Alabama Shakes song and I feel a bit relieved to drive away.  But then I feel guilty for feeling relieved.  All he wanted was for one of us to pick him up and give him undivided attention, and neither of us had time for it.  He wanted a weekend morning.  On Sat/Sun mornings, we bring him to our bed and watch Mickey (or "dickey" as he calls it), play for a long time and enjoy a slow start to the day.  It's one of our favorite times of the week.  A far cry from M-F mornings when I'm trying to do 18 things at once, am always running late, and only get 15-20 mins with him (it's a good and bad thing when you're kids aren't crazy early risers).  He desperately needed a weekend morning today and we couldn't give it to him.  And so I felt shitty.  Guilty and shitty.

The pre-work chaos followed me into work.  Within a half hour, my nanny texts me about a problem with the window in Noah's room, and that he is acting really exhausted.  She sends me pics of his window, and also pics of him laying down half asleep in the middle of the living room on his stuffed monkey.  Daggers to chest.  I call people to come look at his window this week, reschedule some other stuff to make that work, and bite my nails over Noah feeling sick.  Our nanny is more than capable of taking care of him when he's not feeling well, but shouldn't one of us be there?  Adam can't go home because he has a client meeting, and I can't easily go home because my work situation isn't as flexible and I have work to do (especially now that I have just spent half the morning dealing with all of this).  So we don't go home.  Oh, there's that guilt again. 

For every morning like this, there are several others that are just another day in paradise (if you're not a country music fan, Phil Vassar has a song that always reminds me how rewarding and beautiful family chaos is).  The bad ones make you feel guilty and doubt your ability to do the work/parenting thing, but the good ones make you feel superhuman and whole.  It's a tension I'm learning to handle more and more each day.  I'm very lucky that we have a wonderful nanny to rely on (how do moms get kids ready for daycare in the morning on top of everything else? I am not worthy), a helpful and supportive husband, and most importantly a healthy child.  I'm also very lucky to have a great job that I truly want, rather than one I hate or feel stuck in.  Sometimes reminding myself of that makes it easier to stick out the inevitable hard days like today.  And the truth is, if I were a stay-at-home mom, we wouldn't be watching "dickey" in bed on the weekdays......would we?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Stir Fry Crazy

Stir frys make quick, tasty and healthy dinners.  I'm a big fan of making meals that you can constantly change up, so that you don't get bored and you can use whatever ingredients in your fridge that particular week (this is also evidenced by my soup/stew post back in November).  Here are some tips on a good stir fry:

1)  Start a base by heating up oil (on medium heat) in a wok or a deep pan.  I like canola or peanut for Asian style stir fry, or olive oil w/ butter for a lighter taste. 

2)  Add veggies.  Anything!  Spinach, onion (white or red), broccoli, mushrooms, baby corn, julienne carrots, peapods, bok choy, etc etc.  Like I mentioned in my soup/stew post, I often buy pre-cut veggies at Whole Foods and just throw them in.  Saves a lot of time and sometimes they think of veggie combos you wouldn't.  Toss with the oil, add a few pinches of salt, and let the veggies sweat for a few.

3)  Add a protein.  Chicken (buy tenderloins so you can just throw in w/o needing to cut), shrimp (pre-peeled and even pre-cooked makes it faster), tofu, beef (pepper steak works well), etc. 

4)  Make a quick sauce.  Can make separately and pour in, or just start throwing stuff in (I prefer the latter!) Here are a couple options:
  • For an Asian-inspired stir fry, I like to combine fresh ginger (I buy pre-chopped), fresh garlic, sesame seed oil, soy sauce and/or tamari sauce (richer soy), fish sauce (don't have to use if it scares you, but it's delicious in cooking), and some sort of chili sauce (if you like a kick).  If you like a sweeter taste, use hoisin sauce and nix the fish and chili sauce.  There are lots of pre-made Asian stir fry sauces you can buy, and it makes the dish even easier, but I think they taste kind of "fake" and much prefer to use separate ingredients.  The best part is that you can't really go wrong - just don't add too much soy (it's easy to) because that taste can overpower.  Add a little, taste, and then add more if necessary.  Simmer uncovered for a bit.
  • For a lighter lemon wine sauce, remember you used olive oil/butter as the base for this and that's a lot of the sauce already.  When your protein is nearly cooked, add 1/4-1/2 cup of dry white wine, let it cook down a bit, and then add lemon juice (a couple of tbsp).  Salt, thyme and any kind of lemon herb you may have all the spice you'll need.  I also add a little more butter at this point (who doesn't like more butter?) because the butter you originally added as the base has cooked down a lot and I want that taste to be fresh and my protein to feel nice and moist.  Simmer uncovered for a few, but don't keep on heat too long.  This is a great sauce for shrimp, crab, etc. 
5)  Toss with rice or Asian noodles (for the Asian stir fry) or angel hair pasta (for the wine sauce) or eat plain if you're anti-carb (yuck). 

You can get this done in 30 mins, esp if you go the pre-diced route on protein/veggies.  If you're really short on time or not confident about making a sauce, just start with canola or olive oil, simmer some white onions and garlic for a few, add the veggies, protein, salt, cover and let simmer for a while, and be done.  I do this all the time for just plain veggies. 

Go crazy.