It’s been almost 25 years since Felice Schwartz published an intriguing and inflammatory article in the Harvard Business Review called “Management Women and the New Facts of Life,” which was immediately dubbed the “Mommy Track” report. Ms. Schwartz’s premise was simple: Professional women are more diverse than we realize and quite different from men. Some focus on careers, while others choose to have families, possibly removing themselves from the workforce for a number of years. Ms. Schwartz wrote:
The one immutable, enduring difference between men and women is maternity. Maternity is not simply childbirth but a continuum that begins with an awareness of the ticking of the biological clock, proceeds to the anticipation of motherhood, includes pregnancy, childbirth, physical recuperation, psychological adjustment, and continues on to nursing, bonding, and child rearing. Not all women choose to become mothers, of course, and among those who do, the process varies from case to case depending on the health of the mother and baby, the values of the parents, and the availability, cost, and quality of child care.
The report came out in 1989 and ignited the famous “Mommy Wars,” an invisible but contentious line that was drawn between women with families who worked and those who chose to stay home. Almost twenty-five years later, the “women, work and babies” debate continues. One might argue that the discussions are even more intense since many women are trying to move out of the corporate world to become “mompreneurs” — women who have children and are figuring out how to start their own successful businesses, offering more flexibility and control over their destinies.
Women have made headways since then, but two recent articles in the New York Times made me wonder just how far we have come and will no doubt spark additional and much-needed discussions on the topic. “Nurturing a Baby and a Business” focuses on several women who developed truly creative and successful online businesses while having children. However, they all felt they needed to secure funding for their start-ups prior to having children. Divya Gugnani, founder of Send the Trend, said,
All of the women I know who went to raise money did it when they didn’t have kids. There is total discrimination in the start-up world against women who are pregnant. Making pregnancy and motherhood a focal point of the investment process is an outdated way of thinking.
The article makes the point that the question of children and families plays out very differently for male entrepreneurs, as it always has:
Neil Blumenthal, 31, co-founder of Warby Parker, an eyewear seller, says his family responsibilities never came up with investors.
Every woman entrepreneur interviewed for the article agreed that having the right support in place is essential for a successful start-up:
These women say it takes a village — a community that includes nannies, in-laws, friends, supportive spouses and baby sitters — to make it all work. Living within walking distance of the office also helps.
Their “can do” attitude is inspiring even when they all pointed out that choosing this path in life is “not for the faint of heart,” but another article clearly questioned whether women should even want to have it all.
The article, “A Pioneer in a Mad Men’s World,” is an interview with Mary Wells Lawrence, one of the greatest names in advertising history. It will no doubt leave readers feeling confused over her message. Ms. Lawrence, who raised two daughters primarily by seeing them on weekends and speaking with them on the phone during the rest of the week said, “I think women who spend the most productive years of their life nurturing children are unhappy.”
Whether she was intending to or not, Ms. Lawrence’s statement about motherhood added fuel to the ‘Mommy Wars’ fire, and left me questioning the direction our country is heading with regards to women, work and babies. What are women to believe? That we can’t have children and work or start companies? Or, that taking time off from work (or cutting back our hours) for a few years while having children is a mistake? Or that we must secure financing for our start-ups before even contemplating having children? It’s discouraging and simply wrong.
What’s the message to women in America, especially young women who are just starting out and trying to plan their lives, which for many, will include work and babies?
I think the message is clear: women are still in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” state of limbo. Women want (and most need) to work, and many want to have families. Isn’t it only right to create an environment that will support, encourage and allow women to do both? We need more jobs, flexible hours, childcare options and investors willing to put money behind women, whether they have children or not. We need role models in powerful positions to step up and help push the agenda forward through mentoring, hiring, and speaking out against blatant discrimination against women who have (or are planning to have) children.
Remember this simple fact: women are the driving force behind the economy AND the rearing of the next generation. Nothing less than a sea change is required in how we look at and talk about women, work and babies in this country.