Balancing parenting and work: Some other opinions

Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post - Neera Tanden is Chief Operating Officer of Center for American Progress.

Buy This Photo

You’ve read about Marissa Mayer’s memo discouraging telework at Yahoo, and you’ve heard from Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, whose book argues that working women should “lean in” to the challenges of juggling care er and family life.

What does the ensuing debate mean in Washington, with its mix of contractors, lawyers, lobbyists and federal workers? We asked some local leaders: Do female bosses have different expectations of their employees than men? Are they dialing back the advances women have made in the workplace? Would a male boss have taken such a stance? In sum, can a lobbyist do her job from home? Does it matter to a client if a lawyer is drafting that important Supreme Court brief while tending to his sick child at home?

Here are some of their responses:

Like any working parent, I know how hard it can be to balance work and family. In our office people tend to need to be there during the day since almost all of the work involves face-to-face constituent meetings and hearings, but when stuff happens on weekends or evenings or if a family issue comes up during a workday, people often work or research issues at home. The key is making the job a place where people want to be but also not being too rigid when life and work go head to head!

--Amy Klobuchar

Senior United States Senator from Minnesota

Flexibility is the central need for today’s working mothers and fathers. I know from experience that this is especially true in the fast paced environment of a consulting firm. Most times, it’s preferable for people to work on-site. Client emergencies, strategy sessions and project management necessitate close interaction among teams. There are moments when no conference call, Skype discussion or email exchange can replace the power of individuals working side-by-side. 

But, it’s always been very important to me that our staff  build their careers while they are satisfying commitments to families and friends. So, I’ve found it essential to provide working mothers — and fathers — with guilt-free flexibility.

As I moved up through the ranks, I started out single, got married, adopted an hour commute, had one child and then another. My life and job demands increased significantly over the years and my need for flexibility surfaced in different ways. At each step, my firm allowed me to be true to my family at the same time I advanced in my responsibilities. I know I can’t “be there” for everything in my children’s lives but I know that I will never be asked to miss the many moments that really matter.

— Martha Boudreau

President Mid-Atlantic & Latin America
Fleishman-Hillard International Communications

With the caveat that I have not read Mayer’s memo and only reviews of Sandberg’s book, my initial reaction is sympathy with the view that if women wish to succeed in the workplace, they should “lean in” to its challenges.

I do not minimize how difficult this can be especially if, like most of us, a woman has fewer financial resources than Mayer or Sandberg. But I do not think it is unreasonable for an employer to expect a woman to work as hard, and as well as a man. I expect both the women and the men who work as my law clerks to work hard and, if necessary, late and on weekends, as I do.

At the same time, life happens -- children get sick, parents die, etc. I try to deal with such uncertainty with flexibility and understanding. One of my best clerks became pregnant and gave birth while clerking. But she did not surprise me with the pregnancy news or demand a lighter workload. Rather, together, and with her co-clerks, we found a way to welcome the baby and postpone some of her duties for a time. If a woman has a history of leaning in and excellence, as she did, I think an employer will often work to accommodate her.

Of course, accommodation is not always possible and even, if possible, some employers will not be flexible. Although anti-discrimination laws are important, they do not reach much subtle adverse employment action. That is not fair, but life is full of unfairness. Differences in intelligence, beauty, kindness, health, wealth and luck abound. Leaning in, although not fool proof or without cost, seems to me one of the best ways to counter those inequities.

--Diana Gribbon Motz,

federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

The offer to pen these 200 words came with the encouragement of the Style editor — “Short is good. Quick is key!” Those words define the life of most working mothers I know — keeping to the essential, prioritizing the critical, ensuring required turnaround. In my varied experience — in a Fortune 50 corporation, in the foundation world, and now in the social sector — I have found engaging all employees in high performance doesn’t follow a prescription — it’s different on every project, it’s different in every workplace. The key for great leaders is to ensure that everyone around them is willing to be fierce for the mission, hold high expectations of themselves and their peers, be open to the frank conversations that are necessary for growth and go out of your way to recognize great performance. The rest has to be unique to the setting and the circumstances and the team. The good news is we’re talking. Now, off to the next challenge! (With 35 words to spare.)

— Patty Stonesifer,
incoming chief executive,
Martha’s Table

Sheryl Sandberg is right. We need to change the culture and change policy.

I ran policy on a presidential campaign with two young children because I worked for a female boss who offered me workplace flexibility — that boss was Hillary Clinton. I changed my son’s diapers during morning conference calls with the most senior campaign leaders on the line. I got home for dinner, put my kids to bed, and then worked late into the night. The most critical ingredients for allowing women to rise to leadership is a culture that is tolerant of flexibility and policies that reinforce the idea that if you’re getting the job done, it doesn’t matter if you’re out of the office when you need to be there for your family.

Because of workplace flexibility, I had the opportunity to “lean in,” and I now sit in a leadership position — a role that not only means I can decide the workplace policies of my own organization but one that also provides me a seat at the table as Washington debates the larger structural changes our nation can take to achieve equal opportunity through pro-family policies and to empower more women into leadership roles.

— Neera Tanden,
president and chief executive
of the Center for American
Progress

Got your own opinions? Share them at washingtonpost.com/style.

 
Read what others are saying