If the participants in women’s marches around the country last weekend are looking for a public policy road map, they would do well to pick up a copy of “Work Pause Thrive.”
Published this month, author Lisen Stromberg’s ambitious book lays out an agenda for legislative changes and describes policies that progressive employers are putting in place. The goal is to help along a new generation of men and women who say they want both involved parenting and rewarding work.
As a devotee of advice on work-life balance, I found “Work Pause Thrive” dealt well with both policy and practical advice for would-be parents just starting their careers. The book navigates an economy still churning from the expansive entry of mothers into the workforce since the 1970s, without having put into place adequate affordable child care or altering the “all-in, all-the-time” workplace culture.
Stromberg tells this story from experience. She met a group of women in 1996 in a new mother training class recommended by their doctors. Twenty years later, the women are still in touch, and many of their careers look like “a direct trajectory to the top of our professions,” she writes, “but buried deep within our resumes are twists and turns, pull backs and pauses.”
The women crafted “nonlinear” careers that often required soul-searching, risk and straightforward negotiation with employers. But she wants the millennial generation to know it can be done — and that technology and attitudes are moving in this direction.
Putting family first for a time doesn’t have to mean sacrificing one’s career, according to Stromberg’s survey of nearly 1,500 women. She highlighted women like Ann Fudge to make her point.
One of the most successful African-American women in business in 2001, Fudge quit her job as a division president for Kraft Foods to spend more time raising her two children. Fudge had recently been named by Fortune magazine as one of the 50 most powerful women in business.
When she left her corporate job, there was a brouhaha in the media about how she couldn’t hack being both a mother and a top businesswoman.
The rest of her story received much less attention. Within a few years, she returned to work as president of the Young & Rubicam advertising agency.
Stromberg focused on college-educated women and men, she told me in an email, because that’s the world she knows. “I was motivated to understand why even women with resources can’t find solutions for challenges in the workplace when it comes to dealing with caregiving,” she wrote.
However, middle- and lower-class families — in which Stromberg says women are increasingly opting out of paid work — would also benefit from her policy prescriptions for national paid leave, high-quality universal child care and paid sick leave.
Lower earners find it cheaper to stay home with children because they can’t find work that covers the cost of child care. Meanwhile, many young parents struggle with student debt — never mind saving for college or retirement.
“We have been distracted by the notion that work/life integration is a privilege,” Stromberg wrote in her email. “The reality is we lack public and workplace policies to support working parents. Let’s focus on that issue and stop pitting women of different socio-economic classes against each other.”
Women’s Marchers, take notice.
Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion.