Empowered Health


While all mothers are constantly working on raising the next generation, moms who end up re-entering the workforce face difficult challenges. From accepting that being a stay-at-home mom may not be your thing to being discriminated in the workplace for being a mother, your career path gets complicated if and when you decide to have children. We are joined by the creator and host of the Double Shift Podcast, Katherine Goldstein which shares stories of current mothers in the workforce, along with Kathleen McGinn of Harvard Business School, who researches how gender and class impact work, home life, and negotiations.

Show notes + Transcript

Emily: I’m Emily Kumler, and this is Empowered Health. Hi, this is Emily Kumler, your host of Empowered Health. And this week we’re going to talk about working moms. And I feel like I already don’t like that title because I think all moms work really hard. I talk a lot this episode about my own mom who raised four kids and certainly worked all the time, however wasn’t paid for the job. So I think that’s an important distinction, which I will reiterate throughout the episode. But I also just returned from an incredible trip to Peru where I was traveling around with the Q’ero Indians in my group where a number of healers and mystics. One of the big takeaways for me from that trip, which I’m sure we’ll talk more about, is this idea of really trusting yourself and getting to know yourself and figuring out what makes you comfortable and what doesn’t. And I think so often as women especially, we are told what is expected of us. And then we either live up to that and wonder if we’re doing a good job or we decided to do something different and feel like a failure. And one of the things that really comes across in this episode is this idea that women are judged no matter what choices they make. I stayed at home with my kids when they were little, really little and I had a really hard time doing it and now that I’m working full time, I also have a really hard time doing it. And so I think the more we can kind of come together on these issues and look to society for more support as we try to fulfill our dreams as moms and as professionals and just as full formed human beings. I think the better off we’ll be this week, I’m going to talk to two different really awesome women. One is a journalist who’s done a lot of digging into the discrimination that moms face in the workplace and the second is a professor from Harvard Business School who studies this on an academic level and is going to talk to us a little bit about some of her research. So I hope you enjoyed this episode and just remember you should be so proud of yourself no matter what you’re doing. It’s really hard to be a mom. It’s really hard and lovely to work something that you love or something that you find challenging, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy and I think sometimes we’re just a little too hard on ourselves. 

Katherine Goldstein: My name is Katherine Goldstein. I’m a journalist and I’m the creator and host of The Double Shift Podcast, which is a show about a new generation of working mothers.

Emily: It’s always interesting to sort of get started on this topic because my mom didn’t work really out of the house, but she volunteered all the time, right? So she was sort of like on the PTA and always busy with projects, but didn’t get paid for them. And I think that’s kind of an important distinction to make. But what we’re gonna really try to focus on is women who are working, you know, maybe not even out of the house because they might have an office in the house like I do, but are pursuing careers that aren’t necessarily related to their children or their communities as a volunteer, correct?

Katherine Goldstein: Yes.

Emily: So I mean, I feel like one of the best places to start is to sort of just ask you like how did you get into this and why is it an important topic for people to be talking about?

Katherine Goldstein: My interest in covering working mothers from a journalistic perspective, absolutely came from my own experiences becoming a working mother. My son was born back in 2015. I really felt like motherhood was going to be nothing I couldn’t handle. Like I had a very successful career and a supportive partner and I felt like I had everything going for me for motherhood and working motherhood to go really well for me. And that wasn’t my experience. My son was born with some pretty serious health problems and he’s doing great now, but it was a very traumatic early start. And then I lost my job when he was six months old. So the combination of those two things totally challenged my identity and I started and I really felt like a failure and, but then I started to sort of look into what it means to be a working mother in America. And that sort of led me to a bunch of other questions.

Emily: So it does seem like you have developed a big body of research about how women are discriminated against as moms.

Katherine Goldstein: Yes.

Emily: If you’re, you know, looking at two candidates and one of them is a mother, she is less likely to be selected.

Katherine Goldstein: Unfortunately, anti-mom bias in the workplace is rampant in our country and so is pregnancy discrimination. If a woman gives a subtle indication that she is a mother on her resume, like saying she’s the president of the PTA or somehow indicating she has kids, she’s much less likely to be hired. And if she is offered the job, it’s at a lower salary than a sort of comparable position. And this is not true for fathers, it’s not about parents because fathers actually usually get around a 6% raise for every kid they have because they’re basically seen as more reliable and responsible and they need to be providing for a family. So they’re actually financially rewarded for having kids. Whereas women who have a baby between the ages of 25 and 35, which happened to be your prime childbearing years, earnings never recover relative to their male partners. So unfortunately there’s a lot of really disheartening data around how mothers are treated in the workplace and were also a lot of times judged more harshly for the same behavior, needing to come in late or having to leave early than childless colleagues. So there’s a lot of things that we’re up against. There’s a lot of cultural assumptions that we have to really point out and challenge.

Emily: I mean what do you make of that? Because I feel like I have two children and since becoming a mother I have been impressed is like not even emphasizing it enough with how much moms have to multitask, prioritize, like work until the job is done even if you’re totally exhausted, be leaders and encouragers, innovators like, I mean problem solving all the time. Like those are the top characteristics I feel like in almost any job that people want to see. Why haven’t we been able to successfully sort of like translate that that being a mom actually helps you be a better employee? I’ve been a journalist for 20 years, but I’ve also run a couple of startup companies just as like a sort of a side story. I sometimes get asked to go and speak at business schools. Specifically, people like that I’m sort of a female entrepreneur and I can excite young women who are in business school, right? I was talking with two men who are executives of successful startups, we’ll say. And before we went out in front of the audience they were asking me questions about, you know, sort of like what was I going to talk about? And I often talk about business leaders that I’ve interviewed as a journalist as well as my sort of firsthand experience in business. So I was sort of saying that and I had just had my daughter I think or maybe she was like a couple of years old. I remember being like, but really what I want to tell them is like if you’re trying to hire other people who are entrepreneurial, like since I became a mom, I’ve realized like every mom is a super hardcore entrepreneur.

Katherine Goldstein: Yes.

Emily: Because you have to like pull yourself up every morning and like with a smile on your face, get through the day and do it in a way where you’re finding joy and you’re, you know, finding fulfillment. But you’re also like really being super hyper-productive. And these guys literally started laughing. I was very serious. They thought I was kidding. Like they definitely thought that I was being sarcastic and I was like, oh no, I’m totally serious. And it became really awkward before we walked onto the stage because I was like, fuck, like, okay.

Katherine Goldstein: Yeah.

Emily: No one else sees it this way.

Katherine Goldstein: So unfortunately most workplaces in America are basically still set up for the idea that the ideal worker is like a 1950s dude who has no caretaking responsibilities and that they have, if they have a family, they have someone at home that’s taking care of everything. And so since most workplaces basically prize that as the most valuable worker still, and as you say, mothers bring so much creative thinking, so much good time management, so much problem solving. And I mean I think that for people who are aware of these, I mean I know from my own experience of working with and hiring mothers, if you want something done, give it to a busy working mother like she is going to get it done. I think unfortunately so many workplaces have not caught up to this. Of course there are starting to be more progressive thinking about this and I think some places are starting to see that having a diverse workforce with a lot of different perspectives and life experiences makes companies stronger and makes companies better. But unfortunately the default is basically like any caregiving responsibilities is going to drag on a productivity because it’s a deviation from this like perfect 1950s probably white dude who has nothing to do except work.

Emily: And so how do you solve for that?

Katherine Goldstein: There are a couple of trends that I see in workplaces that I find encouraging, which is basically there’s a lot of media aimed at moms that basically tell us that if we want something to be fixed in our lives, there’s all sorts of self help and sort of how-to and tips and tricks and hacks for making our lives better. And basically, I’m tired of people telling mothers to change. I think that mothers have done as much as we possibly can to change. And so we need to sort of get together and start changing workplaces in our culture and our society and our public policy from within. So some of the things that I find really encouraging are groups of women getting together to change their company policies, whether it’s family leave or other kinds of flexible work arrangements and not just sort of accepting, you know, the default of workplaces that are not flexible and are not set up for people with caregiving responsibilities. And the final episode of The Double Shift is all about changing family leave policies from within at the New York Times. And sort of think, looking at that sort of nationally in terms of how people can change that. So I basically think in my experience, people without this life experience don’t just miraculously understand what mothers need and people with caretaking responsibilities need to thrive in the workplace. Like it has to be presented to them, it has to be demanded and there’s a lot of good business evidence that it makes sense to retain these, you know, these workers. And losing people because they’re having kids or they don’t have good family leave actually hurts companies bottom lines.

Emily: And when you say that the level of salary doesn’t ever return or isn’t restored, I feel like I’d like to talk a little more about that because one of the big sort of counterarguments that I think we hear a lot is the idea that like women are paid less than men because they take this time off for motherhood. Therefore men continue on their career trajectory and that allows that, you know, sort of like whatever annual raise or new opportunities. And so it’s not actually like sexism, it’s that women are choosing to do this. I’m sure you have a lot to say on that topic.

Katherine Goldstein: So studies actually show that even if you factor for, you know, time off for a paid or unpaid maternity leave or other kinds of breaks in the workforce, these earnings still never recover. So these studies aren’t just sort of like, oh well they took maternity leave off, so that’s less time in the workforce. And that’s the reason. Even when people isolate for that, women are still, their earnings never recover. I think there’s also been a lot of really interesting reporting lately about basically this idea of these, the idea that you can’t have a family and have two people with this kind of demanding career. So you have to have someone who does take a back burner and it’s usually the mother in straight relationships. And I think Claire Cain Miller has done some really great reporting on that because companies aren’t flexible. It’s better economically for, you know, the dad to have a job that works 50 or 60 hours a week and the mom to have a job that works 20 hours a week versus them both working 40 hours a week. That’s not the way the economy is set up for high paying jobs. And so unfortunately this factors even for choosing to take time off, but a lot of times this idea of choosing isn’t a choice when workplaces are so inflexible and there’s so little support for parents.

Emily: Well, and I think the other important thing to add anecdotally, at least from my own experience and certainly from friends, is that there is this challenge in terms of balance, right? If you’re in a partnership with somebody else who’s very ambitious or works long hours. You know, childcare is like, I feel like such a hindrance to people in the workforce that especially burdens women, right?

Katherine Goldstein: Yes.

Emily: And so, you know, one of the things I’ve been interested in is this idea of like how does the United States compare to other countries? And it seems like in other countries just sort of like universal healthcare, like they figured it out. It’s not so complicated. Women work at a much sort of easier way of life, the kids are cared for, but I don’t really know what that would look like here. Have you spent any time thinking more about like how we could remedy some of these sort of tangential although they’re pretty direct influences on working moms?

Katherine Goldstein: Yeah, so basically there’s an idea in America that if you have a kid it’s up to you to figure everything out yourself. And basically families across the country are just constantly reinventing the wheel and the cost of high quality child care continues to be astronomical and makes, creates a huge amount of stress and financial pressure on families. I mean, I think it’s a sort of thing where, because we’ve had this individualist mindset, there haven’t been enough public policy discussions about how to actually fix this. It’s just always been childcare’s expensive. That’s too bad. And I’m really excited about the 2020 election in that real concrete proposals around childcare and pre-k are actually being discussed really for the first time in a serious way and quite awhile. So I think that other countries in Europe have systems where not only do they have real paid family leave because it’s very, very expensive to send a newborn and or an infant to childcare. They have real paid family leave. And then they have spots that are heavily subsidized by the government so people can pay an amount that’s affordable for them to still get high quality childcare. And of course like there are issues with wait lists and not enough space, but it’s a totally different kind of conversation than the one we’re having here.

Emily: Do you think that’s possible here?

Katherine Goldstein:I mean, I think that, I think that the question of what’s possible, I think we’re in a time of great political turmoil. And so I think that mothers and families clamoring for this and demanding this changes a conversation. I think, unfortunately, in our country we have this sense that if you get anything at all, if you get any paid family leave, that’s good enough and you should just be grateful for what you have and shut up about it. And I think that there’s some generational shifts that are happening and I think that being a working parent and working mother is so difficult, that I actually think it’s going to start affecting the birth rate in a significant way. So I think that we’re at a moment where if people start speaking up, these issues are going to get more attention. And I, you know, I wish I had a political crystal ball, but I definitely feel like there’s a lot more energy around these issues than there ever have been before.

Emily: Well, the other thing that comes to mind is this idea of, as an entrepreneur, I would say I now have, you know, a couple of different things that I’m doing. And it’s like I try to get everything done while my kids are at school. I have had au pairs, they didn’t work out. I’ve had babysitters. Some of them were great, but then they move on to other things. Like there’s such an instability with that that I have just sort of tried to cram everything into the time where the kids are at school. And they’re now old enough that they’re at school most of the day, so that helps a lot. But I also think what’s interesting is that having run small businesses, I also am acutely aware of the fact that like I couldn’t afford to pay somebody for a year off, right. Or even six months off, right. It was like it would tank the business if I was counting on somebody and I had to hire somebody to come in to fill their position, right? And still promise that person their job back. As much as I would love to be able to do that, I don’t see how that’s possible. So on the one hand, I think the experience that I had being an entrepreneur before kids gave me a business acumen that I find incredibly helpful now. But I also realized after I had kids that I couldn’t be an entrepreneur where I was beholden to investors, right? Or, you know, had a business partner because my life was too unstable and I didn’t feel like I could put in the 70 hours a week whether I was, you know, at 2020 in Prime Time in New York as a journalist or working as an entrepreneur. And so I was sort of like, well I’m going to have to, as you said, recreate the wheel a little and try to figure out what can I do on my own that’s still is going to be intellectually stimulating, feel like I’m contributing to the world, as well as earning some money and taking care of my kids and my family. So it’s interesting because I feel like the entrepreneurial thing is a double edged sword, right? On the one hand it’s really great if you are somebody who has the drive, has some experience or acumen enough to learn what to do in terms of how to start a business. But it’s awful if you’re hiring for people who may be pregnant or, I mean like I feel like we have to just have that kind of honest conversation also because there is a lot of the American business market that would fail if they had to pay workers who needed time off, right? And I think we’re seeing this even with like we did an episode on Alzheimer’s and the amount of money that families are paying out of pocket right now for caretaking, which has either been allocated as like money that is, you know, sort of their time worth or money that they’re actually paying somebody else to do it. It’s like in the trillions of dollars. I mean it’s like insane. And so you sort of think like as the baby boomers age, right? And we’re at least I’m in the, you know, in my early forties like I feel like I have little kids, I have aging parents, I have a full time job, my husband works, you know, seven days a week. Like how does this all get figured out, right? And if he and I didn’t have the flexibility to make our own schedules, it would be really, really, I think probably depressing. I mean I already feel an extreme amount of guilt that like I don’t have more time. And I feel like that’s something that I’m constantly working on. So I mean I feel like there’s a lot to talk about just in what I just said, but I think the question I would put to you is sort of like what advice do you have for women who are pregnant or want to be moms soon or are new moms and are finding that like the corporate culture, like no longer is welcoming of them. Are you for this idea of like sort of mama-preneurs or like, you know, starting your own thing or is that like sort of that’s just not fair and we need to demand better?

Katherine Goldstein: I want to pick all of the above. So basically I think we do need to demand better and people deserve to not be discriminated against in their pregnancies. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity when they returned from work. This is why national paid family leave is so important because it can’t be left to just business by business or small business owner by small business owner because people can’t afford to give this this leave. That’s why this has to be a national effort. It just makes no sense. You know, it’s the same thing as asking for a small business to cover all the costs of public school. That’s not how the society works. We pay taxes. There’s different ways of paying for things and you get the different kinds of benefits that you need. I do think that I have observed that many mothers are leaving the workforce to become Mama-preneurs. I guess that’s the term. I actually don’t like that term. I think it’s, I think it’s a little bit demeaning actually because I think that a lot of women find that workplaces are inflexible and they don’t support them in their caretaking needs and their life priorities. And so there’s a lot of creativity and ingenuity in those women starting businesses on their own. And just because they’re not necessarily following like a venture model or they’re not, you know, trying to expand to 10 or 20 or one hundred employees, like I don’t think we should discount those efforts. I think that those are an important part of the American economy and I think that it’s part of other kinds of models of business that aren’t totally male dominated and seen as, you know, making the most possible money and growth as like the capitalist model as the only measure of success. So I think that we should both demand that our workplaces get better, demand our public policy gets better, and also like champion people who are figuring it out on their own. I am a media entrepreneur in my own way and you know, I’ve started a small media company and it’s really tough. The business model for media is tough, but in some ways part of it is that even though I’m working harder than I ever did working for someone else, part of it is that I just don’t want to answer to anyone anymore. And so that’s sort of my own choice and sort of the life I want to lead.

Emily: Well, one of the other things that sort of like, just occurs to me while I’m talking to you too, is that I feel like there are these sort of inflection points in careers, right? I feel like, you know, your late twenties or early thirties like you’re working to make partner, you’re working to like prove yourself and that is a very demanding time in a career, whereas later, you know, I mean if we sort of tallied up how much time executives spend on the golf course and like maybe you could call that networking, right? Or like you could come up with some cognitive dissonance for why that’s different. You know, I think that that’s also a huge part of why this is, I guess, especially impacting for women, right? Is that they’re being taken out, whether it’s voluntary or not, right?

Katherine Goldstein: Yes.

Emily: At a time when is, I don’t know, it sort of like the culmination of all of your efforts. Like that’s when you’re most evaluated about whether you’re going to become an executive or whether you’re going to become a partner or a doctor or, you know, whatever in these sort of traditional roles.

Katherine Goldstein: Yes. Unfortunately I think there’s too much sort of sugarcoating about, you know, women choosing to leave the workforce. I mean I think a lot of times it really isn’t a choice because of how inflexible or hostile work environments are. And so that’s another way I think that women sort of stay quiet and make it seem like a personal decision when really a lot of mothers are pushed out. And so I think changing our workplace culture to allow a lot of different people to thrive, not just mothers, but you know, anyone with caretaking responsibilities or other life interests outside of work is like so crucial for the future of the American economy.

Emily: Yeah. And I feel to give a little like nod wink to the millennials that get crapped on constantly. It’s like I think in some ways like their idea of experience and work life balance that you see like sort of portrayed sometimes in negative ways like could help with the solution to this. This idea of like, no, like I don’t want to be at my job all the time, you know what I mean? And that I do want to have other things in my life that I care about and that that’s important for my overall health and will make me happier and a better worker. I feel like it feels very synonymous with this too.

Katherine Goldstein: Yes, I totally agree. I’m an elderly millennial. I’m an old millennial myself. And interestingly like about 80% of new parents are millennials. So most of the people having babies now are millennials. And I have noticed in my research and reporting some significant generational shifts in terms of people just not accepting these policies. I think there was always this idea of workplace, like this is what they say you can do and you just have to accept it. And I do think there’s some really big generational changes of just saying like, why do I have to accept that? Why can’t I work from home? You know, challenging some of these social norms in the workplace that are actually really positive. And so in that way, I think this sort of negative stereotype about millennials being entitled is actually creating much more positive work environments.

Emily: We’re going to switch gears slightly and talk to professor Kathleen McGinn who’s at Harvard business school whose research really focuses on gender and class at work, home and in negotiations.

Kathleen McGinn: Hi, I’m Kathleen McGinn. I’m the Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

Emily: So my mom was a stay at home mom and there were four kids in my family. You know, I often say like, oh, she didn’t work. Four kids, four different schools, she was like on the board of directors at all those schools. She was working with the town to build a science program for the public school. I mean, she was working, she just wasn’t getting paid, right? And I think that’s an important distinction to make.

Kathleen McGinn: Absolutely. So one of the things that I often say when I’m talking with people about this research is I try very hard not to use the term working mom. All moms work. And all moms work very hard. Like you, I was raised by a full time stay at home mom, one of five kids. I couldn’t agree with you more. There are so many pieces involved in raising children and I think partially what you learned from your parents is sort of egalitarianism. My guess is, if you reflect back on your upbringing, your mom and dad were equal in lots of ways. That often comes because the women are employed. And that was true in my upbringing. One of the things about these studies like ours that use big, big data sets, is what we’re seeing is overall effects. We’re not able to pull apart, okay, let’s segment the moms who stayed at home full time, but in reality were simply doing unpaid employment outside the home. We don’t have those data. What we do know is the effect on attitudes and social learning could come from lots of different approaches that mothers and fathers take to raising their children.

Emily: So I have two kids and one of the things that I have, I mean I sort of thought I would be a stay at home mom and then couldn’t do it. I felt like it was way too hard to be disconnected from my sort of like adult interests. I didn’t feel like I was being a good mom. And so I had sort of to have this, you know, awakening moment of like, wow, that’s really hard work and it’s not something that I’m super great at or that I get fulfilled by in the same way that I do, I’ve run a couple of startup companies and then also through journalism. And so I had to kind of shift my own sense of identity. And so when I think about my mom’s work, one of the things that I was really struck by with this study too is this idea of women who have moms are also more likely to have, like the wage gap is less true too. And I think that’s really interesting, right? Because part of my model was, of course you work, you’re not going to stay home and watch TV all day, right? And there’s all kinds of organizations that need you to have, you know, my mom had, taught at Perkins School, so she had a masters in special ed and so she could kind of go into schools and figure out, you know, how does this school work and what is the right way to, you know, build a new program or do different things and raise money and all that stuff. But because she didn’t get paid, the idea that I’m interested in making money is much more identified with my dad than it is with my mom. And so one of the things that I was interested in, in the work that you guys are doing, is this idea of like, no, it’s okay for a woman to say, yeah, I’m a mom and I want to make a lot of money. You know what I mean? Like that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you have a defect of some kind that like your children aren’t your top priority. I mean my kids are my top priority, but they’re not my only priority. And I think, you know, even talking to friends, like that’s something that is sort of like hush hush or not as, we’re not beating our chests the way that like some of my male friends are about their intention or their ambition. But I think one of the things that I really loved about what you’re doing is you’re sort of saying like, no, celebrate that too because for your daughter to see that you are paid, maybe that is part of this, right? Or this idea of being able to negotiate a little or turn to your mom for advice about how to negotiate a salary, right? Like all that stuff becomes a separate channel of advice for children.

Kathleen McGinn: Yes, it does. I think there also is an effect that’s going on the longer you’re in the workplace, the more you adopt the norms of the workplace. And the norms of the work place are that money reflects your value for better or for worse. But I think partially what’s going on with women being more interested in high wages is that they now have the opportunity to earn those high wages and they’re in environments where that is a marker of success. The effect of for kids at home, I don’t know that mother’s income is necessarily reflected at home. What we do see, if you look at the type of work that mothers are engaged in, the strongest effect on income of the daughter does come from women who are engaged in high level high skill work. That’s somewhat reminiscent of decades of research that shows that boys tend to do with their fathers do.

Emily: You mean like your dad’s a doctor, you are a doctor.

Kathleen McGinn: Exactly. And we’re seeing that same thing with girls and their mothers. So the likelihood that you’re earning more money goes up with how much money your mother earned. But whether that’s modeling at home or whether that’s career choice is unclear. My guess is that it’s career choice.

Emily: Yeah because I also think that’s an interesting influence. I mean, again, I know we started the same that like I love that you have data and now I’m just going on all these anecdotal tangents so it’s hard not to, you know. So my dad was an entrepreneur, he ran a couple of different companies. He started companies. He was a consultant. But he used to come home and he traveled a lot, but he would come home and he would sort of sit down with us and he would talk about like, you know, this business is in a crisis because of this, this and this. Like what do you think they should do? And it was engaging. I mean, I don’t know that he actually took our advice and brought it back to the board room, but like he taught us about business in a way that wasn’t about a balance sheet or an income statement. It was about the people involved and it was very accessible to us as kids. That was a huge part of my, I think sense of confidence in terms of like, well I could, sure I could start a business, why wouldn’t I? You know what I mean? Which maybe it was naive, but you know, so if I had had a mom who was also doing that or was doing something similar, I’m sure the effect would be stronger. Or if you know, the father is a doctor or the father’s a stay at home father and the mom is doing, I think that that talking about work stuff. I have a very good friend who started duck tours in Boston when my son was really little and I was sort of having a hard time with like, what do I do? It’s three in the afternoon, I’m so bored. And she was like, if you talk to kids about work, even when they’re really little, they come up with solutions to problems. And so she was sort of saying like, you know, talk to them about what’s happening in the news. Not in a, you know, like the violence stuff, but like conflicts that are happening or things and ask what their resolution would be. And it’s a great way to spark a conversation and she’s totally right. And she was saying that she, her son goes to school in Boston and that they would walk home and on their walk home he’d say like how was your day? And he would talk a little bit about what happened at his school and she would talk about how, you know, whatever it was that she was dealing with at work. And then it became this very like sort of organic and nice way for them to share information where he then could build on the things that she had told him she was struggling with at work. That was really interesting.

Kathleen McGinn: Yeah so there’s a couple of things going on in what you’re talking about and anecdotes are useful illustrations of what we see in research and they’re useful ideas pursue with research. So there is some recent research on parenting that shows exactly what you’re talking about. And that is that the success of children can be predicted by the types of conversational engagement that parents have with their children when the children are young. So this, you can think about it, the conversation you’re talking about is as conceptual. Not just about things and times and real objective issues. They’re about conceptual issues and those are good predictors of kids’ successes as adults. In our research, one of the things that we look at is the extent to which men raised by stay at home moms are spending time with their kids and partially that’s coming out of this idea that the mom sort of can’t do everything and so is probably engaging with her daughters and her sons in a different way, in a potentially more egalitarian way. This goes back to your idea that maybe I learned some things from my mom and some things from my dad. Of course you did. Reflecting your mom, you thought you were going to be a stay at home mom. And reflecting your dad, you realized that you were really interested in engaging with the world in sort of the way he did. I’m also a mom. My mom was stay at home. My dad was a professor. I’m a professor. Again, we do learn from both of our parents and as parents become more egalitarian in the way they deal with one another, we pick up more across them as opposed to sort of the same sex role model. So, I do think that anecdotes matter. They tell us what to pay attention to and they give us illustrations of things that seem, you no, like just a bunch of numbers on paper.

Emily: And then in terms of looking at sort of lower income women who, you know, I feel like we always say like, oh, women just started working and it’s like, that’s not accurate at all, right? Like lower income women have always had to work and they’ve had kids and they’ve had to manage all of this. Do you see in the same kind of patterns reflected in that?

Kathleen McGinn: So early research on maternal employment focused on the effects on very young children. This was research in the 70s and 80s. And that research shows a small, but positive effect on children’s behavioral issues and educational, sort of think about educational in terms of preschool, performance. Mostly for low income women’s children. So the positive effects on little kids really is in the sort of lower income homes. When we look at our data across countries and across time what we see is that lower, women who have lower skilled jobs, we don’t actually know income, we know the type of job that they had. Women who had lower skilled jobs, their daughters work more hours. So the best predictor of this big difference between women whose moms were employed and not employed in terms of hours worked, comes in these lower, from these lower income families. So moms really are teaching their kids, look, you can do this, it’s hard, but you can do it. And there’s lots of value that comes from it. The other piece that we haven’t talked about yet, that’s really important is there’s this belief that somehow yeah, maybe the daughters are working more and the boys are more involved with their families but they’re probably unhappy. And so we did look at life satisfaction and satisfaction at home and there’s a number of different variables we looked at. And basically what we find is a lot of nothing. There is no effect for being raised by a full time stay at home mom or an employed mom, highly educated mom, et cetera. That’s not predicting your children’s happiness. It is predicting your daughter’s employment, which in some ways is not surprising and it’s predicting your son’s engagement at home, but it’s not predicting how happy or satisfied your children are with their lives.

Emily: Well and I think one of the things that that, and I’m going to make a leap here, so you absolutely should tell me this is not right. It’s very trendy to talk about sense of purpose. But I think there is something really valid to the idea of feeling a sense of self worth through contributing to something larger than yourself, right? And you know, I think for my mom she had a lot of really intellectual interests that she wasn’t fulfilling staying home with kids and that she found through helping out at our schools, right? Or you know, sort of developing these programs that she had developed. But I think what you’re getting at is like there may be people or there are people certainly right, like my mom, who got a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction from feeling like she was raising four kids and that that was her focus. And we just interviewed Sarah McCall who wrote a memoir called Joy Enough, which is fantastic. And it’s about her getting a divorce at the same time as her mom dying. But it really is about finding pockets of joy in your life no matter how rough things are. So it’s a beautiful story even though it sounds very depressing. And one of the things when I was interviewing Sarah that she said that I was really struck by was like her mom thought that her job was the most important job in the world because she was raising this new generation that was going to change the world and that was going to make things better and that was going to have an impact. And that was her work. And I think one of the things that I see in my, you know, sort of friend base with women who are mostly working though I have some friends that are not working.

Kathleen McGinn: They’re all working.

Emily: They’re all working. Right. Excuse me, they’re all working. Some are getting paid and some are not. Is this idea of like how do I have an impact and am I maximizing my impact and like what does that look like on social media versus like how exhausted I am at the end of the day and where does my happiness really come from? And I think in some ways this, you know, we’re in a moment, I believe, of transition for women where we have all these opportunities but we haven’t figured out really how to manage it. So I’m not at all surprised that there are people who are, you know, whether we want to call them naysayers or whatever saying like there is no way you can be happy when you’re trying to do all this. I graduated from Smith College in 2000 and our graduation speaker basically said to us like, you’ve been fed a load of crap. You cannot have both. Don’t try to think that you can have both. Judy Chicago is an artist and this was like her big message to us and we were pissed after that. We were like, what are you talking, like we just spent four years studying at Smith believing we can change the world. We can have it all. Your final message to us is no, you can’t. Even with my own family, like I’ve had arguments with my dad where he’s like really hard on me about something that kids have done wrong or they’ve displayed some extreme emotion as a five and a seven year old will do. And he brings it back to me working. For me, that’s really, I mean it’s so hard because his opinion means so much to me, but my mom has basically said like, you’re doing things that your father and I didn’t know was possible. So like you have to kind of cut him a little bit of slack because you’re doing it, but we’re not sure. Are you happy? Like are the kids okay? Like you’re kind of like in an incubator and we’re watching and probably diagnosing.

Kathleen McGinn: There luckily has been some die down in what people used to call them Mommy Wars. The ideal is not that all women are employed outside the home. That all men, you know, spend a big portion of their lives raising children. The ideal is that people are able to search for what they can be good at, what they can be happy doing, what they feel can contribute and that society provides both the opportunities and that sort of normative or societal support for whatever choices people make. The strength of a society is built on the diversity of contributions that the people in society can make. So in an ideal world, men and women say, what would I be absolutely best at? It may be that I’m absolutely best at staying home and making a wonderful community in my home and raising my children and being part of the school system. It may be that the best I can do to contribute to society is to be an astronaut and not have any children and to spend my time out in space. And there’s worlds of opportunities between those two. And I think what our research has done is not to say, look, women should all be employed, but to say what you do is giving a message to your children, think about and choose that and lots of mothers would be very happy for their daughters to not be employed and that’s totally fine. And women should do what it is fulfills them because it’s good for their families and for themselves and for society, as opposed to doing what sort of traditional gender norms say is the right thing for women to do.

Emily: Just to wrap up, one of the other things that I am struck by, and I know you’ve written on this, is like sort of some of the parallels to the sort of Me Too Movement and how the more women sort of share these stories and talk about these kinds of things. The more these movements become, I mean they’re already a reality, right? But like they become more of a problem we can solve I guess, or something to be aware of. I was just really interested to ask you, when you think about the Me Too stuff, one of the things that I’ve thought about and I’ve talked a bit about is this idea of generational differences, right? And so the generation before us, I can say I guess like they may have been sexually harassed, they may have had mentors who did creepy things to them, but they were kind of told and then kind of amongst themselves, I guess you could say like collectively just, you know, there was this idea of like keep your head down, kind of be grateful that you’re in the job or like you’re in that environment, which is a male environment and you’re the outlier, right? So like don’t make a fuss. And now people are like, no, like the environment needs to change, right? Like the woman doesn’t need to tolerate that. It’s the environment that needs to change. And so I’m sort of curious because you know, when we started talking you mentioned about how like if somebody has something on their resume that gives off that their mom, that that can be a hindrance to the hiring process. Like, do you have advice for women based on all the research you’ve done and on your podcast, you know, talking to a lot of different about like should you erase the PTA from your resume or should you like go in there loud and proud?

Katherine Goldstein: This is a really good question. And I take this really seriously because I don’t think there’s like a magic bullet and like follow these three formula, you know, take these three easy steps and you’re going to avoid anti-mom bias in your career, like I think it’s so complicated. My advice based on the research and data I have seen would be to not put the PTA on your resume and not discuss your kids or your family plans in a job interview. That’s what would be my professional opinion and then, but I would look for a lot of signs when evaluating a company for yourself about whether they have other working parents there. When you go in are that people have pictures of their kids on the desks. Do they do a Take-Your-Kids-to-Work Day, are they advertising their family leave policy? Like those are ways for you to understand what kind of culture it’s going to be because I don’t believe like you should hide what you, you know, hide your family responsibilities and then once you get there, you’re in a hostile environment. I don’t think that’s the answer. But I would say in a job situation, keeping your cards close to your chest, but then also doing your own evaluation about what kind of company and culture you would be walking into and then I absolutely believe that people should be transparent about their caretaking responsibilities, especially those in power. And that is especially true for men. Like it’s part of a feminist cause for men to be transparent about having kids and the responsibilities they have rather than saying like, oh, I’m going out for a late meeting when really they’re having to go pick up their kids at daycare or working from home today. You know, no further explanation when really their kid is sick. Like, I think that men have a very important example to set that actually can help working mothers a lot. So I think that mothers need to, I mean I’ve received, you know, so many emails about stories of discrimination that I know this is real and I don’t ever want to set someone up to be discriminated against. But I do think that unfortunately we have to take precautions and sort of evaluate things on your own. And if you ever think you’re being discriminated against in the workplace, I always recommend people to take like very detailed notes because you can use that in legal action in the future.

Emily: Sort of in real time, like a diary?

Katherine Goldstein: Yes, yeah.

Emily: And in terms of the podcast, can you tell us a little bit about why you launched the podcast and you know what themes you’re seeing because you’re talking to a lot of different kinds of people or people in different situations.

Katherine G: Yes. So I launched the podcast because I really wanted a much more extensive conversation about working motherhood in America. Beyond, I had been a text-based journalist until I launched the podcast, and I wanted to have a much more involved conversation and I wanted to sort of see what kind of community could be created around sort of a more feminist perspective, on motherhood and mothers’ identities outside of their kids. So I felt like a podcast was really the best way to do that kind of storytelling and reporting. So we have profiled a really, really wide range of people from politicians to musicians to sex workers to executives. So, we’ve talked to many kinds of mothers and I think probably the thread that sort of runs through all the different types of mothers that we’ve talked about or interviewed and profiled and done reporting on, is basically they all face huge amounts of judgment for their life choices. And so that’s like true for sex workers. And it’s true for a mom with little kids running for office. And it’s true for a pregnant punk musician. And it’s true for a Muslim sex educator. And like what is so fascinating is they are so different, but societal judgment like remains constant no matter what their life choices are. So that was really eye opening to me as we sort of went through the first season.

Emily: That sort of feels like a relief almost, right? Like it’s like, Oh God, don’t even try to change anything because it’s going to be true no matter what you do.

Katherine Goldstein: I think every mother in America feels judged and I think once you realize we’re all being judged, even people who you really look up to and admire, it can be really freeing because like if you just let go, like it doesn’t really, it does not matter what you do, people will judge you then that I think gives a lot of space to just like not, just not care what other people think.

Emily: Totally. Because you realize you can’t control it.

Katherine Goldstein: Nope, nope. Just do like what makes you fulfilled and happy and that you really don’t have to worry about everyone else.

Emily: (02:28)

To close out this episode. I feel like it’s important to just recap slightly that it seems like there is a benefit to mothers working on their children perhaps especially on their daughters, which I think is a little bit of encouragement when those of us who have daughters who are working a lot feel guilty about leaving them. I think there’s this idea that we need to be with our kids all the time and you know, a lot of people have talked about this in terms of like you have to be your kid’s playmate all the time and that our moms used to open the back door and let us go run around. But I actually think this idea of modeling is so important in parenting and so it makes a lot of sense to me that if you are modeling a healthy relationship with your own work life, then it sets the stage for your child. Probably both boys and girls to be really excited about their own future careers. As a side note, it didn’t make it into this episode, but I wrote a big story for Boston magazine where I looked at power couples in town and I was really struck by the fact that so many of the men in the power couples had had working moms, which sort of inspired this episode for me in many ways. Again, going back to that idea of modeling, it made a lot of sense, right? These guys had seen their mom’s work and in many cases be really sort of like strong powerhouses in their own jobs back when women didn’t do that as often. That allowed them to see their role, helping out with domestic work, not as an emasculation of, you know, their role in the family but as just a way of sharing duties and they all are so proud of their wives and encouraging and supportive that I wanted to dig into that a little bit more. And so I was psyched when I found some research to you know, sort of back that up, which is not normally how we cover things. But in this case I feel like the anecdote sort of led the data. So anyway, I hope you all have enjoyed this. I’m sure we’ll talk more about this as a stressor and as also a source of joy and a source of inspiration for kids. So as always, thanks for joining us and you know, if you feel inclined, please share this. We’re really excited that the audience is growing as quickly as it is. But the goal here is to get good information to women everywhere. And the best way to do that is to have you all send it out to your friends, mom’s sisters, aunts, grandmothers, grandchildren, any woman that you feel like could benefit from these topics. I’m Emily Kumler and that was Empowered Health. Thanks for joining us. Don’t forget to check out our website at empoweredhealthshow.com for all the show notes, links to everything that was mentioned in the episode, as well as a chance to sign up for our newsletter and get some extra fun tidbits. See you next week.


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