"There’s no reason why women who are pregnant or who are parents of young children can’t be effective in senior-level positions, so long as their organization supports them in meeting the added demands of family life which most working mothers face at home."
This week on Ask a Woman
, we’re tackling a timely question raised by the news coverage of recently appointed Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer’s pregnancy
. Answering this question is Dr. Fiona McQuarrie
. Dr. McQuarrie has been researching and writing about work and organizations for nearly 20 years. Her areas of interest include industrial relations, organizational theory, workplace diversity, management history, and the interaction between work and leisure. She is the author of the textbook Industrial Relations in Canada
which is in its third edition and is used in courses at more than 30 universities and colleges across Canada. Dr. McQuarrie is a faculty member in the School of Business at the University of the Fraser Valley
(UFV). You can visit Dr. McQuarrie at her blog, All About Work
We are grateful to her for sharing her insight and expertise.
Biology may not be destiny any more, but isn’t it disingenuous to claim that it has no impact whatsoever on a woman’s career? Can a woman who is pregnant or has young children really be as effective in a demanding, senior-level role as a man or a childless woman?
I doubt anyone would claim that motherhood has no impact at all on a woman's career. But I would turn this question around and ask why organizations don’t do more to accommodate the needs of women who are mothers—or about to become mothers, like Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer. There’s no reason why women who are pregnant or who are parents of young children can’t be effective in senior-level positions, so long as their organization supports them in meeting the added demands of family life which most working mothers face at home—what some sociologists have labeled the “double shift” or “second shift.”
Since women still tend to assume most domestic responsibilities, motherhood usually has more of an impact on women’s work effectiveness than fatherhood does on men’s work effectiveness. Work arrangements such as flextime
, job sharing
, and part-time work
can help women manage the “double shift.” Such arrangements might not be perceived as being feasible for senior-level positions—but, in my opinion, they can be, especially if organizations are willing to think creatively and be innovative about how work is structured and what sort of time commitment it’s reasonable to expect from employees. Many employees could be more effective at work if flexible work arrangements were more widely available—and that category isn’t limited to women. Any employee who must care for an elder, a family member with a disability, or a sick child, as well as any employee dealing with a chronic illness, would benefit from these policies. Research indicates that employees feel greater loyalty to organizations that make it easier to balance work and family.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, recently wrote a widely discussed article in The Atlantic
about her experience trying to balance her responsibilities as a parent and a senior-level government official. In her words, “[To] value family over professional advancement, even for a time, is directly at odds with the prevailing social pressures on career professionals.” Research shows that even when work accommodations like parental leave are available, some employees are reluctant to use them out of fear that doing so may lead to being seen as insufficiently committed to the organization or to their careers.
In my view, the question we should be asking is not “Are mothers and about-to-be mothers capable of being effective executives?” The question we need to start asking is, “Why won’t organizations do more to help talented women reach the top?”