Mother's Day an Increasingly Longer Day: Work vs. Family

Across America this Mother's Day, the adage "women's work is never done" rings especially true.

Women are joining the work force at a much faster rate than men. Over the next decade they will account for most of the growth in the labor force: 63 percent, says the US Labor Department.

American mothers enjoy working, in varying degrees, if they have decent childcare. Still, they work longer and harder today, not by choice but by necessity.

"Women's paychecks today are not about frills," says Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst, a New York-based advocacy group for working women. "The vast number of women who work do so to put bread on the table," she says.

Indeed, the American family depends increasingly on a woman's wage. Among married women, 48 percent provide at least half of the household income, according to a 1995 survey by the Families and Work Institute.

"The Ozzie and Harriet model is on its way to extinction," Ms. Wellington says.

Already, millions of working women stretch to balance work and home. Two of every five have children younger than 18, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The strains show no signs of easing. Two entrenched problems - stagnant incomes and threats to household income from job insecurity - drive women into the labor force, say many experts on women in the workplace.

In response, both government and corporations have given women far more room to juggle career and family.

Flex time - with a stigma

Pregnancy leave, flexible schedules, emergency leave, job sharing, and other family-friendly benefits are more widely spelled out and accepted. Some 60 percent of US companies offer some kind of scheduling flexibility, says Catalyst.

Financial-service companies rank highly for sensitivity to moms. Among the top 10 such companies, according to Working Mother magazine's annual ratings, are Barnett Banks, MBNA America Bank, and NationsBank.

Technology firms also show well, including Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Xerox. Other 1996 honors went to Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and Patagonia.

The rewards for such employers can be noteworthy.

Absenteeism and turnover rates fall. And talented women take notice and seek to join the firm, say experts

But in many workplaces, employees are penalized when they use family-oriented benefits. Careers for both women and men generally suffer for spending more time than their colleagues on family needs, say the experts.

"There is a widespread perception that employees who take advantage of flexible options are less committed to work," says Catalyst's Wellington.

"To really move ahead you have to devote your attention to the job at hand, and when you focus away from job to other things it will affect how you appear at work," says Hilary James-Kennedy, an assistant public defender in Cook County, Ill. She took a demotion in order to spend more time with her two young daughters.

Slow or stagnant income growth also means working women will keep working longer, especially as income pressures mount from college tuitions and saving for retirement.

Pressures on the job

On the job, mothers feel a push to do more with less. Amid widespread budget cutting, many governments are requiring staff to work more efficiently, say experts.

In private enterprise, downsizing and efforts to promote competitiveness bring a sense of job insecurity in US households. Many women join the work force because they know their family incomes stand more steadily on two legs.

The pace of corporate downsizing in the US is accelerating this year compared with last. And although the economy is creating more new jobs at the same time, the prospect of job loss delivers the specter of uncertainty to American doorsteps.

Stalled progress

"We see across the spectrum of women that downsizing has placed extraordinary demands on them at work and in the family," says Anne Ladky, executive director at Women Employed, a Chicago-based group. "This has thrown a wrench in the progress we have been making on work/family balance issues."

"For a working woman, it's getting harder and getting easier," says Ms. James-Kennedy.

"It's easier because it's not so unusual anymore to be a working mom, and you're not looked at as a freak or some sort of bad mommy," she says. "But it's getting harder because more is being expected and the work load is getting heavier."

Public and private sectors could ease the burden with better quality and accessibility of child care. A 1994 survey by the Women's Bureau at the US Labor Department identified that as the top concern of the American working woman.

"The more worry a mother expresses about her children, the lower her degree of satisfaction with work and other aspects of life," says Ms. Ladky. "There is a tremendous degree of worry that is robbing women of some of the satisfaction they could be getting from their work."

YOUR VOTE?

* Starting today, readers can voice their views electronically through The Christian Science Monitor. We've put a polling forum on the Monitor's Internet Web site, the e-Monitor. It's not a scientific survey, but a forum for opinion on topics covered in this newspaper.

Today's topic: What role should corporations play in helping parents balance work and career?

The basic requirements are a computer and a point of view. To weigh in, dial into the Internet, and in the address field of your Web browser program, type: http://www.csmonitor.com/

Vote today through Tuesday. We'll publish a summary of the responses in Friday's paper, May 16.

Mommy-Track Trends

* Executive mothers: 72 percent of female executives are married, and 64 percent have children, according to a 1996 survey of 461 women at vice president level and up in Fortune 1,000 companies.

* Women as breadwinners: 55 percent of working women provide half or more of their household incomes. Among married women, 48 percent provide half or more of household income. Some 71 percent of single mothers are employed.

* Ozzie and Harriet no more: 7 percent of all families conform to the tradition of a wage-earning dad, a stay-at-home mom, and one or more children. In 1969, the figure was 20 percent.

Source: Catalyst

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