"Opting Out" discussion reaches the tipping point
A number of new books have revived the conversation about the "opt-out" phenomenon of women leaving the workforce to focus on family caregiving, and their efforts to build "on-ramps" back to work.
I appeared on The Today Show right before Mother's Day to discuss this issue, which has been relevant to my work as Mojo Mom. It was a challenge to get my message out on a large panel that included New York Times reporter Lisa Belkin, The Feminine Mistake author Leslie Bennetts, and psychologist Gail Saltz. I am proud to report that I accomplished my major goal of endorsing MomsRising.org on air.
I acknowledge that "Opting out" is a controversial topic, for good reason. Even among married mothers of preschoolers, the group we'd peg as prime "opt out" candidates, 70% are in the workforce. It has been argued that the minority of privileged women who take "off-ramps" receive a disproportionate share of the media spotlight. MomsRising is aware of this dynamic and is consciously striving to make our Open, Flexible Work platform widely applicable to all mothers.
The quality of the opt-out discussion has been elevated by several recent books and articles that I'd like to recommend. [more]
Sociologist Pamela Stone has done extensive reasearch to chronicle the work-life paths of mothers in her new book, Opting Out? Through interviews and her own analysis, Stone creates a coherent narrative that explores the joys, challenges, and social context of the opt-out phenomenon. Stone is featured in a video clip on The Today Show episode I appeared in, and she will be my guest on the May 25 episode of The Mojo Mom Podcast.
Harvard Business School Press has just published Sylvia Ann Hewlett's new book, Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success, which presents the business case in favor of offering glexible employment.
Ellen Goodman, my favorite columnistl, wrote a brillant Mother's Day piece on women being marginalized as "A third gender in the workplace" when our complicated lives are actually the norm. She wrestles with the "deep-seated bias that puts the image of a 'good mother' at odds with that of an 'ideal worker.'"
Sharon Lerner on Salon.com reminds us of the limitation of the opt-out story in her article, "The invisible mommies."
And finally, let's not forget the other scholars who have been writing about gender and the workplace for years now. I am planning to go back and really study Joan Williams' Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It.