Pregnant in the WNBA
I was at the same time cheered and chagrined to read an article in the New York Times Sports Section last weekend (January 24) about WNBA star Candace Parker’s effort to balance career and family.
I was pleased to read yet another example of a high achieving woman making choices about finding the right fit between parenting and professional life on her own terms.
Over the past several months Americans have become familiar with a 40-something female candidate for Vice President who is the mother of five; a 30-something international film star and UN Goodwill Ambassador who is the mother of six; a newly appointed Senator from New York who is mother to two very young children; and now the 22-year old marquee star of the WNBA who is having a child in the early prime of her career.
In all cases, we see that women can be successful at work and can find their own way to manage their family responsibilities.
Yet I also felt a familiar pang of disappointment that when a women wrestles with these choices it makes for headlines and feature stories, whereas a man’s decision on work-life is a footnote, if mentioned at all. When will it stop being news, but rather business as usual, that women and men alike make hard choices to pursue their careers in conjunction with a family?
For those in the front office of the WNBA or Los Angeles Sparks who worry about the short-term challenge of losing Parker for several months, they might be heartened by lessons learned from the business world.
Research conducted last year by our Institute and Catalyst shows that having the right fit between work and the rest of their lives was the third most important value to senior corporate leaders—both women and men. However, this study found that women were less likely than men to work in workplaces where their values were actually realized. When leaders worked in workplaces where they could manage their work and family life, they were much more likely to be engaged and to stay with their employers.
The takeaway for an employer in professional sports: support your star employee in her (or his) life choice today and you have a much better chance of winning loyalty in the long term. In the world of multi-million dollar athletes who often switch teams for the highest bidder, higher loyalty may pay very quantifiable dividends down the road. Meanwhile, I look forward to the day when such every day support plays out in private offices, not the media, as do most personal employment issues.
President and Founder
Families and Work Institute