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Hopping the train: women’s careers derailed

Moms with kids don't get to ride

Moms with kids don’t get to ride

Don’t get old

When “The Basket Case” Allison said “When you get older, your heart dies” in the Breakfast Club, my young self vowed to never let that happen. 30 years later, I’ve only succeeded in putting it off. Perhaps its the onset of a mid-life crisis or it’s all the fuss over Renée Zellweger’s face, but something in me has changed. It’s like a big train jumped the rails and barreled into my afternoon tea. “Silly me,” I’d say to my traumatized guests, “I forgot to mention this train. Canape?”

Ms. Zellweger, beloved portrayer of every-woman Bridget Jones, apparently committed a crime against humanity by getting her eyelids done. My friend and fellow writer Jill Ivey said Zellweger “Jennifer Grey-ed” herself, referring to a nose job that rendered Ms. Grey unrecognizable. Ms. Zellweger responded to her many critics by saying her career had become “not realistically sustainable” and that she is “living a different, happy, more fulfilling life and [she’s] thrilled that perhaps it shows.” God forbid we age or transform our career focus. My heart’s dying alright, but not from old age. It’s letting go of that last glimmer of hope my own career will turn out the way I was taught to expect.ReneeZellweger

Ms. Zellweger and I are not alone on this ride. Our peers, the ne’er-to-be-classified Generation X, are moving into salad-and-sandwich days. 47% of “middle-aged” (that’s the older Xers and younger Boomers) are simultaneously raising kids and caring for aging parents. On top of that we Xers are stuck in our lower paying, lower management jobs. It seems the Baby Boomers, especially those in professional positions, are working until they drop dead (35% don’t retire by age 65. The other 65% retire but most find other paying work). Silent Generation poster boy Warren Buffet is 81 and he’s still going into the office. At this rate, we Xers aren’t getting promoted until the year 2030.

Leave no man behind

Ah, but not all career trains are running on the same track, are they? In an October 2, 2014 article by Susan S. LaMotte at Time Magazine nicely demonstrated the sin of omission of women in talks about the GenX workforce: “…the average age of an S&P 1500 CEO is 50. And they’re already leading the majority of growing companies: 68% of Inc. 500 CEOs are Gen Xers.” Ms. LaMotte forgot to mention “male.” We women, the daughters of revolutionaries, have watched our careers be left to languish at the station. “Women today hold less than 20% of leadership positions in corporate America. Just 5% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women,” reported Palo Alto software CEO Sabrina Parsons in an October 20th article at Business Insider. Our careers have missed the train.

Like many GenX moms, I’m a casualty of the Mommy Wars. Not the Mommy Wars the media portrays as a moral fight between working and stay-at-home moms. Having been on both sides of that, I can tell you that battlefield is imaginary. The true Mommy War, the real one corporate America doesn’t want you to see, is the pervasive and consistent derailing of female careers using a devastating system of discriminatory laws, corporate hand-holding and senatorial cronyism. Unlike our counterparts in other Western nations, American moms are often permanently forced off the corporate rungs when we procreate or mother children. And as more women delay childbearing in order to engineer a stronger career line at work, increasing numbers of us need fertility help. For those of you uninitiated into the hidden health crisis of our time: fertility treatments are, amongst numerous other things, time-consuming. Many women who struggle with infertility have to severely change their jobs or quit them in order to keep up with treatments.

Apple, Facebook and other “progressive” companies who offer to freeze our eggs are simply sending women down a route of distraction. We need to push for better, more sane benefits, like flexible hours and a wider variety of daycare options, including bringing newborns and infants to work. FMLA benefits should be extended for both parents and men need to carry more of the burden of the missed time at work. It’s time we blew the whistle on the war against equal pay and working moms.

ladywithticketHobo-ing it

Like Zellweger, I’m trying to get back on board with my career after some time away. After a decade out on my own (and finally with the youngest kid in school full time), I can’t seem to hop back on the train. Even if I could manage to sneak a ride, I would have to leave everything and everyone else behind. Could I find an office nearby with flexible hours that allowed me to work from home after 3:30pm, or a salary, perhaps not at my previous job (sys admin) level but enough that I don’t despise myself for stepping off the ladder 10 years ago? Would my coworkers realize I haven’t been “sitting at home eating bonbons?” Doubtful. For the record, I’ve been active in early adopter circles, blogging, consulting, attending conferences –sometimes funded by fellowships–, taking continuing ed classes, learning new coding skills, building a decent brand online, speaking at tech conferences, getting articles published and holding leadership positions with fiduciary responsibilities in my community. I’m so much more employable than I was as a cocky techie 15 years ago. I’m older, better, wiser. But as a Mommy War casualty I’m being left for dead, like 38.5% of unemployed or workforce-absent women aged 25-55

We have to do what we can to get women to stay on that career track. Men seem to get at least 3 tickets to ride, but we only get one. Once we step off, we’re left back at the station. It’s time we shoved open those doors and took our seats.

In the meantime, any of you ladies care for tea? I’ll invite Ms. Zellweger.


Photo Credits: Screenshot of Ms. Zellweger obtained October 22, 2014.
Train and platform: Simon Yeo on Flickr
Woman with ticket: Tom Page on Flickr