answering an email from a client offering me another project, putting
my toddler to bed and pouring myself some medicine to take the edge
off my cold, I thought: Maybe I need to say "No" more often.
It's the kind of thing I'd be
tempted to write about: Moms Need to Say No More Often.
won't write that article. While we can all say "no" to
minor commitments here and there, the truth is, most working mothers
cannot easily say no to work. Either they can't afford to say no or the nature of their work precludes it.
might have read the buzzed-about mea culpa in
Fortune where Katharine
executive, reveals her former bias against working
moms. She contributed to discrimination against moms right up until she became a mom herself. Zaleski has been praised for
shining a light on how corporate culture treats moms. But her perspective is problematic.
points out that the quality of our work output is more valuable than
falling in line with office culture (e.g., after-hours drinks with colleagues). She also stresses how moms can do great work right
from home. But this perspective only benefits moms who work in
professions where one's presence is not integral to one's work.
What about moms who work as teachers, receptionists, nurses or
service sector employees? These moms can't work from home, and they
can't draw a line with their employer without it costing them.
What Zaleski does show us: Moms confront prejudice in the
workplace from men and women alike. However, she fails to mention that
there is little recourse for working
moms who face discrimination at work because legal protections
require clear proof of discrimination. Consider some of Zaleski's own
behavior, such as agreeing to fire a woman before
said woman became pregnant. How would that employee ever prove that
this private conversation and decision happened?
The broader problem
with positions like Zaleski's—or Facebook's top mom and "Lean In" author Sheryl Sandberg's—is that they
represent a very select group of working mothers. The moms I'm
thinking about aren't struggling with missing after-hours drinks with
the partners. They are already "leaning in" by continuing to
But perhaps leaning in isn't enough. A great many working moms
care more about the minimum wage or universal paid maternity leave
comparable with other leading nations.
These moms work hard, come home and parent. It's a difficult balance, and there's no such thing as a part-time mom. Every mom is a mom 24 hours a day.
The strongest voices
for working mothers' advocacy cannot only be the voices of women who
enjoy posh corporate positions and major bargaining power. Moving
women and mothers forward requires us to advance policies that will
benefit moms across the social spectrum.
Let's not forget about the
average working mom, because she is important, too. And she needs a place in
these national conversations.