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I recently finished Jay Newton Small’s “Broad Influence,” a book about how achieving a critical mass of women in a variety of public and private institutions is not only good for women, but the customers or stakeholders of that institution.  I highly recommend picking it up, and she references a library of recent books on women’s role outside of the home (Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Unfinished Business,” Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men“), all of which I devoured almost as soon as they were released.  As a professional mom to two young children, I clearly care about this topic, but I wish more men would read these books as well, particularly the men who still dominate the upper echelons of leadership in the private sector, all three branches of government, and the military.

I’ll save you the book reviews but relate my personal experience to this.  Before Sheryl Sandberg advised women to seek a mate who would be fully supportive of their professional ambitions, I made that a top priority.  My husband and I balance careers, his in health information technology and mine in civil rights law, that involve travel expectations.  We are both incredibly passionate about our children and enjoy being actively engaged in their young lives and education.  We are committed to an equal partnership in life.  And yet, I find that outside institutions undermine us and other couples seeking this balance in unhealthy and frustrating ways.

First, the relentless emphasis on productivity from individual workers makes a 40 hour work week insufficient for too many jobs, professional and otherwise.  As Slaughter noted in her book, far too many organizations operate on the assumption that there is someone (aka a “wife”) taking care of the personal needs of the employee and his or her family.  Someone has to manage the household duties, children’s activities and education, and extended family and other social obligations.  Yet the extended work hours in too many positions means that one or both parents cannot fulfill all of the non-work duties.  The ones fortunate enough to afford it can outsource much of this work with house cleaners, financial planners, nannies, carpools, and tutors.  Some are lucky enough to have retired grandparents to help with child care, chauffeuring, tutoring, and household tasks.  The rest of us muddle through, paying bills late at night, letting the house go, and sacrificing time as a couple to make up for the time lost with kids.  Organizations in the private and public sector are offering more flexible and part-time options for working parents; however, in most cases, promotion potential is negatively affected because supervisory or executive level positions are not offered with flexible, part-time, or job-sharing options.  As Slaughter indicates, research indicates people are truly productive for a maximum of six hours per day, yet the corporate expectation is often at least 10.

In our family, Doug travels frequently and often for multiple overnights, often with little notice or flexibility, particularly around the end of the business quarter.  When he’s gone, I’m running kids to soccer practice, taking leave when a kid gets sick, and navigating homework, bath, and bedtime solo.   He does the same when I am gone, but I have far more flexibility in scheduling my travel, fortunately.  I have successfully negotiated reduced schedules in current and previous work positions so that one of us is able to take kids to practices and help minimize the craziness of the dinner, homework, bath, and bedtime routine.  In my experience, however, staying “part-time” is difficult if not well ingrained in the organization due to the ongoing pressure to do more with less, despite the evidence regarding productivity and overwork.  We are hanging on to this arrangement for now.  However, I have had several friends recently leave wonderful careers because despite their employers’ attempts at flexibility, it didn’t function well enough in reality for them to continue.  This is a tremendous and avoidable loss for their organizations.  As Rosin points out in her book, the “soft skills” attributed to women in communications, organization, and relationship-building are increasingly in demand in today’s information and services economy, and leadership in these areas are sorely needed.

Second, our antiquated school calendar creates complications for families with two parents working outside of the home.  The outdated agrarian school calendar with an extended summer means that families agonize over the extra expense of child care or a series of summer camps for several months.   Teachers often spend the first month in the fall catching up students after their “summer slide,” especially for students who are already behind educationally.  The typical school day also does not coincide with general business hours, meaning parents have to find before and after school child care or reduce their hours to drop off and pick up children.  Again, in a time when schools are cutting recess and physical education to cram in more instructional time, wouldn’t it make more sense to lengthen the school day and build that time back in?  It would certainly require more financial support for school systems but it would be a worthwhile investment.

We are again fortunate to live in a school district that offers four weeks of free summer school with low-cost before and after school care at the site, and a school-sponsored summer camp that covers all but two remaining weeks of the summer.  You better bet I sign up for the summer camp quickly because there are limited spaces and they go fast.  My son’s school doesn’t start until 8:45 a.m. and I need to get to work by 8:00 a.m.  As a result, before-school care is a necessity.  Although I am sometimes able to pick up my son by his 3:45 p.m. dismissal time, because my husband is not and I sometimes am traveling or working extra hours, we also pay for after-school care that we often do not need.  The reason I am writing at this moment is because I used a vacation day to care for my son, whose school is on spring break.  Parents in my neighborhood who have kids in different schools in the same district have to deal with start times for kids that are two hours apart, making it hard for parents to ensure kids get to school safely and also get to work on time.  Not all parents work a traditional business calendar.  However, increasing the availability of before- and after-school care at schools and lengthening the school day is a necessity for contemporary families.

There are many more ways institutions undermine working parents, and the two I raise primarily affect working professional parents.  The troubles with shift work positions offered by companies like Starbucks and Wal-Mart are well-documented and mean that parents have trouble obtaining quality child care for their unpredictable and erratic work schedules.  Too many working parents work for employers who do not offer paid sick leave, meaning a child’s illness can lead to a parent’s termination or a loss of wages.  I could go on and on, but instead will encourage everyone to read the books I referenced at the beginning of this post, and think hard about the real economic, social, and personal costs we are incurring as a result of antiquated work policies that are based on a family model that is no longer the norm.  We can advocate as voters, employees, and leaders to make family-friendly institutional changes that will also improve work culture and, ultimately, institutional performance.  We can vote for and promote leaders who support these changes and actively work toward them.

 

 

 

Journey to #MIZATL

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Tomorrow our family gets on a plane and travels to Atlanta to watch my beloved Missouri Tigers play in the Southeastern Conference championship game in football.  Much is being written this week about what a journey this is for the Missouri athletic program.  There’s the completely shocking second season success in the SEC.  There’s Henry Josey’s journey from breakout sophomore Big 12 running back to catastrophic knee injury to blazing through Aggie defenders on his way to sealing Mizzou’s first SEC East division championship.  There is the slow but steady journey of this long-suffering Mizzou football program, this “sleeping giant” as Osborne put it, from decades of obscurity and heartbreak to now, with Gary Pinkel tying Don Faurot at 101 wins and promising “it gets better.”

All of that and more are stories for sportswriters this week.  Mine is the story of a fan who has been on this journey from a distance but who can hardly breathe with excitement and anxiety and hope and fear and expectation and gratitude for this beautiful, unexpected season.  My journey starts on a farm in rural Missouri on Saturday afternoons with touch football in the yard with Dad, my uncle, siblings and cousins, with a grandfather who watched while keeping the radio tuned into the Mizzou game.  It seems Mizzou never won but there was always hope.  There were also conversations at Grandpa’s “tractor store” (the family business) about the game with farmers on Monday, breaking down what Coach Powers or Widenhofer or Stull were doing right or wrong and whether the players were going to come through and what recruits were in the pipeline.  I never went to any Mizzou games as a kid but the games and program were background music for my family life, whether by radio, TV or newspaper.  It was part of being a citizen of this state, and my grandparents certainly taught me to love our beautiful state when they took me and my brother Matt on a mini-tour of it when I was nine.  As I entered junior high and high school my brother Matt and I always looked forward to watching Mizzou football and basketball games, particularly those against Kansas.  I began picturing myself as a student at these games and could not wait for the prospect of attending college at the big state flagship university that seemed so different from my small town.

When I got to Mizzou as a freshman, I did not hesitate to buy an all-sports pass and did not miss any football games that I can remember, although the games were far from memorable.  I think we once tore the goal posts down for simply winning a game against Illinois.  I still felt so lucky and excited to be a part of a Division I college football fan base, even one with such a traumatized history including the fifth down and fleakicker (both of which I recall watching with my family).  Lifetime friendships were forged at these games.  When Larry Smith arrived my junior year, it seemed things were improving.  My love for football never faded, even as Smith’s tenure grew less convincing.

I made a tough but necessary personal choice to leave Ol’ Mizzou for law school which made following the program harder for a few years.  Not surprisingly, Mizzou games were typically not televised in Virginia but I still managed to earn the nickname “Mizzou” for my (overexcessive?) pride in my undergraduate alma mater.  (I recall one of my UVa law classmates, a Michigan alum, being completely unaware of the “Mizzou” moniker, along with many classmates who assumed Kansas City was in Kansas.  Ugh.)   However, when I began my professional career in Austin, home of a fellow Big 12 conference school, I again had greater access to Mizzou games.  Unfortunately, I also encountered a lot of Texas arrogance that foreshadowed Mizzou’s eventual departure from the conference.  I recall someone at my law firm joking that Mizzou should be kicked out of the conference because they weren’t any good.  In Austin, I served as president of the local Mizzou alumni association, organized watch parties and made good friends who shared this bond of feeling that defeat is just around the corner from victory.  It was with these people that I watched in amazement as Brad Smith elevated this program and our spirits and hope for greater things to come.  Could it be?  Were we finally on our way with Coach Pinkel?

While I absolutely adored Austin, there was no doubt that I could not stomach raising my children as Texans.  I am (at least) a fourth generation Missourian and I needed to come home.  Thankfully, my Arkansas-born and Louisiana-reared husband agreed and nine years later, here we are.  I tell my son regularly that he was at Armageddon at Arrowhead in 2007, bouncing around in my six-months-pregnant belly as we hit what was at that time the pinnacle of recent Mizzou football history.  When College Gameday came to town in 2010, we made sure to be there with signs at the ready.  We still aren’t season ticket holders but I hope to change that very soon.  With two young children, one of whom is still a toddler, the number of night games and cold weather games make regular attendance harder right now.  Plus, because I work outside the home during the week I want to ensure my weekend time is spent with my kids.  However, this weekend we are cashing in the frequent flyer miles and heading to Atlanta because I can’t miss this part of Mizzou’s football journey and I want my son to experience it, too.  We are staying with one of my dearest friends from my Mizzou days, a bridesmaid in my wedding and lifelong friend.  Even if I have to spend half the game walking my toddler daughter around the concourse, even if Mizzou loses in spectacular fashion, it will be worth it.  Because this team and this coach have given me so much joy and pride as a fan and we have not yet made a game this season.  The mental toughness and quiet strength this team projects seems new and different for a Mizzou team.  When L’Damian Washington talks about their preparation and approach and leadership, I think these guys are destined for great things in football and beyond, in life.  When Gary Pinkel talks about this team and this upcoming game, it is with a humble confidence that strikes just the right tone.  They seem ready.  Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, maybe Auburn will just win.  Whatever.  I have to be there because if these guys are going to win this championship, and possibly WIN IT ALL, I feel like I’m representing my grandpa and aunt and sister and cousins who are also Mizzou alums, and the rest of my family who are fans.  I’m representing OUR STATE, the one I love so very much.  I can’t wait.  M-I-Z!!!!!