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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

January 22, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Sigh, another call for employers to do handstands to help mothers in the workplace (Wall Street Journal, 1/4/18). Its author seems to believe that she’s helping women, but in fact is doing the opposite. Any reasonable hiring manager would read Rebecca Johnson’s piece and feel nothing but dread at the prospect of hiring women. According to Johnson, employers of all stripes must essentially remake their workplaces to accommodate mothers and their children.

Here are a few of her demands:

Hands down, the greatest need working mothers articulate is for increased flexibility at work…

[Flexibility] may mean having the ability to work from home, video-conference to a meeting, work fewer but longer days each week, or another arrangement that allows the mom to get the job done without needing to be in the office during business hours every day…

Companies can make organizational shifts to support flexibility—using a project-based, as opposed to hours-based, system of personnel accounting; providing child care on-site to reduce commute time; providing hospital-grade pumps in lactation rooms with locking doors at multiple points across the organization…

More ambitiously, companies could allow employees to “job share” for a time—for example, one employee assumes the local responsibilities for a position, while a different employee covers the travel requirements for that job. Companies might also allow working mothers to “ramp down” at reduced pay. Instead of working on five projects simultaneously, a working mom could work on three until her child enters preschool (or over the summer), then return to her normal load.

So, according to Johnson, if a company contemplates hiring a woman who has a child, is expecting one or is under the age of about 44, it’s in for some serious changes. To accommodate her, it’ll need to allow her to not come in to work at a moment’s notice. After all, kids don’t give two weeks’ notice when they’re going to get the sniffles.

When moms do show up to work, those companies will need to allow them to do so on their own time, not necessarily during the company’s hours. Child care on site is of course a requisite despite the fact that, as Johnson acknowledges, day care doesn’t take children with potentially communicable diseases, so providing it doesn’t address that problem.

Even though there may be no nursing mothers employed by the company, it’s still required to provide special rooms (women’s restrooms apparently won’t do) equipped with breast pumps (for some reason, Johnson doesn’t ask the moms to provide their own).

Under Johnson’s tutelage, all companies must, when a female employee has a child, hire at least one other employee who will pick up the slack for hours not worked, business trips not taken, projects not done, etc. Presumably, the company will also be expected to fire the second employee when Mom gets back to a full schedule, if she does. In fairness to that other employee, the company should inform her in advance of the nature of her employment, i.e. it’s at the will of the mother. How many prospective employees would agree to work under those circumstances is anyone’s guess.

What’s also anyone’s guess is the cost of the various requirements placed on companies by Johnson. In a business environment in which costs, particularly labor costs, are the difference between staying alive competitively and shutting up shop, gratuitously adding to those costs won’t to sit well with top management. I can imagine Johnson pitching her ideas to a CEO or COO and having his/her response being “Why hire such a person in the first place? Why not just hire someone who can do the job?”

Interestingly, Johnson has the answer – “diversity.” Of course there’s no evidence that “diversity” improves the performance of any workplace, but Johnson never entertains the idea that “diversity” is anything but an unalloyed good.

Needless to say (because it’s the same with all such articles), Johnson imagines every employee to be a professional, every job to be either professional or in management. Nowhere does she mention the 90%+ jobs that are neither. Imagine a night-shift janitorial service being told by a young woman who may at some point wish to have a child that it needs to provide flex time for her, the ability to (in some way) not come to work, daycare for the putative little one, a special area in which to express milk and, oh by the way, another employee to fill in her slack time. Johnson doesn’t have a clue.

What about the idea that men and women, rather than expecting employers to do it for them, should plan having children in ways that place responsibility for doing so where it belongs, i.e. on them. Nope, Johnson nowhere considers the possibility. The idea that Mom and Dad should have a plan for how to care for little Andy or Jenny and how they’ll provide the money to do so before bringing the little bundle of joy into the world finds no place in her world. For her, responsibility for children isn’t parents’, but employers’.

Add to the list of important considerations not considered by Johnson the idea that fathers might play some role in her drama. According to Johnson, fathers are simply not part of the picture. Apparently, they don’t care for children and so can’t be expected to do any of the work she happily places on employers. But in her world, fathers aren’t just absent from home, they’re absent from work as well. After all, her piece is all about working mothers. Working fathers? They’re entitled to none of the benefits with which working mothers are showered by Johnson’s plan to remake the workplace. Indeed, she never mentions them. Not once.

What’s most obvious about her piece is how powerfully it militates against the very thing for which she seems to advocate – more women in the workplace. No sensible hiring manager would view Johnson’s article with anything other than trepidation bordering on dread. Johnson should read her own statement near the beginning of her article.

If you want women in positions of authority, you have to get comfortable with motherhood.

Given all her requirements of employers, that’s a very, very big “if.”

#mothers, #employment

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