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Written By: Christine Carter
Last June at the White House Working Families Summit, Michelle Obama recalled taking a 4-month-old Sasha to a job interview highlighting her need for work-family balance. She thought:
“If you want me to do the job, you gotta pay me to do the job, and you’ve gotta give me flexibility. And flexibility means that I will work my tail off for you, but you better pay me and value my family. ”
Although she interviewed for Vice President of the University of Chicago Hospital, I still consider this a powerful- albeit risky- negotiation tactic for any job level. In today’s society, most people argue the poster couple for work-family balance is Beyoncé and Jay Z. But honestly, all working mothers know these millionaire parents hired a personal staff, so their balance comes a little easier.
(I’ll return my Beygency card for this statement, but Beyoncé a feminist? No. A catalyst? Yes! She undoubtedly sparked conversation and self-evaluation, causing revisions of how women define themselves: Mother? Executive? Or both?)
I’ve never been career-obsessed, rather inspired by strong women. Drawn to female empowerment books, I read Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Hilary Clinton’s biographies before I turned 10 years old. I watched my articulate yet frank mother on countless Take Your Daughter to Work Days brief male executives. She prevented them from tripping over themselves in the boardroom, all the while begrudging her “woman behind the man” stereotypical role.
Today I’m a Millennial with a prosperous career. By the time I was 25, I’d written for numerous publications as a retail marketing expert. I am not the “woman behind” anyone. But before you assume my corporate ladder resembles an elevator, I have no desire to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. (In fact, 85% of Millennial women don’t.)
Like most Millennial men who grew up middle class, my husband James wanted disposable income as an adult. When I first met this career-focused man, graduating on time with an Accounting degree and getting a job offer before the ink dried on it were his only goals. Ten years later, James is a healthcare finance CPA. In his first position right out of college, James was a salaried accounting consultant who traveled, working 10-12 hours/day. It dawned on him that whether he worked 1 hour or 17, he got paid the same. He felt insignificant and unappreciated by his managers.
I found myself in a similar situation, traveling for work, engulfed in inane workplace jargon, and attending pointless, forced “happy hours”. When our first child arrived in 2011, we both analyzed our careers. As someone never hungry for a corner office, I embraced negotiating time away from work and didn’t feel a child would cause missed professional opportunities. After surveying a room of coworkers, James realized the same:
“They had no friends or personal life outside each other. The men with families hated working, but hated going home to their families as well. How can you be so selfish as to want a work/family/me balance?”
Why must mothers exclusively balance work and family? We mutually decided to become parents, why shouldn’t we mutually decide our careers? Perhaps I proclaim this because abnormally, I’m not one of the [more than] 80% of women NOT negotiating their job offers. My husband and I are on the same page, and as a result, defining and aligning our parental and professional expectations strengthened our marriage. More fathers like James and one of my favorite advocates, Scott Behson, regularly spotlight the dad’s role in work-family balance.
Currently exploring new career opportunities, James straightforwardly divulges his primary parental responsibility with potential employers: being a present father. This means a set schedule, no travel, and not having unexpected days off caring for our sick daughter flagged. For James, he doesn’t consider being family-minded a missed opportunity, rather he considers himself initially misguided by the weight he put on his career.
Motherhood upgraded my managerial skills, more so than any Stephen R. Covey book. No mother, from any generation, enjoys feeling like a mother at the office. However like children, team members navigate towards leaders who show authority and provide direct, clear instructions. As a female Millennial manager in multi-generational workplace settings, it’s important I reflect those qualities in the office. Albeit an obvious- and primitive- observation, motherhood taught me this. As a result my distractions at the office have decreased, improving the time management skills of both myself and my team.
Now as we await the birth of our next child, my husband and I feel we’re on the path to a work-family balance. When we’re spending time with our daughter, we don’t feel we’re permanently damaging our careers. Of course, removing children from the equation altogether means some Millennial couples don’t worry about negotiating their career. Jessica, a personal friend, successful realtor and Millennial argues:
“A large part of my success is related to how much I work. I have been in a startup phase that demands my time and attention seven days a week. I am in the top 1% of professionals in my industry. Both [my husband and I] just don’t feel ready. I am the kind of person that doesn’t do things half way, and I want to be able to give whatever I’m doing my full attention. Sometimes I feel wistful when I see pictures of other people’s kids and the happy times, but honestly it is a fleeting moment and I don’t notice it day to day.”
I don’t expect a “Thank You” from my children regarding my career decisions, and rightfully so. Since I’m not saving lives, I don’t take myself- or my career- that seriously. While “want it all” Millennials wouldn’t conventionally walk this path, it’s my path. It’s critical James and I remain united and confident in our decision, since we must occasionally remind employers with inaccurate Millennial notions on where we stand. Last I checked, I’d never heard a 19-year-old proudly exclaim, “My mother understandably wasn’t around because she was in San Francisco pitching digital marketing services to Google,” they simply grumble, “My mother wasn’t around.”
Christine Carter is an established thought leader for marketing to Millennial consumers and has been featured on Ebony.com, MSNBC.com and in the Baltimore Business Journal. Learn more at eppsconsulting.com and follow her on Twitter: @eppsconsulting.