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When two parents have demanding careers, striking the balance between work and family can be a challenge. But when those parents share work and parenting duties equally, the whole family benefits, according to Silicon Valley executives Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober. They’ll join us to talk about their new book “Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All.”

Guests:
Sharon Meers, co-author of "Getting to 50/50"; leader of enterprise strategy for Magento, eBay's global e-commerce platform; former managing director and co-chair of the Investment Division's Women's Network at Goldman Sachs
Joanna Strober, co-author of "Getting to 50/50"; founder and CEO of KurboHealth, a mobile and online weight control company for children, teens and families

  • G_Nikus

    There is no such concept as work/life balance in Silicon valley, especially at start-ups. For “exempt” employees 12 hrs at work is expected during week days, weekends are a must if you are looking for promotion. No one likes workers burdened with family and kids. Many companies and divisions shut down every two years, and there is no job stability either. They are also slowly taking away benefits like relocation and 401k match.

  • Aaron

    Dovetailing on the previous show’s topic, we must recognize that the elite workers with high-paying corporate jobs like at ultra-corrupt Goldman Sachs who have the 50/50 problem are like the elites in the Hunger Games, whose so-called problems are a far cry from the grueling reality of the poor in America.

  • Wesley

    I am looking for work last 4 months, and have turned down 2 jobs that required extensive travel AND long commutes – both jobs pay extremely well and would boost my resume: As a single dad of teenagers I just can’t coordinate the logistics and be a father. I have to accept a lower level position which allows me the flexibility of raising my teenaged girls.

  • christine carducci

    This discussion is not complete without discussing child care. As society aims to “have it all” young children are missing out b/c they aren’t offered either quality child care ( edpicslly for infant & toddlers) or paid family leave for enough time that mothers and fathers can get to know their new baby before returning to work.

    See http://www.forourbabies.org for more on this concept.
    Thanks, Chris C.

  • marte48

    I worked nights for 12 years while I was raising my kids. Then I was layed off along with 20,000 others in 1993. I spent those years re-working the work of other people, especially when computers came in and many were baffled at how to draw with a mouse instead of a rapidograph pen. By 1993, I had 25 years of experience, and no job security because of technological changes, which never stop.

  • Linda Azab Powell

    This is a wonderful discussion…I am of previous generation, a military wife who moved all over the world and struggled with having a career, working part-time mostly to preserve childcare expense, and NEVER felt valued for my contributions or my attempts at “my own career”. It was not 50/50 in those days and his career was the only one under discussion. I finally managed a good and satisfying career in later years, earned a retirement. Whew; a better understanding might have saved this marriage and years of resentment.

  • James Ivey

    Regarding the comment, “we each think we’re doing 60/40″… I once heard that each person in a relationship should try to give two-thirds and only receive one-third. The idea is that, if you think you’re giving twice what you receive, you’re probably actually achieving 50/50.

    • marte48

      my dad used to say that it was not 50-50, it’s 100-100.

  • Hannah Preece

    I was pleased when the author corrected you when you said women are looking for more flexibility at work. Wrong! Parents are looking for more flexibility at work. If a dad was as likely to take time of for his family as a mom there would be no bias towards hiring men because women are less focused.

  • rob schachter

    What haven’t you answers for . . . what continues to truly perplex and confound the authors? Anything?

  • Monique Crowley

    For us, our goal is not to achieve 50/50. We evaluated our income and talked about how we wanted to best raise our son (he’s 8 months old). I was in my fourth year of medical school when I got pregnant with our son. It was a a difficult decision to take time off from school, not because I didn’t want to leave school or because was uncertain of my desire to be around more for our baby- most of my anxiety stemmed from what my colleagues or friends and family would think (giving up medical school to be a stay at home mom, “dropping out”, etc).
    Health, nutrition, and being present in our son’s life is very important in our household. I now see, that we could not provide or care for our son the way we want to if I was working. It’s that straight forward. At the end of the day, we are both exhausted and that’s with one of is being a stay at home parent. I make all of our meals (my son eats fresh organic food, and so do we). We get out a couple times a week to go hiking, and keeping the house clean is a daily challenge. Not to mention all of the daily/weekly errands.
    I miss my cohort at school- many of which graduated last June- but I don’t regret our decision and I wouldn’t do anything different. For our family, we decided that raising our son was our main priority at this stage.
    Maybe when our son is older, our priorities will shift. Trying to balance societies expectations/demands and our goal to live a “simple” and wholesome lifestyle is a difficult task, as is raising a child or children for any couple. I think that this book addresses a certain type of household with very specific goals- goals which in our household we are not working toward…at this time;)

    • Kirsten Freislinger Luehrs

      50/50 can mean different things to different families. I like to think of all of the tasks and work of life, from retirement and vacation planning, to housework, managing finances, direct child care, cooking, shopping, strategy, driving, education, paid work, etc, as one bucket of work to be divided, hopefully equally, by two people. In that sense what you say and what the authors talk about are the same thing. There are choices that have to be made when the pile of work gets too big, for all of us.

  • Sally Thornton

    I run a boutique recruiting firm in the Bay Area, and focus on “interim” executives, or it can be called project-based work. What I’ve seen over the last 7 years really supports the research that Sharon & Joanna are outlining. One of the unintended consequences of women (or men) taking time off of work for over a couple years to raise their kids is that when they are ready to “re-enter” the workforce, it’s really hard. And of course there is that 50% divorce rate that means one person is disadvantaged if they do divorce, so I really liked Michael’s summary that this is a strategy of perseverance. And yet when these women would come to me to help them get an interesting project and get back to work, they would share that they thought they were doing the “right thing” by focusing on her kids and not taking any time to work. I found the research to be really helpful to say it’s not about what’s “right” or “wrong” but there ARE ways we can work together where some of these unintended consequences are minimized by parenting and working together.

    Sally Thornton
    Founder + Chief Curator
    Forshay, Inc.

    http://forshay.com

    • Kat Porter

      I was well on my way to middle management in an environmental consulting firm when I had my child, but knew that that career path would be closed to me if I didn’t stay working full time – at the cost to my sanity, my child’s health and development, and my relationship with my husband. Tech and consulting industries were VERY non-woman/family friendly. My female regional manager was not supportive when I suggested that I work 4 day weeks that included a Monday or Friday off, although she did it herself. Likewise the rest of management. Hence, my family’s slide from middle class to lower middle class economically. In the last 19 years I’ve tried to find work that allowed me to use my training and experience , but have gotten stuck in low paying, low stability, clerical work. I feel that many companies haven’t changed their views on women reentering the workforce after raising kids, even if we’ve been working part-time. I know I can’t go back to technical editing/writing as it was in 1994 – that work doesn’t exist anymore – but I wish I’d at least get a chance to reenter the workforce without the stigma of a “returning mom”. Perseverance? I’m brimming with it, but it’s still incredibly hard for those of us not in the executive class.

      • Sally Thornton

        Kat — I totally agree that many companies haven’t changed in their views of women re-entering the workforce, but the advantage of working part time is how you continue to build your skills (to your point about some work not existing anymore), and keep your network active which can help a lot in getting your next job. For example, I had one employee work for me part-time as a recruiter for three years and when she was ready to go back to full-time at a big company, the company that interviewed her didn’t even ask if her past job she was part-time or full-time, they just wanted to understand if she was current in her skills and how she would easily jump in to help them now. Clearly there are a lot of different paths and no single answer, but looking at the research helps us see a bigger statistical sample and then we navigate the best we can within what will work for each of us.

        • Kat Porter

          Sally, thanks for the comments. However, the one flaw with taking low skill, part time work is that often you can’t keep up skills because the companies don’t have most skill building software, techniques, etc. I’ve seen postings where I’m not qualified because my previous company didn’t have the up to date equipment, systems, or infrastructure. I’ve had interviews where I left knowing I wasn’t skilled for what they needed although I have the right mind set and other experience. In fact, I’ve been told that my experience is intimidating because I’m overqualified in some aspects. Or seeing postings that are preferring “recent or current college students”. Again, it’s about companies being willing to give returning moms a chance to get back in at the entry level. As I said elsewhere, this is even more challenging when we are not executive level people.

          • Sally Thornton

            I agree with you, Kat. When I speak about working part-time or “project based” work, my hope (and what the work I find for women and men) is the professional work of whatever they were trained to do. My goal is that women (and men if they are primary care givers) don’t take a step back when they become parents, but they can work with companies who will find creative ways of working the schedule so it is a virtuous cycle. We’re aren’t there yet, but I am finding quite a few companies who do “get it” — so my work is trying to make that the majority!

  • Pradnya

    There is no such thing as work life balance in the bay area. One of the spouse picks up the slack for the other spouse. There’s so much pressure not just on the husband and wife, but on the kids as well to perform and do better or get left behind, its hard to step back and take it easy. There’s a constant threat of losing the job if we don’t keep up with the expectations. And we’ve passed that on to the children, that they have to be best in order to just survive.

  • Kevin Kitchingham

    The glass ceiling for women is super frustrating in this conversation. Corporate America has figured out a way to pay families less by paying women less which really affects this dynamic. Fix that and flexibility will follow.

  • marte48

    To all the high-paid IT engineers: remember that corporations only want you for about 15 years – from about 30-45. After 50 , they get rid of you, and it is almost impossible to get back in. We all think that we will be young and smart forever. But corporations have a never ending supply of engineers who are smarter and younger, and eager to prove themselves. Until “socialism” is not a pejorative, we will not have happy lives, and will not have hope for our children.

    • Aaron

      IT only wants workers from age 21-35, actually, and they prefer foreign workers because the managers are increasingly foreign-born.

      As for “smarter”, the average IQ of an engineer is something like 117 according to one study. Hardly impressive.

      • marte48

        usually they want at least a BA and 8 years of experience in technologies that have only been around for 3.

        • Aaron

          Yes, but that’s to satisfy the Federal H1B gatekeepers who need to hear the company can’t find people.

          So they invent impossible requirements and say “Look, No Americans can do this!” Therefore foreigners.

          Some companies (like parts of Ebay) are now 90% foreign workers.

          • marte48

            True. Out of a 100 engineers, I am usually one of the 3 or 4 that is not from India. But to my first point, the odds are stacked against anyone paying off a mortgage the way our parents did. The only people who are buying houses (often for cash) are rich Chinese, who made money in Hong Kong, and then liquidated businesses when the Communists took it back. For both India and China, they leave the poor people over there to fend for themselves.

  • kkeeffe

    I am a self-proclaimed feminist who believes that women need to support each other whatever choice they have made. I would like to see more women working more after they have begun a family, and I would love to see more family-supportive environments in workplaces. Yet, someone seems to be missing from this discussion. What is best for the children? Children are terribly inconvenient. When parents make the decision to raise a child, they should have made the decision to put the child first. Historically, this “burden” has fallen disproportionately on women. This needs to be addressed. But it can’t be addressed at the expense of children’s well-being. Children need a parent. They just do. The best babysitter in the world cannot replace a parent. Teachers of young children can often tell within hours which children are raised by parents and which are raised by babysitters. It’s not an easy issue and it is terribly inconvenient. But consider the consequences of ignoring it.

    • lisa

      Well said and gets to the main issue I had with this whole discussion. You want to have children, you have to make sacrifices. Your lives will not be the same. Don’t get me wrong, having our son was the best thing we ever did. But you can’t have it all, at all times.

    • marte48

      Parents main responsibility is to provide housing, which requires doing what the employer demands.

  • Ani Mockler

    I wish I had your book 5 years ago when I decided to leave work to take care of my then two year old full time. I wasn’t really on any career track, and at the time I reasoned that only bringing home half of my pay after childcare just wasn’t worth it. Had I known that “it gets better” I would have stuck it out. I am definitely getting this book as I am planning to dive back in to the work force now.

    • Kat Porter

      There were books 20 years ago about this. One I still have is “What’s a Smart Woman like you doing at Home?” by Linda Burton and Janet Dittmer and Cheri Loveless. I had to make the same decision to exit the career track that you did. It’s disturbing that economics are still what drives us to make this decision. It’s worse for lower income moms.

  • anonymous

    This is so often a “heated discussion” because it accuses women who choose to stay home that they have made the ‘wrong’ decision. Whatever women choose to do they need to be comfortable and proud of it. If women are not happy, thier kids are not happy. Alas, keeping it real for your kids is what is important. And inspiring kids to be the best they can, whatever they choose. How do we inspire kids to work hard and persevere through easy and tough times. Any comments?

  • Pradnya

    It’s interesting how Mike says that everybody needs a wife. We are talking about 50-50 and its just reflex/instinct to say that cooking, cleaning and home making is a woman’s role. 🙂
    I’m a working mom and my husband works long hours. We live in the silicon valley so that should explain the long hours, its just expected. Being a first generation immigrant, I don’t have a support system, similar to most immigrant families in the bay area. What I find struggle is how do I get my husband to engage in home activities when he’s so distracted with his job. Any advise.

    • marte48

      By “support system” do you mean a grandmother who has already worn herself out by working all her life and is now asked to babysit?

      • Pradnya

        what support system means is parents/family who can help you out when needed. i.e. someone who i can fall back on when kids are sick and need to stay home. most companies offer work from home, all that i would need is someone to stay with me to help out with the sick child. i don’t expect grandma/grandpa to do the babysitting. grandparents can enjoy their retired life–they’ve earned it.
        in addition to the above support system is not just physical, its also emotional support when needed, like talking.

        • marte48

          don’t assume that everyone has this.

  • Robert Thomas

    Mom is bitter? Big deal.

    Mom and dad are both software engineers?! Call Child Protective Services!

    • Aaron

      The gender ratio in software engineering is something like 19 miles per female.

      • Robert Thomas

        Still a disturbingly frequent eventuality.

        Recall Oscar Wilde: “To lose one parent to software engineering may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

  • lisa

    Sorry Ladies – there is a difference between the stay at home parent vs. the working parents kids. Just hang around a playground. You bring kids into this world and something has to give … doesn’t matter which parent but one has to be around. Someone needs to be around and look them in the eyes… especially once they are teenagers.

    • In the ’70s & ’80s, I grew up with exactly 2 friends who had stay-at-home moms. Everyone’s parents worked because they had to. My friends & I have grown up to have decent jobs, houses, & their own kids. *shrug* I don’t see a huge difference between kids with both working parents vs. a stay-at-home one.

    • amanda_wk

      I see a difference, too. The kids who are with a stay at home parent often talk later and are less engaged and only comfortable with their main parent caretaker. The working kids parents are more socialized, independent, and well rounded.

    • Kat Porter

      I was raised by a single mom in the 70s and 80s and had about 2 friends who had stay-at-home moms. I think I came out fine. I decided (and we could barely afford for) me to stay at home and raise our child. She has come out fine. IF you put the time and effort into your kids – no matter the working status of the mom they are fine. It’s when parents don’t put time and effort that the kids are a mess. One of those friends with stay-at-home mom had issues with alcohol, promiscuity, etc., etc. It was entirely related to the the time and effort.

  • sara

    Sorry but the “corporations” want us to think its ok to leave our kids at daycare for 12 hours a day or have them be raised by “qualified others” the more time away from home the more time you are at your desk working. I am sorry Ms Strober but i like to know which corporation funded your research and publishing fees.

  • I’m surprised there aren’t (or the authors didn’t cite) more studies on adults who grew up with parents – esp. mothers – working outside the home. This became hugely common in the 1970s, & my generation is hitting their 30s & 40s now. I don’t see that we’re any more or less maladjusted than our (increasingly rare) peers who had a stay-at-home parent. It always surprises me that so many of today’s parents freak out about the working/stay-at-home decision – this is nothing new for many, many families, & kids seem to turn out just fine. (Btw, it’s a rather privileged situation to afford a stay-at-home parent, not just today, but historically.)

  • christine carducci

    Knowledge about child development and recognition that infants need respectful, responsive, relationships they can come to trust the world will make their early years easier. If parents are supported to build such a strong emotional base with their infant, after they return to work they will see the child and their own emotional health thrive.
    The phrase ” it gets better” for working mothers sends the message that it is acceptable for infants and mothers to struggle through this time when it should be a time for relationship building and bonding and attachment – not separation and isolation and frustration. We can do better.

  • marte48

    my dad used to say that it was not 50-50, it’s 100-100.

  • amanda_wk

    I was really offended by the last few comments from the caller and host insinuating that the “optimal” childcare situation is always a stay at home parent as opposed to daycare. The caller coudln’t find research backing up that notion becuase it simply isn’t always true. My child benefits from daycare in ways that I absolutely could not replicate. She speaks 2 languages and spends her day with her best friends and 3 deeply devoted loving caretakers. She is growing up to be a loving, trusting, and amazing person and is exposed to so many things that I just could not provide for her as a stay at home mom. (Not to mention the example my husband and I are setting as hardworking parents.) Assigning an “optimal” situation for my family assumes that I’m choosing a less than ideal set-up and that’s an ignorant assumption. If it weren’t the best situation for my family I would not choose it.

    • pleaseletsfixthis

      Dorothy Dinnerstein’s “The Mermaid & the Minotaur” does a great job explaining how making it all the mother’s responsibility to respond to a child’s needs – and a father not taking equal responsibility – in early life distorts the child’s development.

      See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shared_Earning/Shared_Parenting_Marriage

  • Kirsten Freislinger Luehrs

    I was amused by the comment that it gets easier when the kids go to school. I do not agree, as there’s a lot of new and equally important work to do with school age kids. The comment sounded as if the authors are too young to know better!

  • Kat Porter

    I listened to the program and was dismayed at the lack of sensitivity to Moms like me. 20 years ago my husband and I worked on getting things 50/50 but I couldn’t stay working full time or find part time work that was flexible. My female manager was appalled about me suggesting that I work 4 day weeks that included a Monday or Friday off, although she did it herself. Day care was way too expensive for us to consider, much less find one that would give the same attention as one of us staying at home. (BTW, I grew up in a single parent home, and totally understand the benefits of day care/after school care vs. latch key.) We made the decision for me to stay at home in the early years because of my husband’s ability to provide for us better. The program also didn’t address the experiences of moms my age (50) who are trying to return to work and are seen as invisible by the new generation parents, who are working and hiring, who see me as not worth taking a chance on hiring. Or that although I’ve worked as a secretary for last 14 years – often part time, at several different jobs, I’m seen as “unreliable” or “bouncer”. I want the authors and the host to know that the authors are not the first women to try to get the 50/50 to work, and I suspect they didn’t talk to a lot of women outside of their types of business or economic levels. Staying at home for me was based on financial costs of me going to work (in taxes and day care). It’s a different world now, but still hard for women who are not in supportive businesses, relationships, or higher economic classes. BTW, my kid developed great socialization skills from the multiple playdates we planned with other displaced moms and their kids that we met. She went to preschool with pre-reading skills and ability to run with any of the kids who were in day care. Sorry if this sounds like a rant, but I felt that the program totally dismissed people like me (non Silicon Valley tech companies, lower to lower-middle class).

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