Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Peek Into the Life of a Working Mom: Celebrating International Women’s Day

I hope the fathers and mothers of little girls will look at them and say yes, women can.” - President Dilma Rousseff, victory speech, October 31, 2010

Saturday was “International Women’s Day”. And it was my great honor to attend the premiere of “Madame Presidenta: Why Not U.S.?” at the Carnegie Museum of Art.  This documentary was written and directed by Heather Arnet of the Women and Girls Foundation.  It focuses on the ascension of Dilma Rousseff to the presidency of Brazil and questions why the United States has yet to elect a female president.




Me with Heather Arnet

The documentary ended with a discussion of eighteen developed countries that have had female presidents and noted that these countries all have rewritten their constitutions to include women and their rights. They also have progressive policies that include things that American women have tried to gain for years—equal pay for equal work and mandatory paid maternity leave. Indeed, Brazil provides women with 120 paid days of maternity leave.  That’s four months of paid maternity leave.  In this country, women who work in large companies are entitled to three months unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. 
I am getting ready to have my second child.  And, mandatory paid maternity leave is a fantasy that I wish were my reality. 
Without mandatory paid maternity leave, many women are forced to choose between having children and keeping their jobs. Other women are forced to choose between giving their children the best possible start and maintaining the respect of their bosses.



Heather Arnet inspiring young minds

Paid Maternity Leave Should Not Be a Privilege

Without mandatory paid maternity leave, the length of a woman’s maternity leave is often at the discretion of her boss.  It is a precarious process.  Even when the boss is generous, the balance of power is disrupted.  In my case, I feel as if my boss is giving me a gift for which I will owe him big time. Indeed, I am coming off being on call for the past 21 days because I feel so guilty about my upcoming maternity leave.  During this time, I have answered calls on the weekend and at all hours of the day.  Would that have been my choice? No. However, I felt unable to say no given my upcoming leave.  So much for taking it easy as my pregnancy progresses.

Strong workplace policies that support women communicate a strong message that women and children matter.   The reality is that it is hard to convince young girls that they can be president when we can't convince them that they will receive equal pay for equal work. I am convinced that making maternity leave a right as opposed to a privilege, and achieving true gender equality in the workplace, are the first steps to electing a female president.  Let’s work to make that happen.

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