Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why does the wage gap still exist? Because workplace discrimination still exists.

I was thrilled to be in Washington, D.C., yesterday, to speak with White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, the chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Preeta Bansal, General Counsel and Senior Policy Adviser at the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President, about issues concerning women and the workplace. If you missed the live half-hour event, which was livestreamed at and on the White House's Facebook page, you can watch the video of it right here:

I spent more than a week collecting questions from members of the Shine community, and asked both administration officials about the ones that most of Shine's readers are most concerned about: Why the wage gap between men and women still exists, whether companies will be encouraged to be more family-friendly, what initiatives are being put in place to make it easier for women to rejoin the work force, and whether there are any plans to find better ways to encourage and support the efforts of single mothers who are trying to live without resorting to government handouts. I also took questions from the live Facebook audience about women and finances, education, and work-life balance.

When it comes to the wage gap -- the fact that women continue to earn as much as 25 percent less than men for doing comparable work in certain fields -- there's no single easy solution.

"Well, there are a variety of reasons, a variety of different factors," Jarrett told me. "We have to encourage our young girls to go into fields that lead to profitable careers."

"Women are still carrying the burden of family," she pointed out. "Women aren't able to spend as much time as work [as men] because they have all these other committments and responsibilities. And then another factor is that we still have discrimination in the workplace."

To encourage change, "part of what we've been doing here at the White House, as part of the Council of Women and Girls, is to highlight best practices." Jarrett said. "Employers who have flexibility in the workplace are more productive."

Watch the video above, and be sure to click over to the Manage Your Life section at Shine as we continue the discussion there!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ask the Obama Administration about women, education, and workplace issues

I'll be in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, March 30, to chat with White House officials about issues that affect women in education, employment, and work-life balance. I've been collecting questions from Shine readers and Facebook users, and I'd love it if you'd leave yours in the comments here: What do you want us to ask the Obama Administration about women in the workplace, education, or work-life balance?

Earlier this month, the White House published "Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being," the first comprehensive federal report since 1963, when President Kennedy's Commission on the Status of Women, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, was released. The 2011 report pulls together data from a variety of sources and studies, offering a big-picture view of the issues women face today, and how women's lives in the United States has changed over time.

At 5:05 p.m. (Eastern Time), I'll be talking about the report with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, the chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Preeta Bansal,General Counsel and Senior Policy Adviser at the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President. Our conversation will be livestreamed at and on the White House's Facebook page (I'll be taking questions from the live audience, too, if there's time!). And you can also watch it right here at WriteEditRepeat!

Tune in! And in the meantime, let me know: What concerns do you have about women, education, and workplace issues in America today?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Did parenthood change the way you view your job?

Lara Logan in Iraq / CBS News photoAfter watching this "60 Minutes Overtime" interview with CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan -- who was beaten and sexually assaulted in Cairo last month, prompting some media executives to consider pulling their female reporters out of Egypt -- I'm struck by one observation she shares.

In the interview, which aired in September 2010, the 39-year-old journalist describes coming under fire while with US troops in Afghanistan. "I ran for cover. Usually, I would run for the cameraman," she says. "But once you have two little babies at home, you have a little different perspective on things."

As working moms, we're all too aware of how other people may (or may not) perceive us once we become parents. Studies show that the age-old gender gap has been replaced by the motherhood penalty. Some companies woo parents with work-life balance-improving benefits and then penalize employees for using them. We worry that we're seen as slackers if we have to dash out of work to pick up a sick child, or if we can't stay late to work on an important project.

But what we don't often talk about is whether our feelings about our jobs change when we have kids. Not whether we'd rather work from home (or go into an office) or whether we want to downshift from full time to part time or opt out of the workforce entirely. I mean how becoming a parent can influence the work we do, and the risks we're willing to take while doing it.

So, let's talk. Did you view your job differently once you became a parent? What do you do, and how did your perspective change?

Photo: CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan in Iraq (Photo from CBS News)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How to use Twitter (and make it work for you)

With all the chatter about social media, it makes sense to take advantage of every chance you get to promote your business or build your brand. Even if you're attached to a large company, your own personal brand is important: It's what helps you stand out in the crowd.

I've written a lot about Facebook and LinkedIn and why I think those two platforms are important. But Twitter? Twitter can feel like being at a cocktail party where everyone is shouting at once. Or it can feel like you're surfing through channel after channel of third-rate infomercials for products you don't need or use. How do you cut through the chaos to deliver your message, find the info, or connect with the people you need?

I've touched on this topic before, over at The 36-Hour Day. Here's an updated version, with tips for making Twitter work for you:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Pink Gang: "We're a gang for justice."

Sampat Pal Devi and members of her "Pink Gang." Photo: Barcroft Media
My grandmother, Roda Mistry, was a fierce advocate for women's rights and welfare. A former member of the Raja Sabha in India (the upper house of India's Parliament) and the former Minister of Women's Welfare, she established a college of social work outside of her home city of Hyderabad, India (whoa, there's even a video!), and has a village near there named after her as well. I remember her telling me once, when I was about 7 years old, that if a man and a woman came to her to have her solve a dispute, she'd always side with the woman first and ask questions later. "This is India," she told me when I said that didn't sound very fair. "No one sticks up for the woman first."

She would have been thrilled by the post I have up at Yahoo!'s Shine right now, about the Gulabi Gang. Here's an excerpt:

Friday, March 4, 2011

The opposite of a Tiger Mother: A Hiroshima Mom?

At Shine today, I'm writing about Rahna Reiko Rizzuto and her controversial new memoir, "Hiroshima
in the Morning,"
in which she details her decision to walk away from her 20-year marriage and her two sons, who were just 5 and 3 at the time.

She never wanted to be a mother in the first place, Rizzuto admits. "I had this idea that motherhood was this really all-encompassing thing," she explained on the Today Show. "I was afraid of being swallowed up by that." A fellowship to study in Japan for six months made it clear to her that she needed to change her life.

Her relationship with her sons survived her leaving, she says, and she thinks it may even have been improved by it. "In my part-time motherhood, I get concentrated blocks of time when I can be that 1950s mother we idealize who was waiting in an apron with fresh cookies when we got off the school bus and wasn't too busy for anything we needed until we went to be," she writes in an essay at "I go to every parent-teacher conference; I am there for performances and baseball games."

But that 1950s mother she describes as ideal had to cope with parenthood 24/7—she didn't get to pick and choose which parts to be present for. The idea that a mother could love her children and still choose to leave them to pursue her own goals is the antithesis of being a "Tiger Mother"—the omnipresent, perfection-demanding, Eastern-style parent described by Amy Chau. It also goes against our culture's definition of motherhood. But it shines a light on a glaring double standard: When a man chooses not to be a full-time parent, it's acceptable—or, at least, accepted. But when a woman decides to do so, it's abandonment.

The decision isn't an easy one to make, no matter how you feel about parenting. "‪It took me about a year to decide once the idea came to me," says Talyaa Liera. In 2008, after a decade as an attachment-parenting stay-at-home mom, she chose to move 3,000 miles away from three of her four children (her oldest is an adult and out on her own).‪

There's much more; click here to read the entire post at Yahoo!'s Shine. The idea of choosing to leave your children is one that strikes a nerve in many people (as evidenced by the 110+ comments already on the hours-old post).

Edited to add: As of March 9th, the discussion at Yahoo has really grown—16,100 comments and counting. Did the story touch a nerve (or several)? Read the entire post and decide for yourself.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What was your major in college? And do you work in that field now?

I've been focused on college lately. My husband just left the world of journalism for the communications side of academics, my oldest stepdaughter heads to college next year -- the same month my youngest child goes off to kindergarten -- and the fact that top-tier schools cost double what they did when I was a student is very much on my mind.

Twenty or so years ago, when I was in the thick of SATs and essays and applications, I already knew what I wanted my major to be -- or, at least, I thought I did. I was certain that I wanted to be a pediatrician, so I signed up for my high school's AP bio class in preparation for four years of pre-med.

My lab partner witnessed several gruesome dissections and miserable lab reports before pointing out that the only part of bio I seemed to like was botany. And that, while I struggled with scalpels and paled at the sight of blood, I happily and easily spent hours, if not days, working on the school paper.

"Why don't you go into journalism?" he asked kindly, while trying to salvage his biology grade. "You can study that stuff in college, too, you know."