Inspired by Penny Wirsing, 2019 President of SWE
Is there a typical "working parent"? Maybe. But many people have unique situations. It's easy to meet someone and make assumptions, but often those assumptions are wrong, and the reality of someone's situation contains some unexpected elements.
That's what happened recently when Penny Wirsing, the 2019 President of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), spoke at the Michigan State University College of Engineering Commencement Ceremony. Her speech was encouraging and inspiring. So much so that we contacted her and asked if we could share the content with Working Parent Stories readers.
One thing Penny didn't mention in her speech, and it supports the point that assumptions can be inaccurate, is the story about how and why she became an engineer. While she was a trailblazer at the time she obtained her degree, there is more to her story.
Before Penny started college she married, had a daughter, and divorced. As a single mother, she became a secretary in order to support her small family. It didn't take long for her to realize that she would not be able to live the life she envisioned for her daughter and herself on a secretary's salary, so she headed in another direction and started down the path to pursue an engineering degree.
She started taking community college classes as she continued working. That enabled her to attend evening classes while she countinued to work full-time. And the community college courses were less expensive than those offered at universities.
While working full-time, she completed enough courses to enter Michigan State University (MSU) as a junior. While there, Penny felt as though she didn't fit in with the other students. Only about 25% of the students were female back then, but it was her status as parent and breadwinner that made her feel the most out-of-place. As she juggled a job and parenting with her classes, the other students were juggling their coursework with dorm living and other extracirricular activities.
Most would agree that pursuing a college degree is challenging and that parenthood is challenging too, but few of us attempt to do both at the same time. Penny said she was able to pull it off by focusing on things one step at a time.
A benefit of Penny's situation was that while she was a student, she was also a teacher with a very attentive pupil; her daughter. Her daughter learned that if you want to do something, and you're willing to put in the work, you are likely to get it done. Penny, like most parents, could have told her these things, but she believes that showing her had a more meaningful impact. And it appears to have worked, given that her daughter is now grown and pursuing a career of her own as a Federal Attorney.
Sometimes it's easy to forget that while we're working and learning, we're also teaching. And we're never sure exactly who is watching or who will learn the most.
Related reading (and listening):
A movie review
We enjoyed the CNN documentary RGB enough to conclude that we wanted to see "On the Basis of Sex" too, the "inspired by a true story" movie about events that occurred duing Ruth Bader Ginsburg's education and early career. And we're glad that we did because it provided a different view into Judge Ginsburg's history. (One, we should note, that is somewhat fictionalized. You can check the facts vs. fiction online.)
Not long ago, I attended a class called "Understanding myself from a cultural perspective". One of the most memorable things the instructor told us is that an outsider can't become a member of a group unless he or she has an insider advocate. In addition to being a thought-provoking claim, it got me thinking about responsibility; specifically, what responsibility do I have to help others who are on the outside?
This movie, and other stories I've read about Judge Ginsburg, highlight the fact that after finishing two years of Harvard Law School and then graduating from Columbia Law School (where she tied for first in her class), RBG couldn't find an NYC law firm that was willing to hire her. That's hard to believe in 2019, but apparently it really happened.
Ruth and Marty both worked while raising their two children; Ruth started out as a college professor and Marty spent his career as a tax attorney. It's well known that Marty was the family cook long before many men assumed such roles. Their successes appear to be linked in many ways.
Thankfully for Ruth, and all women really, her husband, Marty, remained convinced that she should continue to push the legal system until she found a crack; a way to practice law instead of just teaching others about it. It's an example of a person on the inside advocating for a person on the outside.
And it leaves us wondering, is there a person or people who are deserving of our advocacy?
Pointer to a thought-provoking video
UPDATE Nov 9, 2018: According to National Geographic, video highlighted below, may not be as cute and natural as originally suggested.
You will probably appreciate this video (2:20 min) if ...
Current events observation
Not long ago I engaged in an online conversation about the value of diversity in the workplace. Until then I thought that "everyone" believed that diversity was a good thing for businesses and organizations, even when it feels challenging, unsettling, and/or downright difficult. It turns out that I was wrong. The others involved in the conversation didn't see it that way, and they argued vehemently that all jobs should be filled by the "most qualified candidate" and that a desire to create a diverse team was misplaced. They didn't believe that diverse teams often produce stronger results than teams comprised of people with similar perspectives.
Diversity is a loaded term, and truly diverse teams are impossible to create, but there is a lot of research claiming that more diverse teams, when they can figure out how to overcome differences and work together, usually produce stronger results than less diverse teams.
This is one of the reasons we strongly encourage working parents to make contributions via careers. We think parents offer unique perspectives that provide strong, and sometimes unique, perspectives.
When thinking about the value of diversity, I can't help but examine the series of events that brought disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar to justice recently. Maybe you saw the powerful video featuring 141 of the 330+ young women who survived his abuse when they accepted the 2018 ESPYS Arthur Ashe Award for Courage recently. One is left wondering why it took so long to bring this man to justice; especially given that the first concern about him was raised way back in the 1990s.
Those who've followed the story closely know that the many concerns raised over the course of nearly 20 years were dismissed for various (and very troubling) reasons. But finally, in 2016 and 2017 justice was served, and his abuse was stopped thanks to a number of people who believed the young women who shared their stories. A long list of survivors and professionals produced a chain of events that revealed what had been hidden, dismissed, and ignored for so long. It's interesting to consider some of the critical people who believed the women and girls, ensured that justice was served, and then empowered the survivors to look beyond their own situations to help protect others by striving to drive meaningful reform:
This is an unlikely group given their professions. Did their relatively unique perspectives play important roles in this case? Would the abuse have continued had those on the list who are parents chosen to abandon their jobs after they had children? We'll never know for sure, but I'm very glad that so many of them found a way to balance parenthood with their careers. They've made the world a safer place.
Pointer to a video about MJ Hegar
This story is about a political candidate in the US named MJ Hegar. We know almost nothing about her political positions, but think her campaign video is great because it highlights another contribution from another working parent.
Prepare to be impressed. And surprised.
Movie Review: RBG
According to the new movie RBG, both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband, Marty, were rocking Working Parent roles back in the 1950s. And this documentary shows that they were doing surprisingly more than that at the same time.
Readers outside the United States may not be familiar with Ruth, who is sometimes referred to as "RBG" (her initials) as an affectionate term of endearment. She is one of nine justices on the US Supreme Court and has developed a fan base recently.
It wasn't my idea to see this movie; my husband suggested it. But we both enjoyed it a lot. And apparently we're not alone; the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. The movie is informative, educational, funny, sad, frustrating and more.
At one point in the movie, Ruth makes the claim that being a parent actually enhanced her ability to succeed by providing an advantage not available to her parentless classmates and colleagues.
Like other stories we share on this site, a case is made within the movie that both Marty and Ruth encouraged and engaged each other in significant ways that helped them as parents and on the job.
We won't share any more, because we don't want to spoil the story or give away the ending. But trust us when we tell you that we think you'll enjoy the show. And at the very least, be sure to watch the trailer.
Pointer to HBO's new Docu-Series Being Serena
Working moms on Reddit brought our attention to the new five-part Docu-Series on HBO* called Being Serena. The series chronicals the most recent events in Serena Williams' life; from winning the Australian Open while pregnant in April 2017 right up to attending the recent wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
But it's the stuff in-between those events that is most interesting ... and inspiring ... and thought provoking ... and relatable.
For those who don't know, Serena is married to Alexis Ohanian, one of the co-founders of Reddit, so it's especially interesting that Reddit led us to this program. Talk about a synergistic relationship!
Working parents (both moms and dads) are likely to appreciate Serena's story and find themselves relating, thinking, and being inspired as they watch.
* It appears that Being Serena is also available via On Demand until early July. More info.
By Thomas McFall (adapted from Twitter with permission | @Thomas___McFall)
In one of my Management classes, I sit in the same seat every day. It's in the front of the class. Every single day I sit there.
It's next to some foreign guy who barely speaks English. The most advanced thing I've heard this guy say in English is "Wow, my muffin is really good". This guy also has a habit of stacking every item he owns in the exact space I sit; his bag, his food, his books, and his phone are ALWAYS right on my desk space.
Every single time I walk into class this guy says "Ah, Tom. You here. Okay." And then he starts frantically clearing my desk of his belongings. He then makes it a habit to say "Ready for class, yeah?" And gives me a high five. Every day this guy gives me a high five.
I was ALWAYS annoyed with this guy. I'm thinking "Dude, you know I sit in this seat every day. Why are you always stacking your shit here? And the last thing I want to do is give a guy who barely speaks my language high fives at 8:00 in the morning." Just get your shit off my desk.
But Monday I came to class and was running a few minutes late. I'm standing outside because I had to send a quick text. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my usual space through the door. Of course, my desk was filled with his belongings. The usual.
As I'm standing there on my phone, another guy, who was also late, walks into the class before me and tried to take my seat since it's closest to the door. The foreign guy who sits next to me stops this dude from sitting down and says "I'm sorry. My good friend Thomas sits here."
It was then that I realized this guy wasn't putting stuff on my seat to annoy me. He was saving me the seat every morning. And this whole time he saw me as a friend, but I was too busy thinking about myself to take him into consideration. Cheesy as it sounds, I was touched.
I ended up going into class, and of course he cleared the seat and said "Ah, Tom. You here. Okay." And I did get a high five. At the end of class I asked him if he wanted to get a bite to eat with me. We did. And we talked for a while. I got through the broken English and learned that he moved here from the Middle East to pursue a college education in America. He plans to go back after he gets his degree. He's got two kids and a wife. He works full time and sends all his left over money back home to his wife.
Moral of the story? Don't do what I did and constantly only think about yourself. It took me nearly the entire semester to get my head out of my ass and realize this guy was just trying to be my friend. Better late than never I suppose.
Pointer to a Yahoo! Lifestyle video featuring Anne McClain
Some working parents fret about the need to travel for business. Astronaut Anne McClain, who will be heading to the International Space Station in November, offers a balanced perspective shared by many. Some of her thoughts have been included in a short Yahoo! Lifestyle video (<2 min). Enjoy!
Inspired by the Harvard Business Review podcast: "Couples That Work"
About two months after our second child was born, I was interviewing for a new job. I'd spent the previous few years at a start-up that never came close to delivering the compensation I'd walked away from with my previous employer. So when I received a respectable offer to return to that "previous employer" as a contractor, and in a role I'd filled right out of college nine years earlier, I felt relieved, encouraged, and happy to get my foot back in the door.
But my husband didn't feel the same way. He told me that if I took that job I'd "ruin the family name" because I was overqualified for it and capable of more. He thought I needed to continue my search until I found a position that better aligned with my experience and provided compensation that aligned with that experience.
That wasn't exactly the encouraging response I was expecting, so I paused, and then I took his advice. A month later I landed a much better offer for a position that required the experience I'd acquired and would compensate me accordingly.
My husband's surprising encouragement to walk away from the "lesser" offer really caught me off guard. I'd always appreciated that he supported me, but I'd never realized how much he respected my capabilities. It was a huge confidence booster, and in hindsight, a defining moment that kept my career on track at a time when it could have easily been derailed. (It's also worth mentioning that by pushing me to take on more responsibility at work, demands on his time at home were certainly going to increase, so he didn't have much to gain by pushing me to strive for more.) Of course I ended up taking the better offer, and I never looked back.
It turns out that this kind of "tough love" advice is a trait found within successful dual career couples according to an interesting Harvard Business Review podcast called "Couples That Work". Guest Jennifer Petriglieri calls this providing a "secure base" and points out that this kind of encouragement, when one spouse actually pushes the other to move further outside the relationship, is how we thrive, develop and grow. Interestingly, it's often the same kind of encouragement we give to our children to ensure they become capable adults.
Any couple that wants to strengthen their relationship and career opportunities should listen to at least the first 10 minutes of this podcast.