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 ...
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.
Link to a video posted on Twitter
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
Often we encourage our kids to persevere when they struggle. And sometimes we learn by watching them. Check out the tenatious child in this video (<1 min) that was recently posted on Twitter.
Being a working parent can be like this, but if you keep at it, and get some good advice, you're likely to have a great sense of accomplishment at the end!
Commentary on a Harvard Business Review article by Kate Weisshar
A recent Harvard Business Review article by Kate Weisshaar reported that parents (both moms and dads) who took time off from their careers to stay home with their children full-time are less likely to be interviewed for open positions than working parents who were laid off from their previous positions and out of work for the same length of time.
The article, which generated some emotionally charged reader comments, makes a case for juggling career and parenting responsibilities, if setting an example for your children via your career is important to you.
The gender pay gap gets a lot of attention. Many theories try to explain why it exists. While many spend time speculating and theorizing about it, the folks at Uber have gathered data that provides new insights. People who value fair pay, including working parents, are likely to find this info pretty interesting. (And those who want to dig deeper into the data can listen to the Freakonomics podcast: What Can Uber Teach Us About the Gender Pay Gap?)
Some believe that the gender pay gap could be reduced if workers had more flexible work hours. Uber offers its drivers total flexibility when it comes to hours worked.
Some assert that those who control pay have unconscious (or conscious) biases that result in men being paid more than women for the same work. Uber pays drivers using a gender-blind formula based on the length of a ride in miles and minutes. Additionally, the fare (which determines pay) may include "multipliers" based on customer demand at any given time. Uber's pay structure is based solely on services provided, and it's non-negotiable.
Some think that hiring can be a biased process, and we agree. At Uber work is assigned via an undeniably gender-blind process.
This means that Uber is able to provide driver pay data that is virtually devoid of gender biases. As you might imagine, researchers were eager to sift through this data. And, for a variety of reasons, they expected women Uber drivers to out-earn men by just a little or at the very least to earn the same amount as men on an hourly basis. But guess what? That's not happening.
The data shows that men make about 7% more per hour (on average) for doing the exact same job. And remember, this is in a setting where work assignments are made by a gender-blind algorithm, and the pay structure is tied directly to output and is non-negotiable. Interestingly, this 7% pay gap aligns with gender pay gaps uncovered by other studies within other work environments.
So how do they explain this?! Before jumping to the answer, it's worth noting that the volume of data available for analysis was huge; 25M driver-weeks across 196 US cities over 22 months (June 2015 - March 2017). It included >1.8M drivers and >740M Uber trips.
As the researchers dug deep into the data, here's what they found:
So while women have every opportunity to earn just as much as men when they're Uber drivers, the choices they make are lowering their average income slightly. In a nutshell, choices have consequences.
This info is compelling for working parents because it makes it really clear that career choices always have consequences. A decision to opt out of the workforce, for even a relatively short period of time like a year, can have lasting consequences. Usually we understand that and are happy to live with the consequences. But sometimes people don't understand that even a short "break" from the workforce in the early years of a career will result in unexpected and significant consequences (not to mention frustrations) down the road.
Working while raising kids is hard, but this data shows that those who figure how to make it work are more likely to find themselves satisfied over the long run if equal pay is important to them. We probably shouldn't be surprised to learn that Uber and the researchers have just confirmed that experience matters and hard work pays off.
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.
Being a parent is hard sometimes. Being a parent with a job outside the home doesn't make things easier. And being a working parent with a special needs child often feels downright overwhelming.
As a working parent with a special needs child, I recently found myself so exhausted and heartbroken that I was confused. I didn't know whether I was feeling challenged by parenting, my special needs child, or my work environment.
So I did what I usually do when I am confused: research. I turned to Google and searched on "parents struggling with special needs children". I got a lot of results. There are tons of great blogs and articles from special needs parents, organizations, and medical institutions. It was unbelievable.
One blog entry from a mother of a special needs child was especially comforting for me. It said something like this: “If you have come to this blog because you Googled 'struggling with special needs children' you must feel very exhausted. Let me tell you: you are not alone. And believe me, what you do day in and day out is truly exhausting, and it is incredible! You are a Superhero.”
That helped me so much. Instantly. I felt validated, understood, and knew I wasn't alone.
Whether we are parents, working parents, or working parents with special needs children, what we do is important. And most importantly: we are not alone in our struggles, fears and feelings. There are others out there who feel the same way we do, and they can offer comfort, encouragement, and even inspiration.
So next time you feel worn out and tired by all of the challenges you face as a working parent, remember: You Are a Superhero!