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2. It's unrealistic. Our needs (both men's and women's) change over time. How many of us — with children or without — can truly put career front and center at all times?
3. It's discriminatory. (No one suggested dividing fathers and nonfathers into separate groups.)
4. It shows an amazing lack of creativity, requiring women to fit into the existing work culture, rather than finding ways to make that culture work for everyone.
Companies need women at all levels, and they especially need women in leadership roles. Numerous studies have shown that companies with more women in leadership roles outperform their competitors. They do better on the stock exchange, and they make higher profits.
Many possible reasons have been put forth for this correlation between more women and healthier companies. It could be that we're better listeners, we have a more "open and inclusive style of management," or the fact that diverse groups (such as those that mix genders) tend to make better decisions. One recent study published in Harvard Business Review suggests that women may simply be better leaders. Or maybe, as Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi pointed out in a 2012 interview, the years some of us spend raising children actually give us important diplomacy and interpersonal skills. (Important biographical note: Pelosi spent more than a decade as a stay-at-home mom with five children before running for political office.)
All too often, employers look at the years we stay home with young children as a black mark, wasted time. Even a request to work a reduced schedule is seen as a lack of commitment to our jobs.
This is what needs to change — this attitude about the time people spend caring for family. Instead of pushing us onto the Mommy Track, employers should be looking at creative strategies like job shares so women can stay in leadership roles, or better "on-ramps" to help us transition back to the Fast Track when we're ready.
Government, too, can help by providing incentives and programs to help working parents. This isn't an ideological argument — throughout our history, politicians of all stripes have stepped in to help correct economic deficiencies. Just one example: In 1944, faced with millions of veterans coming home from World War II with valuable skills that did not easily translate to the workforce, Congress passed the GI Bill. The bill provided loans to start new businesses, and tuition and living expenses to attend college. One needed only ninety days of active duty to be eligible — no combat experience required.
This investment in the future of our country unleashed a massive amount of untapped human capital. By the time the program ended, in 1956, more than two million veterans had attended college and more than six million had received some type of training with help from the program. Today, historians and economists conclude that the GI Bill was one of the most successful, profitable government programs in US history, speeding our long-term economic growth and helping bring about the emergence of the middle class. For every $1 invested, the government and the economy received almost $7 in return.
Why wouldn't we make a much smaller, but similar investment for mothers and fathers who take years off (unpaid) to raise children? It wouldn't just improve the economic stability of families; it would be an investment in the economic well-being of our country.