This Is What Virtually Every Woman You Admire Thinks About Working Mothers

At the White House Summit on Working Families this past June, the first ever national summit of its kind, a number of influential women, and some pretty important men, too, got together to talk about how working families can succeed today. We’ve culled together some of the most insightful things these leaders had to say about a few of the issues women, families, and especially moms face in the workplace.

"Either you're not going to be good enough at your profession or you're not going to be a good enough parent. And something's going to suffer."

Christiane Amanpour, Journalist and News Anchor

"We're living in a very complicated world today where economic issues are now women's issues."

Rep. Doris Matsui, Sacramento, Calif.

"The magic wand of it all is voting. If women vote, women succeed, and America succeeds."

Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader

"Work-life balance isn't just something for women; it's for everybody."

Susan Wojcicki, Senior Vice President of YouTube

"I still think women are expected to do the lion’s share of the caregiving in their homes."

Katie Couric, Journalist and Author

"The less judgmental we are about the way women look, the way they dress, the way they take care of their kids, the better we will all be as women."

Maria Shriver, Journalist and Author

"Women can do everything, they just can't do it all at the same time."

Madeleine Albright, First Female U.S. Secretary of State

"We're so used to taking care of everybody else and everything else that sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves. But there are so many people out there--family and friends--who want to help us."

Val Demings, First Female Chief of Police for the Orlando Police Department

"If you don't see women in the roles that you aspire to, you assume that they're not really open to you."

Brenda Berkman, Leader of the First Female NYC Firefighters

"You don't get to be the top guy unless you're giving 24/7 on the job. You're not going to get it on a 40-hour week. You're not going to get it if you're taking maternity leave."

Phyllis Schlafly, Conservatist Activist

"I still think that there are employers who are concerned about hiring a woman because she’s going to have a baby."

Barbara Walters, Journalist and TV Personality

"The fact that our country has no public support for childcare, the fact that businesses and private companies don't do anything to help women and men have flexibility in their careers is a big problem."

Lynn Povich, First Female Sr. Editor at Newsweek

This Is What Virtually Every Woman You Admire Thinks About Working Mothers

What happens when you gather just about every influential woman together to talk about working family issues? This.

At the White House Summit on Working Families this past June, the first ever national summit of its kind, a number of influential women, and some pretty important men, too, got together to talk about how working families can succeed today.

Setting the tone for the Summit, President Barack Obama penned a blog for the Huffington Post in which he wrote, “Family leave, childcare, flexibility and a decent wage aren’t frills. They’re basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses--they should be the bottom line.”

MAKERS, an initiative by AOL to be the largest collection of inspiring women’s stories, interviewed a number of key attendees of the Summit, and we’ve culled together some of the most insightful things these leaders had to say about a few of the issues women, families, and especially moms face in the workplace.

White House Summit: MAKERS Discuss Child Care

Lack of childcare options

Let’s start off with a few facts: Women make up nearly half of the American workforce, and working married women bring home nearly half of their family’s income. What’s more, in almost three out of five married families with children, both parents work.

The overwhelming consensus of the Summit attendees is that it should be easier today for men and women to have children and a job. But when there is little funding for things like childcare, it’s hard for that dream to become a reality.

"The fact that our country has no public support for childcare, the fact that businesses and private companies don’t do anything to help women and men have flexibility in their careers is a big problem," says Lynn Povich, the first female senior editor at Newsweek.

Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. just doesn’t stack up when it comes to policies that would benefit working parents. America is the only country without any kind of mandatory, paid leave for new mothers. And according to data pulled by Princeton University’s Future of Children group, the U.S. provides a lower level of childcare support compared to many of its peer nations.

For example, only 5% of American children three years old or younger are in publicly supported childcare programs, whereas almost half of the children in the same age group in Denmark have publicly supported care. Continuing the comparison, while the Denmark government covers up to 80% of the childcare costs for this age group, the U.S. government covers up to 30%.

"We're living in a very complicated world today where economic issues are now women's issues," says Congresswoman Doris Matsui.

Burnout

According to University of California psychologist Christina Maslach, burnout often reveals itself in one of three ways:

  1. Exhaustion: feeling over-extended by your work
  2. Depersonalization: feeling alienated from your work
  3. Personal accomplishment: feeling like you can never get enough done

Trying to do it all is just about the easiest way to burn out, which is especially easy to do when you're a working parent.

As Madeline Albright put it: "Women can do everything, they just can't do it all at the same time."

Christiane Amanpour can certainly vouch for that: she’s both a mother and a foreign correspondent/news anchor.

Either you're not going to be good enough at your profession or you're not going to be a good enough parent. And something's going to suffer.

Val Demings, the first female chief of police for the Orlando Police Department, offers a solution to burnout. She says she simply asks for help.

"We're so used to taking care of everybody else and everything else that sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves," she says. "But there are so many people out there--family and friends--who want to help us."

Stigma

Albright says she has felt the judgmental sting from other mothers who questioned her commitment to her children.

"'Don’t you miss waiting for your children in the carpool line?'" they would ask her.

This sounds oddly familiar. Matt Lauer, I'm looking at you.

And when pregnancy is concerned, the lack of supportive policies for expecting mothers isn't the only issue.

"I still think that there are employers who are concerned about hiring a woman because she’s going to have a baby," says Barbara Walters.

When Senior Vice President of YouTube Susan Wojcicki was four months pregnant in the late '90s, she questioned if she wanted to join a little startup called Google. At the time, it was just 10 guys she says, and the idea of joining a startup while pregnant had her seeking her friends' advice.

Their response: "You are really crazy. Why would you do that?"

Rather than shy away from the opportunity, however, Wojcicki decided to take the job, and even put her due date on the company calendar.

"I also realized that it was important for me as the first person at Google having a baby to set a tone that was going to be good for all the women that came after me."

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14 Comments

  • I grew up with an amazing father who always told me I could do anything I wanted to, I got made at him as an adult because he didn't tell me the rest of the truth here. I could do anything, but I can't always do it all at once.

    A major reason that I'm an entrepreneur is it allows me the flexibility to care for my family in a way that all my corporate jobs just wouldn't. There is much improvement to be done with family expectations.

  • zane.safrit

    Dear Ms. Gillett,

    I compliment you on this article.

    I loved how you shared so much data on the dismal culture for working women here in the States by itself and even worse when it’s compared to other countries.

    I had a couple of questions.

    Obama’s article in Huffington Post. Would it have had more impact, more authenticity, if the author had been The First Lady?

    Madeleine Albright. Did you know of her quotes as U.N. Ambassador regarding the Iraqi embargo emposed by the U.S. and other nations in the late 90’s. She was asked by Leslie Stahl of CBS’ 60 Minutes whether the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children was ‘worth the price.’ To that Ms. Albright replied “ I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.” Here are the links:

    http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/we-think-the-price-is-worth-it/

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4PgpbQfxgo&yt

    A followup article might focus on moms unable to afford the time or money for this summit.

  • Albright is correct - "Woman [as well as men] can do everything. They just cant' do it all at the same time." People who are successful NEVER live balanced lives where they "get it all". Every time we make one choice, we deny another.

    Fifteen years ago I was given the opportunity to own 10% of a company and be the CEO at a very high salary in Napa Valley, but the timing wasn't right for my kids - easy choice to say no. I was totally out of balance in favor of family at the time. Seven years ago, after kids were out, my wife and I started a business and spent seven days a week in it the first year - totally out of balance - now it's on four continents.

    No successful person lives in balance (Gandhi, Martin Luther, Jesus, a stay-at-home mom, an entrepreneur). Balance is a myth. The only question is which choice will you make. And when you make it, you will be saying no to something else. Trying to have it all at the same time is simply self-centered. Make a choice - be sold out to it.

  • Ann Donnelly

    Is there more to this article? Feels like it just cuts off. Some really good points.

  • Kathy Zang

    Certain professions are more accepting. I run a general surgery office. So far the female physician has gotten married and had two children in the past 5 years. But women who become surgeons (or other types of physicians) are used to pushing through med school and used to making some demands. Perhaps the male culture in the medical profession has been brought around a bit to expect this from their female colleagues.

    I was widowed at 42 and had two young children. I had a career already though and worked around the ballet and soccer and school plays. I think you always miss something. If I was waiting in the car pool lane, I wouldn't have the interaction with patients, or with my colleagues. I wouldn't be learning new ideas.

    That said, the American culture does little to support "family" despite the political claims. Family is the reality in the statistics quoted above, not some 1950s version of Leave It To Beaver.

  • The fact that America doesn't have a meaningful mandatory paid-leave for new mothers is an embarrassment.

    That aside, I think there are differing perspectives on some of the other items.

    Firstly, becoming a parent is a choice and with any choice comes consequences, intended or unintended. The reality is that taking a meaningful time away from work, regardless of the reason, is going to slowdown someone's career progression. Parents might not like that, but that is a reality.

    Second, publicly funded or not, childcare costs money. Every family needs to make a choice about how they are going to raise their children, put food on the table and advance their career (for those that have a career and not a job). That choice may require "not having it all", or at least not having it all now.

    more...

  • emily.s.hood

    Childcare does cost money - that's a fact, and good childcare is expensive. What benefits does a child reap from early childhood education, structure, well-rounded meals, etc.? It's not just the child or the child's family that benefits; the community, future school systems, and society in general benefit. An ounce of cure is worth a pound of prevention.

    Second, having access to affordable childcare is a must for any parent trying to support their family. Currently, in my state, a single parent seeking assistance for government-subsidized childcare must show proof of enrollment in full-time school or employment that is below a pay criteria. It's pretty difficult to interview and get hired if you're toting an infant carrier and a four year old to your potential employers. Like it or not, hiring managers often perceive parents as likely to miss work, especially in low-wage/entry level skills roles, making it tough to show proof of that job in order to qualify for childcare.

  • merxu

    As far as I know USA is one of few countries in the world that do not have paid maternity leave. Alongside with Liberia, Suriname, Nauru, Tonga, Western Samoa and some others (NY Times, Feb 17 2013). I live in Estonia - a small country of 42 000 km2, population of 1,3M people - and I had paid parental leave with my daughter for 435 days. With full salary I got when I worked (minimum is 320 EUR for those who did not work before pregnancy, max amount is limited with 2234 EUR). It is 1,5 years. Without any worries about how to manage financially.

  • merxu

    As far as I know USA is one of few countries in the world that do not have paid maternity leave. Alongside with Liberia, Suriname, Nauru, Tonga, Western Samoa and some others (NY Times, Feb 17 2013). I live in Estonia - a small country of 42 000 km2, population of 1,3M people - and I had paid parental leave with my daughter for 435 days. With full salary I got when I worked (minimum is 320 EUR for those who did not work before pregnancy, max amount is limited with 2234 EUR). It is 1,5 years. Without any worries about how to manage financially.

  • Third, I think women are harder on each other and themselves and women need to change their attitudes toward working mothers. In my circle of friends there are mothers that don't have outside employment, have part-time employment, and have full-time employment, and it is the women who "judge" each other (and themselves) as mothers, not the men. The reality is that there is no "right" model and each family needs to choose what works for them.

  • emily.s.hood

    Childcare does cost money - that's a fact, and good childcare is expensive. The question is what benefits does a child reap from early childhood education, structure, well-rounded meals, etc.? It's not just the child or the child's family that benefits; the community, future school systems, and society in general benefit. An ounce of cure is worth a pound of prevention.

    Second, having access to affordable childcare is a must for any parent trying to support their family. Currently, in my state, a single parent seeking assistance for government-subsidized childcare must show proof of enrollment in full-time school or employment that is below a pay criteria. It's pretty difficult to interview and get hired if you're toting an infant carrier and a four year old to your potential employers. Like it or not, hiring managers often perceive parents as likely to miss work, especially in low-wage/entry level skills roles.

  • After WWII the Marshall Plan for Europe included child care. there was a similar plan for the USA but child care was denounced - by the same places now denouncing the very purpose of the fedreal government as collectivist and therefore a Communist plot.