With friends like this who needs enemies? This charming piece in the Harvard Business Review by Roasabeth Moss Kanter, “Why running a family doesn’t help you run a business”, is supposedly aimed at helping stay-at-home mothers re-enter the workforce but it reads like a giant put-down to me.
But, don’t get her wrong.
Don’t get me wrong. I encourage flexible careers that permit multiple choices over a lifetime, with employers who value skills over lockstep career advancement. If women (or men) choose to put their paid work careers on hold while raising children and nurturing a household, I want to see them succeed at reentry and use their talents to the fullest. But myths about the value of their experience as full-time stay-at-home parents are not going to help them succeed in the business world, and some family habits must be unlearned.
Family managers are accustomed to being surrounded mostly by people who are much younger than they are, know little or nothing, and are clearly dependent, unable to function fully on their own. Spending quality time with people with limited vocabularies doesn’t hone complex strategic thinking. But in business workplaces, managers generally need to hire “up,” finding people who are as good or better than they are at significant tasks. Wooing people with career aspirations, then motivating, assessing, and retaining them, is totally different than getting family work done.
Furthermore, family managers who stay home might have a protector and defender in their spouse. But family managers used to having a powerful ally intervene in family conflicts on their behalf won’t benefit from that kind of partnership in most offices. Workplace professionals must stand on their own, something that family managers can forget.
Family managers operate in a world defined by personal relationships and personal favors. Rightfully, loyalty, caring, and deep emotional bonds are important. But in the paid workplace, even the most compassionate ones, objective measurable goals are key. Sentiment can’t substitute for performance.
Really, how helpful. Moss Kanter’s piece manages to patronise stay-at-home mothers in two ways – and I guess that’s an accomplishment of sorts.
Firstly, it makes the mistake that many non-parents and fathers make in thinking that being a primary parent involves a lot of ninny brain activities and not much real world problem-solving or skill. This reminds me of when I was a teenager and I confidently told a family friend, who was a stay-at-home mother living on a shoestring budget at the time with her husband and four small children, that I could never be a stay-at-home mother because I wasn’t the sort of person who could survive doing nothing all day. How she managed to restrain herself from clobbering me at that moment I do not know.
Now that I am the mother of two small children I can say that my experience of parenting is that it is quite the friggin’ opposite of “doing nothing all day”. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes find parenting boring and repetitive (the same can be said for my more highly regarded, paid office job, too), but I also often find parenting psychologically and intellectually taxing, and to reduce all child-rearing work to a series of mindless tasks completely devoid of “complex strategic thinking” is just plain sexist. And really, it should come as no surprise that we’re so sexist about it all because care work is an essential community task predominantly performed by women. So, of course, care work, paid and unpaid, is grossly under-estimated in a capitalist economy.
Secondly, this article manages to presume that stay-at-home mothers live on Planet Out-Of-Your-Minds where mothers are putting “nappy changing” and “packing school lunches” on their resume and wondering why they don’t get an interview at the law firm. Please. I’m a work-outside-the-home mother and I’ve sat on plenty of job selection panels, plus, I am very close friends with a number of stay-at-home mothers and I have never once heard of or seen a mother imagining for a minute that their parenting tasks will be in any way respected as the skills that they are when it comes to applying for paid jobs. At-home mothers are facing enough discrimination when they attempt to re-enter the workforce without Moss Kanter’s article to help them along.
(Thanks to @STWnextness for the link).