working-mom.jpgWhen I was pregnant with my daughter many years ago, I was working for the worse boss I had ever had. He was vindictive, passive aggressive, and afraid of his own shadow — all the key characteristics you don’t want in a boss.

I loved what I was doing, but this guy made my life hell. Many nights were lost to bitching about this manager and at some point my husband and I decided I needed to make a change.

My ultimate goal had always been to write a book or two, and try my hand at freelancing and becoming my own boss, but it was always not the right time to take the plunge. Well, we decided to save my whole paycheck for the nine months I was pregnant and then consider whether I could actually start life as a freelancer once my daughter was born. The jerky boss was a great motivator for finally pushing my fears aside.

We ended up saving enough money that after my six-week maternity leave I made the happy walk into my boss’ office.

I told him I was not coming back to my job because I wanted to become a freelancer and take time to write my first book.

His response: “oh, I know, once women become moms the pull of the child is just too strong.”

I tried to reiterate that I was quitting to embark on a new career path for myself, but he kept doing the wink and nod, as if I was just kidding about my new direction.

I sat there thinking, should I tell this guy — “you’re a prick. That’s why I’m out of here bozo”?

But I restrained myself, opting to do the right thing for the sake of my future in journalism and for the sake of our civil society.

Women do not leave a job they love, that pays them a good wage and fulfills them just because the call of motherhood is tugging at them. I don’t care what Dr. Laura says.

They leave because they don’t like their job, or because their bosses suck, or because the opportunities suck, or because the pay sucks.

The latter, it turns out, is one of the biggest reasons, according to a new study to be released today.

The New York Times broke the story this morning about a Congressional study and research by economists that shows women are leaving the workplace in higher numbers because of the tough economy and it’s not for the reasons everyone has assumed.

Indeed, for the first time since the women’s movement came to life, an economic recovery has come and gone, and the percentage of women at work has fallen, not risen, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Each of the seven previous recoveries since 1960 ended with a greater percentage of women at work than when it began.

When economists first started noticing this trend two or three years ago, many suggested that the pullback from paid employment was a matter of the women themselves deciding to stay home — to raise children or because their husbands were doing well or because, more than men, they felt committed to running their households.

It’s the money stupid.

After moving into virtually every occupation, women are being afflicted on a large scale by the same troubles as men: downturns, layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages or the discouraging prospect of an outright pay cut. And they are responding as men have, by dropping out or disappearing for a while.

“When we saw women starting to drop out in the early part of this decade, we thought it was the motherhood movement, women staying home to raise their kids,” Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, which did the Congressional study, said in an interview. “We did not think it was the economy, but when we looked into it, we realized that it was.”

I have long talked about how a good job, with bosses who are understanding of family issues, with opportunities for advancement, and that pays a fair wage, are the kinds of jobs most people don’t just check out of. You don’t need an HR experts to explain why there is low turnover in gigs like this.

Women are done a disservice if we all just assume they are leaving the workplace because they have a child. It’s clearly not the case for most women. Saying it diminishes the importance of changing the major negatives in today’s workplace — a growing disparity in pay among the rank and file and top executives, and the inflexibility when it comes to work-life balance.

And the occasional pricky boss of course.

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