img_athena.jpgA while back I tweeted this to my nearly 20,000 followers on Twitter and I got an avalanche of responses and retweets:

#1 issue facing women in the workforce today: How we topple the 1950s-company-man sustained model, where women have no say.

Why did it get so much attention? Because women are sick and tired of trying to fit their lives into an out-dated workplace model that no longer fits for today’s realities. Women are juggling children and careers, caring for aging family members, and all the while penalized for it with less pay and little to no representation the nation’s leadership ranks, in everything from Corporate America to the halls of Congress.

That’s why I’m calling for a working-woman revolution. And I don’t mean only waging war against the male-dominated management model, but battling our own fears and baggage when it comes to fighting for what we want and need. Working gals are finally poised to launch an offensive because we are at “the tipping point” of a female revolution. Women now make up the majority of the workforce in America, and many working gals are starting to think the out-dated career template based on the 1950s “Company Man” needs an overhaul.

For too long women have had to accept token work-life changes bestowed by male-dominated workplaces. And moms have become too obsessed with battling the mommy wars, working moms against stay-at-home moms. But now women are realizing they need the keys to the executive bathrooms, not just the lactations rooms; and all that mommy infighting has meant women took their eyes off the prize – a workplace, a world, with women leaders who truly understand family responsibilities.

Family and love trumps egos!

Christine Lagarde, the first woman to head the powerful International Monetary Fund, gets the realities of life.

lagarde.jpgShe understands the global economy and what needs to be done, but her most moving words come when she discusses the egos she confronts in her job, mainly the egos of men who control money and power around the globe.

“When my father passed away and then when later on I gave birth, those are sort of ground-breaking experiences that put everything else into perspective. You know, when I sit in meetings and things are very tense and people take things extremely seriously and they invest a lot of their ego, I sometimes think to myself, ‘Come on, you know, there’s life and there’s death and there is love.’ And all of that ego business is nonsense compared to that.”

Only women can carry this torch.

We need to focus on what we women can bring to the table, and what we need to do, and what many working women pioneers are already doing, to make the nation’s offices, factories, congressional halls, etc., work for us. It’s not shoehorning your way into the existing anti-family, anti-woman workplace structure. It’s about how to go about changing the workplace to better fit the lives of today’s woman.

It’s about the two co-engineers at Ford who share a job so they can spend more time raising their kids, and even so, they’re credited with being the brains behind the success of the auto giant’s Explorer SUV. It’s about the lawyer who left a high-powered law firm for academia because she wanted flexibility for her family, and is now the head of a renowned women’s leadership institute. It’s about the applications engineer at Intel who went part time when her kids were young, and is now a high level manager at the computer chip giant. It’s about a Congresswoman from Illinois who missed votes on the House because she wanted to attend her daughter’s concert and is serving her third term.

A growing number of working women are defining success on their own terms, and while they’re career trajectory seems atypical and they’ve made job decisions based on their family — something which would have doomed most corporate climbers in the past — it works for them.

Almost every story about working mothers lately has focused on how they just haven’t been able to accomplish as much as their male counterparts in the workplace. “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, makes a lot of sense: we desperately need more women leaders and we as women have to stop being afraid to stand up and speak up.

But I don’t think the lives women live today are that dire, especially when women go after what they want, just like Sandberg has done. Women who know what they want and go after it don’t feel like they’re getting the shaft.

That’s the biggest lesson women need to learn. Being bossy and demanding what you want isn’t bad gals, as Sandberg points out. My own daughter Circe was given a book by a good female friend of mine when she was around 2 years old titled “Little Miss Bossy.” Hopefully Circe will some day be proud of that!

Indeed, there are many proud and happy working women out there. A survey by Kenexa Research Institute looked at whether women thought their futures looked promising, and 62 percent said: “I can meet my career goals and still devote sufficient attention to my family/personal life.” That compares to 59 percent among men who feel that way.

For women, said Brenda Kowske, a former research manager and at Kenexa, “having a fulfilled or satisfied personal life is an aspect of achieving a promising future at an organization for women in the U.S.”

Women are in a keen position to reshape the linear ladder upward. For the first time, women represent 51 percent of the total U.S. workforce; and the number of working moms as sole family breadwinners hit a record high last year. Many women are realizing they just can’t shoe horn their family lives into an arcane work model.

But one big question remains: “Are we being pioneers, or simply giving in?” asked Pamela Stone, associate professor of sociology at Hunter College and author of “Opting Out: Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home.”

If women are just changing their idea of success because they’ve given up fighting a society that deprives working moms of opportunities to advance, then it’s not a good thing, said Stone. But, if working moms are essentially transforming the work dynamic to meet their needs, then it’s a great thing.

The growing power of working moms may alter the landscape once and for all. “When you get a critical mass of women in any professions you do get changes,” said William Doherty, professor 
and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program in the Department of Family Social Science, College of Education and Human Development, at the University of Minnesota.

“Women are reshaping the workforce, and I think a cultural change is underway,” he continued, pointed to the healthcare industry. “You have 50 percent or more of the young doctors today are women and as a result there is much more part time work available. You don’t have the expectation of 90-hour weeks anymore.”

Rewriting the rules, however, has not been easy because so much of meshing child rearing and career rearing is unknown.

“We have no clue what it’s going to be like when we become a working mother,” stressed Susan Wenner Jackson, one of the founders of the website, Working Moms Against Guilt, because few women do any preplanning. “It completely blows your mind and you have to put the pieces back together.”

We need to build a template for how many working women were able to put the pieces back together and climb their definition of the ladder of success. It would be like a “Fast Food Nation” for working women everywhere. No more being force-fed the metaphorical career chicken McNuggets by “Da Corporate Man,” who says women need to be penalized for being mothers, daughters, and wives. We are going to rethink how we live and breath at work and in our careers. It’s time for women to demand a new, emotionally healthier workplace and a road to the top that takes into account a more organic approach to success and a balanced life.

Here’s the plan I propose we think about:

1. Combating “The Company Man”

The traditional model of professional success in Corporate America has been based on a The Company Man archetype popularized in the 1950s, which mainly referred to a white-male, corporate climber with a wife at home.

In order for women to lead the workplace revolution, they’re going to have to understand how the messed up U.S. system of work was created in the first place. We need to delve into the history of the workplace as we have come to know it and uncover why it’s continued existence will only doom working mothers and working fathers.

2. Forcing Flex Time

Today’s workplace should be all about flexibility but for some reason, working women still are afraid to ask to leave early for fear of being branded a not-serious employee who drops her work responsibilities for family responsibilities.

(And let’s stop talking about Yahoo’s decision to cut telecommuting, and how the CEO of Yahoo is a new mother. She’s just doing what other short-sighted male leaders have done before her, cutting everything in sight to prop up the bottom line. It’s a business strategy that never works long term.)

Women have to stop thinking they’re any less than men who are starting to ask for just as much flexibility but don’t have the heavy weight of motherhood guilt to derail their careers. The endless women I’ve interviewed who ask and still succeed at work are those who don’t bring the guilt trip to the office.

And part time isn’t a dirty word anymore. In fact, in this economy, employers are striving to have as many part timer workers as they can to save money.

There has been a long history of brushing aside part timers as the disrespected, underbelly of the workforce but economic forces and a growing number of working mothers and working daughters who have had to cut their hours in order to make it work for their family lives finally deserve respect. Many managers have told me, the part time moms are the hardest working employees they have, and surprise, surprise, they probably put in more hours with no pay than any one else at companies.

3. Job Clone Crusade

The idea of having co-CEOs is not as insane as it may sound. I would argue, any job can be shared, even the top jobs at corporations. A recent example of this is Disney’s decision last year to appoint co-presidents to its interactive group, including John Pleasants and James Pitaro. The thought of having two people do such a critical job would have been unheard of, but suddenly it’s cool if two guys are doing it. Well, two women can do it to and do it well.

Take Julie Rocco, 38, and Julie Levine, 40. They were both established engineers and managers at Ford Motor Company before they became moms. Together, they broached the idea of doing a job-share arrangement even though it wasn’t common at their level.

4. Career Swap Skirmish

Why is it when women change careers people see it as a black mark on their resumes? I have interviewed many women who had to exit careers that just weren’t conducive to their family obligations, but ended up excelling in their new careers.

Marianne DelPo Kulow, a mother of two, said she had her first child at 40 and a second at 42. She decided to leave a career as a high-powered attorney for something more conducive to raising a family, so she went into academia. She is now a law professor and went on to become director of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass.

marianne2-1-1.jpg“How do you define success?” asked Kulow, 49. “Within the profession I’ve chosen, I made it. I’m respected by my peers, at the top of my salary scale and I’m able to pick my kids up at 3.”

5. Tech Engagement

Clearly, a working mother’s best friend is her iPhone, Droid, and any number of gadgets that allow women to balance work and family. The endless articles about how technology is consuming working parents and thus destroying our kids are getting more and more alarmist.

Attacks on our technology may actually be undermining an important work-life balance revolution. The debate over the over-use of all things digital sounds eerily similar to the daycare debate that flares up every time there’s some new research. Daycare makes our kids dumb and fat; or haven’t you heard.

So, let’s look at the bright side of technology, and not at all the scary, our-kids-are-going-to-become-fat-ax-murderers-because-we-text-message-at-the-dinner-table prophesies.

Kathy Thomas, an executive vice president for Dallas-based Half Price Books, Records, Magazines, receives work e-mails on her Blackberry. She also receives e-mails about her daughter’s volleyball games, school alerts and text messages from her son in college.

kathy_thomas2.jpg“I need it and want it,” Thomas said about her Blackberry, which keeps her connected to her mommy responsibilities and work. “We have stores on the East and West Coast. If a catastrophe happens in the morning or evening I need to know about it.”

6. Spousal détente

Kelly McCarthy, an attorney with Sideman & Bancroft in San Francisco and mother to a 1-year old son named Finn, believes she has a successful and fulfilling career. “I have made it work with a perfect storm of luck, circumstance and planning,” she said. And, the biggest enabler of her success – her husband. McCarthy and her husband approach parenting as a partnership, sharing childcare and household duties.kmccarthy.jpg

I tell women over and over again, especially those who haven’t taken the baby plunge yet, that if you want your career to thrive you’ll need a supportive husband, partner, or your better off being a single mother. The allusion that a man is some how helping you balance it all even though he isn’t does more harm than good. If you want kids and a great career, and your husband isn’t supportive, the best advice I’d give is to get divorced first.

7. Ask and Tell: Lessons From Lesbians

There is something to be learned from same-sex partnerships. Why? Because they don’t have the gender baggage that the rest of us hetero couples have. These couples have told me the burden of child rearing and careers is less for them because they don’t come to the table with preconceived notions of what a woman or man should or shouldn’t be doing.

A recent study by Families and Work Institute supports this notion. When it comes to child care responsibilities, same-sex couples tend to share more than different-sex couples. A greater proportion of same-sex, dual-earner couples than different-sex couples indicate that they share routine (74% versus 38%) and sick (62% versus 32%) child care responsibilities.

“These results show that the chore wars are about more than just traditional gender roles and who does what,” explains Kenneth Matos, the Institute’s senior director of research. “Efforts to end the wars should shift focus from establishing a 50/50 division of responsibilities towards making the division a deliberate decision within couples. Both spouses/partners have the responsibility to make sure no one is keeping silent.”

8. Battle Bitchiness; Don’t Bitch

Stop blaming your children, other women and your lot in life for your career failures. It’s time working women everywhere put an end to the whining about how difficult it is to balance work and family and put their game faces on. Many of the female executives I’ve interviewed attribute their success to focusing on their goals and not allowing guilt to derail their efforts.

And being supportive of women, and looking for women to support them, has also served them well. We have to stop seeing each other as the enemies, even though sociologists say women are often bitchy to each other because they are still the underdogs at work and have to constantly claw their way up the ladder. Alas, clawing leaves a lot of scratched up women behind and we need each other to make this work.

Yes women face many challenges in their careers, including making less than men and not getting those corner offices.

Clearly women have a long way to go when it comes to getting the top seats at U.S. corporations, with women holding only 14.3 percent of the executive officer positions, according to Catalyst. And women still make 75 cents on the dollar to men.

It’s been hotly debated for some time whether this is about bias against women, or their decisions to cut back hours or opt out, or about a system that just hasn’t adapted to the need to working parents. The U.S. is one of the only industrialized nations without mandatory paid family leave; and good childcare options are few and far between.

But bitching and complaining has done little to change the landscape. There are women working to make those changes, but the lack of political will is thwarting their efforts. Women make up 50 percent of the population so if they want to change things they have to make their voices heard. If we whisper that’s a great out for the entrenched power in the workplace to never hear us.

As the late Etta James sang: “This is a man’s world. This is a man’s world. But it wouldn’t, it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing, without a woman, or a girl.”

Time to wage war sisters!

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