EI fellow authors USA Today piece on feminism, familism, and work-life balance

Jennifer Donahue is the Eisenhower Institute Cardin Fellow of Public Policy

Gettysburg College’s Eisenhower Institute (EI) Cardin Fellow of Public Policy Jennifer Donahue authored a March 25 USA Today opinion piece on the challenges working mothers and women in leadership face. Donahue heads EI’s Women in Leadership program, in which students interactively learn about gender issues.

From USA Today:

Feminism needs to change to familism
Only the 1% can afford nannies. The rest of us need to change the rules of the game. Millennials, we are counting on you.

Sheryl Sandberg created a buzz with her new book. I hope the Millennials, the second largest and most powerful generation in the history of America, are paying attention.

I laud Facebook's chief operating officer for her inspiring words. But now we need to show, warts and all, what the challenges were for Generation Xers like me.

Jennifer DonahueWe are the children of feminists, who taught us to break the glass ceiling. But none of us knew how deeply the shards would cut.

Millennials must replace "feminism" with "familism" and bring men into the equation before having children. They must advocate for changes in workplace culture that support family, partly by leveraging technology to create more flexibility for both genders. The new culture should count those evening hours Sandberg and others spend working on laptops and smartphones towards their workday. And Millennials must leverage social networks and form a lobby, like the NRA or MADD, to effect legislative change towards quality, affordable pre-school and after school care.

When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer eliminated work from home for employees after taking a two-week maternity leave and installing a personal nursery outside her office, she sent a message that work-life balance would get worse. If face-time was Mayer's goal, a better approach would have been to start a Yahoo nursery for all employees. BestBuy followed suit, eliminating telecommuting. Meanwhile, a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds telecommuting boosts productivity, decreases absenteeism and increases retention.

As Sandberg may have motivated Millennials, I want to share my story in the hope that it will mobilize them into taking action to demand work-life balance and a different definition of success.

After graduating from Cornell, I went to work for C-SPAN in Washington and field produced the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings. I was less interested in who was right or wrong than in the polarizing nature of the hearings. Today, we have the same polarization between political parties and genders -- another reason to change the term "feminism."

I became press secretary for Republican Sen. Hank Brown of Colorado and learned what it was like to be the only woman in the inner circle. I went on to be a producer for Inside Politics for CNN. When I turned 30, I got married and became a commentator on the 2000 election.

When expecting my first child, my husband's career was rapidly progressing and he joined a company in New Hampshire. I began working for the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, which kept me in regular contact with presidential candidates and the networks. Requests for national commentary streamed in on my cell phone. Yet I could not find adequate child-care. So I took my kids with me, sitting them 10 feet from where I did live interviews on FOX and MSNBC. One particularly tight morning, I dropped the kids off moments before moderating a 2004 election panel that was live on C-SPAN -- with no makeup on.

When my kids were six and eight, I was offered a teaching fellowship at Harvard during the historic 2008 campaign. While I got the job done, my role as primary caregiver made it hard for me to enjoy success. I did not use the Cambridge apartment that was provided; I drove home to New Hampshire each night to tuck my kids in bed.

I could say that my kids being with me on the job gave them a unique lesson in democracy, but in truth, I took the kids with me because I had to. I loved my work and I loved my kids, and like millions of parents across America, I found that quality child-care was neither available nor affordable. This must change. My husband tried to help, but the culture of his workplace didn't provide him the flexibility needed for both parents to work. This too must change.

My marriage ended. Like me, many of my divorced friends work full-time, and we can't help wondering -- former husbands and wives alike -- if it would have been different if we hadn't been walking on the broken glass from those ceilings. Without the structure in place for both partners to work, our marriages suffered.

Only the 1% can afford nannies. The rest of us need to change the rules of the game. Millennials, we are counting on you to form PACs, lobby for accessible child-care both legislatively and in your workplace, leverage online social networks, not let flexible schedules backslide and have honest conversations with your employers -- all of which we hope will lead to better work-family balance and to a more holistic definition of success.

Jennifer Donahue is the Cardin Fellow of Public Policy at The Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College.

Read the piece in its entirety at USA Today.

The Eisenhower Institute is a distinctive program of Gettysburg College with offices in the heart of the nation's capital and in the historic Gettysburg home once occupied by Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower. The Eisenhower Institute combines top-level dialogue among policy-makers with a premier learning experience for undergraduates. Find out more at http://www.eisenhowerinstitute.org.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Nikki Rhoads, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Posted: Mon, 25 Mar 2013

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