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Childless Professionals – The New Minority

by Shawanda Greene

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 28JAN11 - Sheryl Sandberg, ...

Sheryl Sandberg, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a single, currently childless, woman, it bugs me that motherhood is a lifestyle choice that warrants special treatment in the workplace.

Child rearing is an important job.

I was a child once. I understand.

Had my mother not carefully watched over me, I would’ve been hit by a car or killed by an asthma attack or something. Once when I was seven years old, my mom, literally, snatched me from the path of an oncoming car. (My mama is so precious.)

Still, I’m annoyed when mothers get to dart out of the office early because they have to pick up kids from day care, take ‘em home and feed ‘em and stuff.

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, leaves work at 5:30 every day so that she can have dinner with her kids by 6:00 PM. While you may think it’s just swell that Sandberg leaves work “early,” her workday doesn’t end there. And I seriously doubt she would’ve climbed up the ranks of Facebook and Google if she put in a standard 40-hour workweek.

At this point, you’re asking, “If Sheryl spends her mornings and evenings working, why do you care where she does her job?”

I don’t care. That’s the short answer.

Many career moms fire up their laptops when they get home. They’re as committed to their employers as they are to their kids. Whether or not that’s a noble trait is up to the mother in question to decide.

All I’m calling for is equal treatment.

Those who’ve opted against parenthood get to slave away under the woefully unflattering fluorescent light bulbs in a monochrome cubicle while women with children jet off to the comforts of their couch to finish up their work.

My apartment may not be overrun with kids, but when the night falls I wanna get my black a– out of the office.

I wanna meet up with friends for dinner.

I wanna attend a group exercise class at my gym.

I wanna get physical with my partner before my eyelids feel like they’ve been sprayed with hot sauce.

Am I asking for too much?

When I worked for an international accounting firm, I remember they bragged about the flexible working arrangements available to mothers. What? You think working moms are the only employees who crave flexibility?

I would’ve loved to work a reduced work schedule. But I didn’t ask for fear that my superiors would think I wasn’t serious about my career. (That and I didn’t want to take a pay cut.)

How many other professionals are afraid to ask? And if they did ask for a reduced workload in exchange for reduced pay, would their desires to pursue non-work related passions be trivialized by decision makers? After all, being a parent is the most important job in the world. Or so I’ve heard.

While writing this blog post, I was reminded of an episode of Sex and the City.

You remember the one when Carrie’s expensive shoes were stolen at a friend’s baby shower. The next day Carrie returns to see if her shoes turned up. Carrie’s friend offers to pay for the shoes. And then…she learns how much they cost.

Friend: So, um, how much were they?

Carrie: Uh, four hundred and eighty-five.

Friend: Come on, Carrie. That’s insane.

Carrie: Well, that’s what they cost.

Friend: I’ll give you $200.

Carrie: Okay, this is an awkward conversation.

Friend: I’m sorry. I just think that’s crazy to spend that much on shoes.

Carrie: You know how much Manolos are. You used to wear Manolos.

Friend: Well sure, before I had a real life. But Chuck and I have responsibilities now: kids, houses…Four hundred and eighty-five. Like, wow.

Carrie: I have a real life.

Stop right there!

Male or female, mom or dad, young or old, we all have real lives.

Whether you got kids or don’t got kids, you’ve made a choice. Our lives are a product of our choices. They are ALL valuable.

Now, let’s hear it for the boys.

How many companies offer the benefit of a 6-week pa-ternity leave?

What would happen if a woman decided she wanted to head back to work one week after having a baby while her child’s father stayed home to care for their newborn? Would the dad even be entitled to six weeks of paid leave? If not, why not?

I don’t want to deny moms flexible working arrangements or maternity leave. None of that. I’m simply asking for fairness. If we trust and accept that a mother can leave the office at 5:30, spend time with her kids, and dutifully finish her work during the in-between times, then why wouldn’t non-mothers do the same?

When I worked in a corporate job, I wondered if a non-traditional working arrangement was even an option for me. Strangely, having a baby would’ve probably given me more room to negotiate.

When you make concessions for one group to enjoy the choices they’ve made, it tells the other group their choices are less important. And that’s simply not true.

Let’s be respectful of each others’ choices.

What do you think?

Did you enjoy this article?
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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Shaquetta April 25, 2012 at 3:57 PM

YESSSSSSS!!!!! I was just thinking this the other day. I've been having working like crazy to meet these deadlines. My Lead Auditor even told me we needed to stay late a few nights, but then 30 minutes later I see her leaving to get home to her husband and baby. So do I have to stay here all night cause I don't have any kids???? I don't think so.

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Shawanda April 25, 2012 at 4:37 PM

Oh, I remember those days. If moms or wives get to leave early, I wanna leave early. I didn't wake up in the morning and say to myself, "I'm so excited to work nonstop in a stuffy office building until 10:00 at night! And oh, I can't wait to go back into the office on the weekend!" Yeah, that never happened.

And if I worked with a mother, she'd better not even think about relaxing when she got home. Get back to work after you feed your kid(s), help with homework, etc. Everyone on the audit team needs to pull their own weight. But honestly, anyone who tried to pull that in the office I worked in, mother or not, would've be greeted with hostility by their team members. After a while, they'd either quit or get fired.

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Shaquetta April 27, 2012 at 10:12 AM

Oh and I'm in the office today on MY BIRTHDAY! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

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Shawanda April 27, 2012 at 10:26 AM

Happy Birthday!!! I'll have a drink in your honor later today. Try not to work too late.

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Shaquetta April 27, 2012 at 10:38 AM

THANKS!

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ImpulseSave April 25, 2012 at 9:01 PM

I think that's a great point. I had never thought about it too much but you may be on to something here. Of course, don't take away flexibility for mothers and fathers, but how about spreading the love to some of the other people in the office. There are other relationships and people that need to be taken care of besides children, and I think that most offices would do well to recognize the importance of taking a break just for the sake of taking a break.

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@prairieecothrif April 26, 2012 at 10:28 AM

I think this is well said and I would have wrote something similar. Provisions are great but everyone should have access to them, not just a specific group. I think kids or no kids, employers should make more options for employees to be flexible. It makes for a healthier employee which turns into greater productivity for the employer. It's a win win.

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Shawanda April 26, 2012 at 11:29 PM

Exactly. I don't know if the issue has ever come up in the courts, but I think dads should start asking for the same amount of parental leave after the birth of a child as what's provided to their female colleagues. More and more men are choosing to be the primary caregiver of their children.

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Dawn April 26, 2012 at 8:38 AM

I agree with you 100%. Because I don't have children, I don't have the same perks as those who do. I'm not allowed to call in to my boss because my child may or may not be sick (and not get penalized for it).
I'm so glad someone actually blogged about this!

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Shawanda April 26, 2012 at 11:25 PM

If you don't have kids, you just show up to work sick and infect everyone else. Somehow we've convinced ourselves this is a sign of dedication. It's just stupid. Even with the ability to work from home, I'd still go to work sick just to show everyone how sick I was. I'd often wait until 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon and then head back home. What a waste of time.

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Brenda G April 26, 2012 at 9:43 PM

Fresh angle of thinking and true! We’re all equal our life choices are just different and no1 needs to be overlooked or excluded in the workplace due to not having children.

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Shawanda April 26, 2012 at 11:32 PM

I hear that. One lifestyle isn't better than another. They're just different.

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Stephanie April 28, 2012 at 2:44 AM

Paternity leave is actually given in most of Europe, just not in the US. I'd like to be a career woman, and ideally, I think that my future husband and I would both take shorter hours if we ever had kids. Hopefully, that'll be allowed here soon!

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Shawanda April 30, 2012 at 1:58 AM

In the United States of America? Um, I'm no so sure about that. Although, it would be pretty cool if fathers could spend more time with their new babies. I hear Canada allows up to like NINE months of paternity leave. Don't quote me on that, but if it's true…Wow.

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jen April 30, 2012 at 12:55 PM

In Canada you get just short of one year – 15 weeks of maternity (has to be the person who gave birth as it is considered medical leave) and 35 weeks parental leave that can be split in between parents. It also applies to same-sex couples. Parental leave of 35 weeks is also available to adoptive parents.

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Shawanda April 30, 2012 at 1:43 PM

Sweet. Kind of makes our 12 weeks of family medical leave look pretty sad. Thanks for the info!

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Therm April 28, 2012 at 7:27 AM

At one point, I used to shout this exact same argument from the mountain tops. I wondered "how can these be legitimate excuses, just because they're based on family". This was while I was single and had no kids. I was a super-dedicated employee. My single life was VERY full. I don't know when the change within me happened, but I've come to realize where these married/kids people point of view came from. Deciding to have a family is not one decision with one outcome. It's a series of decisions that have multiple, complex ongoing outcomes. The only thing I can say is that single/unwed people won't fully understand until they're married with children. If I ran a business, I'd look at a mother becoming pregnant as a cost of doing business. I would absolutely give her special treatment, but still expect a lot out of her. Prior to my current lifestyle, I wouldn't have felt this way.

Let me put this in perspective real quick. We, as people, make choices EVERY SINGLE DAY. We make choices when we have all the info, less than the info or no info. Having a child is a choice that is absolutely unchangeable. There's no back button, delete button or eraser. You can even undo your marriage, but you can't undo having children. When you have a child, your ENTIRE world changes (for those that actually care about their kids). It brings things that were unexpected. When someone else makes a huge decision (buying a house, car, opening a business…) they can eventually undo it all if it gets out of control. They're praised for "at least trying" or ridiculed for "failing". There's none of that with children. And the only other people that understand that are those with children. A single boss/co-worker just won't get it. I don't think they should have to get it. They just have to accept it.

Shawanda, you quit your job. Somebody might look at you like "you're crazy for doing that, why would you give up a lucrative career"? However, at that point, you've decided to embrace the entrepreneur in you. You are now "different" from an employee because of a choice you made. A difficult one. A complex one that breeds multiple ongoing outcomes. One that requires different treatment (rightfully so) from others . And one that only other entrepreneur's TRULY understand. "Family people" are different from single people, and you won't grasp that difference unless you become one of those people.

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Shawanda April 30, 2012 at 1:51 AM

The default response to discrimination shouldn't be acceptance but rather suspicion.

I don't expect different treatment from others because I chose to quit my job. And I can't think of any instances where I've received it. My former employer certainly didn't make any concessions for me to pursue my entrepreneurial ambitions.

But here's the thing. I'm not advocating that special treatment be taken away from parents.

I'm advocating for the EQUAL treatment of all employees.

If you expect a lot of a mother, and she delivers, then you should expect a lot from all employees. As long as they all deliver, I don't see what the problem is. Additionally, if an employer lets a mother leave work early every day and she can't get her work done, the privilege should be taken away. That's fair.

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Aleksie April 28, 2012 at 11:44 AM

I like this post a lot. Not just because I'm firmly in the childfree camp but because it is really about spreading the wealth and not taking away from others. Many people end up in a variety of situations (caring for elderly parents, siblings who are terminally ill, etc.), and I think they should be given some lee-way as well, as long as they are getting their work finished.

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Shawanda April 30, 2012 at 1:52 AM

Exactly.

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Holly Wolf April 30, 2012 at 11:50 AM

I'm childless and have often encourage people to go home and be with their childrend when they need to. It's the right thing to do. But when my mother was dying it was difficult to get the flexibility i needed to manage the situation. In the final days, the only way to manage was to take a leave of abscense.

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Shawanda April 30, 2012 at 12:10 PM

May I just say, that's effed up. You should've received the same level of consideration that you provided. My mother is the most important person in my life. I have a hard time excusing someone to go play with their kids while denying another person extra time to spend with an ailing relative. I'm really sorry for your loss.

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