Friday, January 13, 2006

What is "mommy track" behavior?

First, a disclamer: Scott is the author of this post. He could not post it himself, because he does not have the author privileges on this blog.

There's a great, short law review article by Christine Jolls entitled, "Is There a Glass Ceiling?" It's short and a good read; it runs through some of the social science evidence of ongoing discrimination and job segregation. (The cite is 25 Harvard Women's Law Journal 1 (2002), for those possibly interested in it.) The following is a somewhat long but, trust me, entertaining excerpt from the beginning of the article:

In the spring of 2001, I was asked by the Federalist Society at Harvard Law School to debate Diana Furchtgott-Roth, chief of staff of the Council of Economic Advisers in the George W. Bush Administration, on the question of whether there is a "glass ceiling" for women in the labor market. I was to argue in favor of the glass ceiling's existence, and she was to take the opposing view. As those who attended know, the discussion ranged broadly over widely varying terrain, including some questions that should be silly but apparently aren't--most memorably, whether it is "mommy track" behavior to give one's nanny or babysitter a cell phone number at which one can be reached while at work when one is away from one's desk--to serious academic disputes over the underlying explanations for women's present labor market position....

"Yes," I replied, unhesitatingly, when Ms. Furchtgott-Roth asked whether I provided my children's caregiver with a cell phone number at which I could be
reached during work hours. (My husband, vice-president of marketing at a large corporation, does the same.) "If, for example, one of our children were to need emergency stitches during the work day and I happened to be out of my office for an extended period, I would want to be reachable so that I would know what was happening and be able to be present, and my husband feels the same way." I then asked the same question of Ms. Furchtgott-Roth (whose economic position would surely allow access to a cell phone for use in emergencies): "Doesn't your children's caregiver have a cell phone number at which to reach one or both parents at work?" "No," she replied. "I simply hire a competent caregiver to begin with." (This is either an exact quote or a very close paraphrase.) In Ms. Furchtgott-Roth's view, "serious" business people cannot be interrupted with "home matters" during their work hours.

This exchange was surprising to me on many levels. Part of the surprise came from the way in which the exchange placed me in the entirely new position of "perceived mommy tracker." I also chuckled in thinking about how various Bush Administration officials would react if they had been there to witness the exchange. But what was most surprising--and disturbing--was the way in which the exchange demonstrated a vision of the "appropriate worker" as one who was wholly unencumbered by life outside of work. Even the tiny likelihood of an emergency phone call from a child's caregiver, in Ms. Furchtgott-Roth's view, would radically disrupt the worker's effectiveness and render him or her not "serious" enough to hold down an important job."


Blogger Jessica said...

This is the sort of thing that leaves me speechless. It reminds me of a story that went around the big firm I worked at. A female associate had to leave on a business trip, I think for depos, the day when her toddler had her first throwing-up flu. Standing waiting for the elevator, this associate mentioned the situation to a female partner, one of the most senior partners in the firm. The partner (also a parent) said something like, "Isn't it nice not to have to be the mommy at moments like that?"

Which is certainly one perspective on parenting, but not one I share. Nor did this associate. Neither of us are there any longer. But of course, that's by our choice, not because of the existence of a glass ceiling.

2:33 PM  
Blogger think-knitter said...

I wonder if the atmosphere where the decision-makers think that mothers should be happy not to have to deal with throw-up is a sort of a glass ceiling. You and the other mother you mentioned left by choice, but it's possible that one of the reasons you made the choice is that you realized that you can't be the kind of mother you want and have a career at that law firm.

10:16 AM  

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