By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BERRIEN COUNTY — For working parents in the U.S., the challenge of juggling family life and careers continues to be an important issue.
Women most often are the ones who are forced to adjust their schedules and make compromises when the needs of children and other family members collide with work, Pew Research Center data shows.
In a 2013 study, mothers were found more likely than fathers to report experiencing significant career interruptions in order to attend to their families’ needs. Part of this is due to the fact that gender roles are lagging behind labor force trends.
While women represent nearly half of the U.S. work force, they still devote more time on average to housework and child care – though the gap has narrowed significantly. Among working parents of children younger than 18, mothers in 2013 spent an average of 14.2 hours per week on housework, compared with fathers’ 8.6 hours.
Grace Killelea is the founder and CEO of Half The Sky Leadership Institute, which helps women in leadership roles. During her time there, she’s noticed these trends and understands why it happens.
The numbers are staggering when taking a step back. With 53 percent of the work force comprised of women, more women than men are also graduating college.
“The numbers are disparate. It’s not a lack of women in the pool, it’s that they are not getting beyond the middle layer of their organizations,” Killelea said. “There are plenty of women in the work force, but what you are seeing at the supervisor/manager level, female employment drops to 34 percent. When you go to the VP level, it drops down even more.”
Killelea said women can get discouraged in organizations if they think they are not being promoted.
“There are organizations that don’t even consider women for relocation or new opportunities because they make assumptions that she has children or is a primary caregiver,” Killelea said.
Not all women leave their jobs, but some stop trying to progress in their careers because they don’t want to take on additional responsibilities or time because of the burden they have at home, Killelea said.
“In this society, we still have women as primary caregivers for families,” Killelea said. “Whether that is for children or elder care – which is something a lot of people don’t take into consideration. There’s that generational pull of taking care of elder parents. By societal standards, women are often the person to be considered in their family structure to do that.”
Marydawn Taggart and her husband have moved seven times during their marriage.
The couple, who now live in St. Joseph, changed locations so much because Taggart’s husband had a corporate career that took him to different states. Once married, the couple began their journey in Charleston, S.C. From there, they jumped from city to city, including Indianapolis, Roanoke, Va., Batesville, Ind., Fremont, Ohio, St. Joseph, Martinsville, Va. and Chicago.
Prior to all the moves, Taggart was a head hunter for retailer recruiters. She sought managers and upper level positions for major retailers across the country.
Things changed when the couple learned they would be having their first of three children. Taggart put off her career and became a stay-at-home mom to provide more stability at home.
“Before we got married, we asked ourselves ‘what are we going to do when we have a family?'” Taggart said. “Even though I had a career I loved, I knew I wanted to raise my kids. I didn’t want them to be raised in day care. We made sacrifices that changed our lifestyle and had our first two kids 22 months apart.
Taggart said she did look at going back to work after awhile, but decided against it.
The couple are empty nesters now, with the last child graduating in May.
After 30 years of marriage, they decided to settle down in St. Joseph where Taggart’s husband is a human resources executive for a factory in Niles.
Five years ago, Taggart founded Maddog 5/1 Revolutionary Fitness, which offers group fitness and personal training. Because of the time she dedicates to her business, Taggart said their roles have shifted with each other.
“Now that we own this business and I operate it, our rules have changed again,” she said. “Now he is the supporting spouse who sometimes has to make dinner if my hours get long. His role was key because he made the money. Now this business is important and has been growing. He’s played a major supporting role for me.”
While 42 percent of mothers with work experience reported reducing work hours to care for a child or other family member at some point in their career, only 28 percent of fathers said the same. Similarly, 39 percent of mothers surveyed said they had taken a significant amount of time off from work in order to care for a family member – compared to 24 percent of men.
When the survey asked both genders if they regretted taking these steps, the resounding answer from participants was “no.” However, women who experienced career interruptions were more likely to say it had a negative impact on their career.
Killelea said the opinion varies with most women.
“Personally, I think the idea that having a family can have a negative impact on one’s career doesn’t do women any service,” she said. “We have to say women may make different choices because they have families. It’s a little bit of push pull. Instead of looking at their career as a ladder, some women look at it as a jungle gym where you can go off to the side.”
Plight of a full-time working mom
Another factor is the way society views the bond between mothers and their children.
In a 2013 Pew Research survey, 79 percent of Americans rejected the notion that women should return to their traditional role in society. However, when they were asked what is best for children, very few adults said having a mother who works full time is the “ideal situation.”
Some 42 percent said having a mother who works part time is ideal and 33 percent said what’s best for children is to have a mother who doesn’t work at all. Even among full-time working moms, about one-in-five said having a full-time working mother is ideal for children.
Taggart said those numbers are surprising in this day and age.
“I don’t think women should be expected to give up their careers to raise kids unless its something they want to do,” Taggart said. “It’s no picnic, but a lot of great things come out of it. I would have never opened my studio had I not been a stay-at-home mom.”
The public applies a much different standard to fathers.
When asked about the ideal situation for men with young children, seven out of 10 adults said working full time would be ideal for these fathers. One-in-five adults said part-time work would be ideal and only 4 percent said it would be best for these dads not to work at all.
According to U.S. government data, 64 percent of mothers with children younger than 6 are in the labor force, and among working mothers, 72 percent work full time.
Gale Rue, who runs Edible Arrangements at 1972 Mall Place in Benton Township, said she worked at a family business with her ex-husband while raising her children.
“I worked all day and enjoyed kids during the evening,” Rue said. “We were running around all the time. It was a balancing act.”
As a full-time working mom, Rue took care of her children and also began working at her children’s school part-time to stay involved.
“Sometimes it was overwhelming, but at the same time I enjoyed it and enjoyed the opportunity of having the flexibility of the family-owned business,” Rue said.
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 22, 2015)