Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thinking about staying home?

Some opt-out, others exercise their choice to stay home. It doesn't matter what you call it; if you stay home to raise your children, you must think about where outside work may fit into your future. If it is your career aspiration to be a parent and you can afford do to so, consider yourself fortunate. Many women (and men) have stayed home and never returned to the outside workforce. However, at some point you may not have an option. You may be forced to return due to divorce or the disability or death of a spouse. Or, you may just decide you want to reactivate your career, or pursue a new career.

Unfortunately, a disconnect exists between employers' and workers' perceptions of time spent away from the workforce. A recent study by Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business found that 61% of hiring managers said that showing that you kept your skills up to date is the most important thing you must do if you want to return. While only 25% of workers cited diminished skills is as the top concern when leaving the workforce. (See full Sun-Sentinel story). It is clear that many who choose to stay home do not know the importance of making an effort to keep themselves marketable.

You should consider how to keep your skill sharp as soon as you decided to stay home. Volunteer work, contract projects, networking and many other activities can keep you up to date in your field or help you develop new skills. Better yet, you can learn to transfer the skills you developed raising kids back to the outside workforce. (Check out Ann Crittenden's "If you've raised kids you can manage anything" by Gotham Books, 2004 for tips!)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Time for Me!

As a writer/consultant/educator, I have a lot of flexibility in my work. I generally choose when and where I work. I often sneak in a few hours of work here and there throughout the day, even on days when I am home with the kids.

My kids are still young, so afternoon naptime usually allows me to catch up my e-mail, grade some papers, or catch up with a client. However, sometimes I forget that I need a break too. Naptime now has become work time, and I often feel guilty if I don't do something productive during that precious hour or two. As a result, I often end up working even if I don't have any pressing priorities or a real need to get something accomplished.

So, yesterday I finally took a break! Naptime came around and I decided I needed a nap too. It was, after all, a holiday. So I laid down, closed my eyes and just relaxed for an hour. It has been a long time since I allowed myself such a luxury. I was uncomfortable for a few minutes, thinking of some e-mails I needed to respond to. But, once I allowed myself to relax, I thoroughly enjoyed my break. Later in the day I even felt more energized!

I know I am not the only mom out there who doesn't give herself a break. Working parents tend to make sure their kids get attention and their work gets attention, leaving themselves at the bottom of the priority list. Yesterday I reminded myself that if I don't take some time for me, I won't have the energy or enthusiasm to work or spend quality time with my kids.

So if you are like me, do yourself a favor. Go take a break!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Victory for Working Mom

Teresa Lehman may soon be a hero to working moms everywhere. According to James McCarty in the 5/26 Plain Dealer, Ms. Lehman recently won an employment discrimination lawsuit against Kohl's Department Stores. Lehman, who had three children in a four year period, claimed that she was frequently passed over for promotion to store manager due to bias against her as a working mom. Lehman was awarded 2.1 million dollars plus attorney's fees in the suit.

I've heard many stories of women (and men) who feel they have been passed over for opportunities because of their parental responsibilities. Many assume that if they choose to have to children, then they have to slow down in career progression. This belief is held even more closely by those who pursue flexible work options. Many parents who go part-time or try to work from home do so with the plan to put their career movement on hold. But, this doesn't have to be the case. Working parents can take care of their home responsibilities and still be a contributing and valuable employee.

Parents who have faced discrimination in the workplace should pursue justice through the legal system. However, I believe real change will happen when parents begin to stand up and demand flexibility in the workplace. Companies will become more flexible when they start to realize they will lose the war for talent if they are not. Even more, if companies realize they can save money through employee retention and become more competitive through the increased productivity of flexible workers, more opportunities will exist for parents. And as a result, parents such as Ms. Lehman will not have to go through the stress of a court case to have success at work.