Summer + Google Hangouts = A Working Mother's Nightmare

 I'm a big fan of conference calls.

Working mothers the world over would agree that they are lifesavers. You can take a conference call anywhere, anytime, as long as you have enough bars on your mobile. Most important, there’s a mute button, which allows you to shush children (if needed), eliminate background dog barking or, if the call gets really painfully boring, do the dishes, start some laundry or just wander around and pick up the mess. You know, multi-task!
To make remote work even better, the zeitgeist has added video to the conference call, in the hope that geographically distributed work will now seem more like face-to-face communication. Google Hangouts, Skype and WebEx sessions are becoming de rigueur. And while I appreciate the technological achievement of being able to have face time with a colleague a continent away, the whole let's-talk-via-video thing can be a nightmare -- particularly when combined with the chaos of summer.
Here’s why.
I had my first ever Google Hangout with two clients on a recent afternoon. It was baptism by fire. Technically, it was a snap to set up and start. But on all other accounts, it was perfectly awful.
First, I was completely unprepared for the “video” portion of the call. It was one of those days when I woke up at 7 a.m., threw on whatever and sat down at my computer. Kids wandered in and out of my work ‘area’ near the kitchen, grabbed their own breakfast and were then picked up by  various camp carpools. Business as usual on a summer day.
I didn’t give my appearance another thought until I saw myself at the bottom of the screen after the call started. There I was: No make up, hair scraped back into an unflattering ponytail. And I couldn't get up and fix anything because everyone can SEE me, for heaven's sake! To top it off, my female client looked polished and put together.
What was even weirder was that I didn’t want to take a sip of my coffee or do anything other than sit and listen because, even though my image was reduced to a thumbnail when not talking, I still felt like I was in the spotlight. Think Brady Bunch opening credits. I don’t know about you, but at in-person meetings, I don’t sit completely square to my laptop without moving to keep my talking head visible to everyone in the room. Even worse, I learned that when I talked during the Hangout, my image jumped from a mere thumbnail to becoming the much bigger main image on everyone else’s display. Whose idea was this?
But being “on camera” every second was just the start. The call was scheduled for about 20 minutes before my kids, my long-time childcare provider, and her two children converged at my home to dump baseball/volleyball attire and equipment before grabbing snacks and swimwear and heading out. As I had never done one of these calls before, none of my daily cohorts had been ‘trained’ on how to interact -- or not interact -- with me during a video conference call.
Kids started arriving, the doorbell was ringing, the dog was barking. Suffice to say, it was a lot of noise. And I couldn’t find the mute button.
How do you mute an image anyway? My son popped in to say hi and give me a kiss and hug hello/good bye, which normally would have been lovely. But at that moment, I couldn't explain why he had to STOP! I was gesturing wildly for him to scram and leave me alone until I realized once again that my two clients could see me. Thank goodness, they were both relaxed enough to let it all slide. They even laughed good-naturedly at all the background antics.
The icing on the cake was when Leslie, the nanny, got in her car to drive to the pool and discovered she needed a jump start. This prompted ANOTHER interruption from my son, asking for keys to our car. Thankfully, Leslie knows how to jump a car, so no more was needed from me.
Untrained in video conferencing etiquette, I didn’t think to just excuse myself for a moment --  though if I did, something even weirder might have happened. My guess is that the bunny would have hopped up on the desk to sniff around. It happens.
IMHO, video conferencing is a classic example of attempting to use technology to solve a problem -- and messing it all up even more. But here’s a business idea: A tool that freezes your image and mutes the sound on a multi-party video call so you can get up and do stuff. Kickstarter anyone? -- Emily Brower Auchard

July 10, 2014

Missed our last issue? Here you go:
The Science of Summer

If you liked this story, you might also like:
Use the Cut: Play It Like They Do In Little League
Multi-Tasking Mania and the Art of Telecommuting
Be the Sugar Cookie

Got a story idea? Think we're fabulous? Email us at more [at] onethingnew [dot] com, follow us on twitter, or visit us on facebook. And help us spread the word. We appreciate your help in getting the word out about what we're up to!

Image courtesy of flickr user adactio

Why the "Cockroach Theory" is Good for Families

More than 10 years ago, The Price of Motherhood, by Ann Crittenden, had a profound impact on my view of being a mother. Don’t ask me how I found time to read it; I was working and being run ragged by the demands of a newborn and a 3-year-old. Once I started reading, though, I was hooked.

Crittenden’s message about the disadvantaged economics of motherhood pierced my foggy brain and forever changed my view of paid work. In her book, Crittenden strips motherhood of sentimentality using numbers and statistics to describe the history and labor of motherhood  -- a point of view I found remarkably liberating.
At the time, I was a freelance marketing communications consultant and was thinking of giving it up. But after learning about the “Mommy Tax” -- Crittenden’s oft-quoted term for the cost of leaving the workforce to raise a child--I decided to keep at it. The mommy tax is the combination of wages, retirement benefits and Social Security lost when a mother gives up paid work. The loss of Social Security never even entered my head when I considered staying home full-time. But Crittenden’s book opened my eyes to that and more.

My takeaway: Keep earning something, no matter what.
Today, I’ve managed to patch together a semblance of full-time work. I’m freelancing because that’s what works with children, even though mine are 10 and 13 now. Crittenden’s book had its own 10-year anniversary in 2011. That edition includes her research and updates from talking to legislators and analysts across the country about family policy.

I had a chance to talk with Crittenden, and ask her the obvious question: What's changed? Here’s what she has to say about 21st-century policy for women, equal pay and families.  
On equal pay and salary transparency. "Knowing what your colleagues make is key to finding out if you’re being paid fairly. Lilly Lebetter [the inspiration for the Equal Pay Act] didn’t have a clue until she found out. I’ll tell you a story about my own experience with equal pay. My first real writing job was at Newsweek back in the 70s and I got this really nice little office overlooking Madison Avenue. After about three weeks, I found out that the guy I had replaced, who was the same age as I was, was making about 50 percent more money than me. I just couldn’t believe it! So I got up my nerve and after another two months on the job, I went to the managing editor and said, “I think this isn’t fair,” and they gave me a raise. I never would have done it if I hadn’t found out what he made."
On what’s changed for women and families in 10 years. "In big general terms, very little has changed on the policy side, but a lot’s changed on the awareness side. For starters, women’s advocates are more aware that being a parent, for a woman, is a huge disadvantage economically. They used to say that being a mother didn’t make any difference, that women can work as long and as hard as men. They didn’t want to emphasize differences. My book focused on the huge differences in what we’ve expected and that has huge implications on financial wellbeing. Everyone now thinks that way. They teach it at universities. This is a big piece of the feminist picture. We now have a handle on what we need to do, but at the same time we haven’t done much of it."
What we still don’t have. "Ten years ago there were things, like time off for sick kids or maternity leave, that I was sure were going to happen and I’m surprised they haven’t. These policies are going to be put in place because modern life is going to more or less demand it. The US is just an outlier.
"I’m pretty disgusted that we’ve moved so slowly. There’s a kind of paralysis in family policy. The backlash on health care gives you an idea of how hard it is in this country to implement social policy even though it would benefit the majority of people. We seem to have a limited capacity to be excitedly aroused in our own interests."
On what’s new. "There has been progress, little by little, inch by inch. For one thing, childcare programs increased a lot in those 10 years, including early education and school for 4-year-olds. Early education has hit a nerve and people do buy into the idea that kids need to get ready for school. That’s a real plus, I think. And of course, that helps parents with jobs as well.
"The legal world has conceptualized a form of discrimination that’s called Family Responsibilities Discrimination. That did not exist. Discrimination against men or women with kids is now becoming a body of law. The EEOC has issued guidelines opening the door to litigation under federal equal employment law. Cities and states have passed laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination against caregivers, including California, New York, D.C. and cities such as Chicago, Boston and Atlanta. That’s a big one."
On the secret sauce of the Affordable Care Act. "If you really dig into the Affordable Care Act, there’s a lot of stuff that has to do with helping people raise kids, all indicating that thinking around family needs has evolved. Every health insurance plan has to include maternity benefits, and that wasn’t a requirement before. Having a Cesarean is no longer a pre-existing condition that can be used to cancel or deny coverage. For up to a year after childbirth, nursing mothers must be allowed a place on the job to express milk. That is totally new in the health care bill. Probably most nursing mothers don’t know about it, but that is their right."
On the ‘cockroach theory.’ "I heard a really funny expression when I was interviewing around the country in state legislators. One legislator asked me, “Have you heard of the ‘cockroach theory’?” I said, “What’s that?” The theory says, he explained, if you get 10 or 15 real letters about an issue – I think the magic number was no more than 15 – the assumption is that there must be 150,000 more people out there that feel the same. There’s a huge factor of people who feel strongly but don’t write. So, when you see one, there are a whole bunch more you haven’t seen yet. That’s pretty empowering to think about. [Fifteen letters] will get your state legislatures to really pay attention. It gets your issue on their radar. I heard it from the Women’s Caucus of the California Senate and in Massachusetts. I would never discourage people from keeping up the pressure."
On the ‘entitlment gap.’ "One thing that struck me while I was traveling around the country lecturing is that many women still don’t feel entitled to a lot of these things. They just don’t feel deserving somehow. Men are still much more assertive about what they need and should have and women are still not quite as self-confident. They’re grateful for the smallest crumbs. I hope that’s changing with every generation. I’m putting my money on that changing."
So here’s to becoming entitled, and a cockroach. It may look ugly at first glance, but the end result of a fairer working environment for mothers looks pretty good from where I sit.  -- Emily Brower Auchard
June 12, 2014

Missed our last issue? Here you go:
For Every Thing, There Really Is a Season

If you liked this story, you might also like:
Lilly Ledbetter, Equal Pay for Women and Toyo Tires
Who's on Your List?
Meeting My Mother, A Small Town Girl Turned Paris Fashion Model

Got a story idea? Think we're fabulous? Email us at more [at] onethingnew [dot] com, follow us on twitter, or visit us on facebook. And help us spread the word. We appreciate your help in getting the word out about what we're up to!

Decoding the Confidence Gap

confidencegapNote: The names of the women interviewed for this piece have been changed at their request to protect their professional identity -- an unfortunate reality that is itself a telling commentary on the issue at hand! 

It’s not a confidence gap, people. It’s a communications gap. 

Eveyone’s discussing the new label for the Catch-22 that most female professionals have long recognized and lamented amongst ourselves: self-effacing or “difficult” -- and nowhere in between.

But participating in a recent Women Who Code meetup in San Francisco has me thinking that maybe what’s being called the “confidence gap” or a failure to “lean in” may be less about how women feel about their own capabilities and more about how they are heard to express it.

The meetup’s topic was “Game Making with Unity3D.” There were 14 people on the waiting list, a factoid demonstrating the popularity of woman-to-woman training in technology hotspots around the country.

It might be like that pitch that only dogs can hear. But having interviewed and worked side by side with software engineers for more than 20 years, I could hear that women talking about coding doesn’t quite sound like men talking about coding. 

For one thing, I actually heard the phrase dubbed recently by the Freakonomics Radio Podcast as the “Three Hardest Words in the English Language:” I don’t know.

Read more: Decoding the Confidence Gap

Why You Should Always Travel With Swag

I have always loved to travel. I like taking a day off for a hike, and I thoroughly enjoyed my three-month trip up and down the West Coast when I was in my 20s.

Now that I have young kids, I’m especially fond of the two-to-three day business trip, preferably via Amtrak. There’s minimal guilt, because I’m not gone that long. I get to eat whatever I want for a few days and don’t have to pack anyone’s lunch. I enjoy one or even two nights -- in a row! -- with no one waking me up at 3 a.m. sleepwalking or complaining of nightmares. Most novel: I have full and total control of the remote.

Of course, it’s entirely possible for even a short business trip to be a disaster, and to be greeted by total mayhem upon one's return. Some things, though, I've got figured out. Here’s how to get the most out of the time away, and set things up for a decent re-entry.

Read more: Why You Should Always Travel With Swag

Who's On Your List?

lagardeI need a list.

That’s what I thought after reading an interview with BBC World News America anchor Katty Kay, which appeared in Sunday’s New York Times. In it, Kay is promoting her book, The Confidence Code, co-authored with Claire Shipman, senior national correspondent for Good Morning America. In this excerpt, Kay is talking about Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund.

“[Lagarde] got so fed up of men coming up to her and saying, you know we’d love to have more women at the top of companies, or we’d love to have more women running things, but we just can’t find the good candidates. This annoyed her so much that she wrote down a list of 10 really good women, qualified women, and put it in her purse. Every time a man came up to her and said, “It’s such a shame we can’t find a qualified woman,” out would come the list.”

More lists like that, and I’ll bet more than a measly 4.6 percent of the Fortune 500 would have women CEOs. More lists like that, and we’d have more women running influential companies of all stripes, not just public ones. More lists like that, and more than 17 percent of the members of Fortune 500 boards would be women. Mitt Romney may have had “binders full of women” but if they don’t make it out of the binders and onto payroll, it makes little difference.

Read more: Who's On Your List?

FacebookTwitterStumbleuponGoogle BookmarksLinkedinRSS FeedPinterest




True Love