Questions Persist for Working Women

The work-related decisions of American women are increasingly in the news today. The persistent questions are:

  • Should women delay childbirth to pursue career ambitions?
  • Is it best for women who have children under age 18 to stay at home with their children?
  • If mothers stay at home when their children are young, when should they to return to work?
  • If women who have children under age 18 limit themselves to part-time work, when should they return to full-time work?
  • How hard is it for working women who have children under age 18 to balance work and family?
  • To what extent must working couples with children under age 18 adjust their responsibilities at home to find work-family balance?
  • Do women who seek flexible jobs to find work-family balance jeopardize their career success?
  • Are working women aggressive enough in seeking more senior positions in their field?
  • Is it fair for women who stay at home, work part-time, or seek job flexibility while they raise their children to face permanent career limitations in the workplace?

In less than a month, several news articles cause us to question many of the workplace assumptions that have become increasingly common during the past fifty years. More women today are completing college degrees than men yet still earn less than men and are less likely to reach top levels in most fields. More and more women are waiting to have children until they prove themselves in professional careers but eventually give up their career dreams because they are unable to balance work and family. Telecommuting is one of several flexible workplace options that have become popular with mothers of children under age 18. Yet, several major corporations citing lower productivity have recently returned telecommuting employees to the workplace jeopardizing one way working women use to simplify their complicated lives. With her new book, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg ignited a national debate about the need for women to be more aggressive professionally placing blame for not making more progress in the workplace squarely on their shoulders.

In a new Pew Research Center study, researchers found that only 16 percent of all adults believed that working full-time is the best situation for mothers of young children. Slightly more than 40 percent believed that working part-time was ideal. One third said staying home was best for the kids. About half of working parents said they preferred stay home with their children, but work because they need the income. More than half of working mothers and half of working fathers report difficulty in balancing work and family. Forty percent of working mothers with children under 18 and 34 percent of working fathers say they always feel rushed.

So, what does the future hold for working women? Will working women’s career dreams continue to vaporize or can they have it all? Perhaps the most important question is, “Do women really want it all?”

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