Reading: The New Problem Without A Name

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The New Problem Without A Name

Meredith Bodgas says It’s no longer about asking men to “take out the garbage.” It’s about not having to ask

By Lesley Jane Seymour

Meredith Bodgas
Photo of Meredith Bodgas By Bruce Gilbert

For Baby Boomers and Generation X, the first cohorts of women to populate the workforce, it was a problem with no name. Then in 1989, sociologist Arlie Hochschild slapped a label on it: “The Second Shift.” Working women were frazzled and worn out because after toiling all day in offices, they came home to their second full-time job: tending home and family. Men just “helped out” around the edges. Since then, men have assumed more parenting responsibilities so that the Bureau of Labor Statistics could report in 2015 that they were doing 1 hour and 25 minutes of household work per day. That didn’t negate the fact that women were still doing nearly twice that––2 and ¼ hours. Or that they were still confined to “women’s work”: three times as many minutes doing laundry and twice as many cleaning or preparing food and drink.

But Meredith Bodgas, the fierce new Editor in Chief of Working Mother Magazine and WorkingMother.com says that the current generation of working moms is opening a new and important front in that battle for work/family balance. They no longer simply want equal hours of diapering, they want men to carry their share of the “mental load” of planning, preparing, and organizing family life. Now, why didn’t we think of that?

The Covey: What are the main struggles for working mothers today and how is Working Mother addressing them?

Meredith Bodgas: I’d argue that there is more emotional labor than ever. Male partners are doing more in terms of chores, mainly because men are more likely to have a working wife—I believe 70 percent of women are working. Technology makes the physical labor of keeping track of the kids, scheduling doctor’s appointments, etc. easier, but technology hasn’t eased the emotional labor — what we call the “mental load” of caretaking. Someone has to be in charge of thinking to get things done; in heterosexual relationships, that’s still the woman. Two prime examples:
Two years ago, Ellen Seidman wrote a blog post for LoveThatMax.com that started with how she had to replenish the toilet paper: it was her job. [She wrote: “I am the only person in our household who ever notices that we need more t.p. … The spouse assumes that my good old trusty eyeballs will notice the dwindling rolls and raise the alert…. All this is in addition to the vast amount of details and to-dos packed into my brain…”] It was a watershed moment [for me, as the editor of this magazine].Women [need to ask] themselves, “why am I doing all of the thinking?”

Our top story of all time was a comic from a French illustrator we use named Emma who explains [the real story of] what’s [likely] going on inside of [the heads of mothers] all the time. Quoting one of these illustrations [and possibly answering that question, ‘why am I doing all of the thinking’]: “And once we’re back at work, things will get so hellish that it will feel less exhausting to keep doing everything than to battle with our partner so that he does his share.”

We’ve been doing a deep dive into how to better divvy up the mental load, how to recognize what is emotional versus physical labor.

The Covey: How have men changed—or not changed—in helping women manage their home versus work responsibilities?

Meredith Bodgas: Men are definitely pitching in more with chores and child care; they’re more willing to recognize they need to do their share. When I grew up in the 90s, my mom and my dad worked, but she did everything. Moms now are older; we say we’re not going to do everything at home and men are responding to that. They want to spend time with the kids. Not that previous generations didn’t love their kids, but millennial men are more comfortable with expressing love and emotions; they want to be more involved with the kids and home.

Meredith and family

Technology has affected our home life, too. When we leave work now we’re not offline. There can be a breaking story I have to cover at 11 p.m. at night. That means the lines between work and life are blurred so men understand that women [like themselves, might be working when they’re home].

The Covey: Where do working and stay-at-home moms find common ground?

Meredith Bodgas: [The homefront:] Women still do more of the childcare in heterosexual relationships than men [whether they work inside or outside the home]. A recent study found that between the office and home, working moms are putting in 98 hours a week. [Plus], lots of stay-at-home moms are now working thanks to the rise of businesses that can be run from home; so, very few moms are not bringing in some kind of cash flow to their families.

The Covey: In 2018, are there still divides between mothers who work in the office and those who stay at home?

Meredith Bodgas: The “mommy wars” still exist, but they are less pronounced and less important [than they were a generation ago]. Millennial moms like to unite rather than divide. Stay-at-home moms and working moms have discovered their issues are similar: We’re all dealing with and bonding over the mental load. Also, what we see has changed in the relationship between working and stay-at-home moms is that the latter are often reliant on working moms when they want to start or restart their careers.

The Covey:What does your magazine do to help further the progress working women need to make?

Meredith Bodgas: Working Mother magazine is a brand [that benefits from this] change of culture. It’s where women [come to] get validation. We publish women’s real resumes and LinkedIn profiles.[We do stories about] “How I got more [maternity] leave.” Or “My child was in the NICU and how I fought to get more home time.” [We want to] give proof. Even successful C-suite women have had their share of bumps along the road. Real is the name of the game. If we’re not being real we’re doing a real disservice to readers. We want everyone to reach their professional and family goals [but we want our readers to also know] what is actually going to happen along the way; we don’t sugar coat it.

The Covey: How do you think a media brand like Working Mother can impact the working world?

Meredith Bodgas: The big thing we’re working on right now is the FAMILY Act—it’s the most progressive piece of family-leave legislation that hasn’t yet been killed. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which guarantees workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid time; the FAMILY Act would mean paid leave. [The US is] one of only four countries in the world that doesn’t offer any paid time off. States want national legislation and so do we. States such as New Jersey, California, Rhode Island and New York are saying that what we have is “unacceptable.” We hope that with our efforts in the next three to five years there will be a national policy. We’re partnering with the National Partnership for Women & Families to encourage companies with progressive policies to endorse the act and do so publicly.

The Covey: Certainly the biggest story for working women this year has been sexual harassment in the workplace. What has Working Mother done to move that story forward?

Meredith Bodgas: Before the #MeToo movement even took off nationally, we were working on a piece with a prominent employment lawyer about what to do if you are sexually harassed at work. Our October/November issue had CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on the cover and the focus of the feature was that she came out before Roger Ailes passed away and said he sexually harassed her. Everyone else was focused on how it affected your climb up the ladder, but our piece was about how to explain that [you were sexually harassed at work] to your kids. [Camerota] said she was very open; she had to deal with the rumors her kids heard that Roger Ailes had “touched my mom’s butt.”

The Covey: The Working Mother 100 Best Companies report considers flex policies, parental leave, advancement programs. Will you incorporate anything about sexual harassment policies going forward?

Meredith Bodgas: We’re not going to be asking about how they handle sexual harassment but instead what their policies are for advancing women’s careers. If a company is supporting women’s wishes and views so they can climb the ladder, we know they’re supporting them in other ways. We want to see that a company is making sure women are on the board, in C-Suite titles, that men are receiving mentorship from women. As we wait for more companies to track whether male and female employees are paid equally, we ask what percentage of the top 10% of earners are women and what percentage of promotions to the senior manager level and above go to women. We support that mission with the National Association for Female Executives.

The Covey: What are the biggest barriers to women’s advancement in the workplace in 2018?

Meredith Bodgas: Part of it is when women don’t feel comfortable in an organization or don’t see women like them rising in the ranks. A boys’ club at the top is a big deterrent. In that situation, there’s an implicit bias of “She’s a mom so she’s going to leave at five” or “She has kids, they’re a priority, so we can’t put her in this spot.” Men are still in power in the workplace and they keep women out of the top ranks so they don’t have to change their ways. We’re bringing in male allies who realize this is a problem. Through training, we’re helping women smash those barriers and get to the top. I would also argue as more millennials rise through the ranks, they are more dedicated to equality and fairness than previous generations so they’re making workplaces more equal. We’re from a generation of safe college spaces, which is different than what women experienced in college in the 70s and 80s [and even the 90s].

The Covey: Transparency, and even publicizing failures as well as successes seems to be a theme for this new generation of working women and men. What’s changed in your own experience as a working mother from your mother’s generation?

Meredith Bodgas: We’re moving at a glacial pace, but progress is progress. Younger generations are eager to learn from others who came before us and women over 40 need to recognize what the 30-somethings or 20-somethings bring as working women. For instance, millennials are more willing to risk failure, and man do we fail: social media is the land of sharing failures. Hearing those stories of failure, followed by success, from others is very empowering. Everyone can learn from each other and the most successful 40, 50, and 60-year olds are those who are adapting to this new workplace. But there is still resistance and we can see it. I’m 35 so I’m considered a millennial even though I don’t feel like it. I do feel like there’s a disdain for people my age that comes from a place of fear of being replaced.

The Covey: Sounds like there is resentment from the older women who paved the way. What can women do to help each other more in the workplace?

Meredith Bodgas: A struggle still exists—the women at the top feel like, “I didn’t get maternity leave so why do you?” Or “I didn’t discuss my kids at work so you can’t.” When we find ourselves falling into those traps, we need women to say, “No this is not what the women who come after me need. I didn’t get the maternity leave I wanted, but I will fight for them to get it.” I’ve even noticed that with my own team—I saw pay inequity that happened before I got here. I needed to change how we spend the budget to fix it. It wasn’t easy, but I did it.

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