Come for the job. Stay for the walk.

Today it is 71 degrees in Hastings, MN. Over my lunch hour, I can head in any direction for an uplifting three mile walk with a good chance of spotting an eagle.

The Mississippi River and the Vermillion River run parallel to one another and are separated by a 17-by-2.5-mile tract of floodplain forest.

I’m within walking distance of Vermillion Falls. A paved walking/biking trail follows the river in both directions.

Last fall during one walk I found myself at Mill Ruins at Old Mill Park and felt just like I had when I used to skip high school. Happy. The path to Old Mill Park also leads to Adams Park and Bullfrog Pond and to the rest of the 15 mile trail system that loops around town.

Mill Ruins

Mill Ruins

If I head behind the manufacturing plant where I’m a Human Resources Manager, I am in Veterans Athletic Complex and can take a right to follow a paved trail past a plowed field down a hill overlooking a valley.

Walking south takes me to Hastings Sand Coulee identified as one of the most biologically important sites in Dakota County. I came upon it all of a sudden. The 2.5 mile long coulee is a former

Hastings Sand Coulee

Hastings Sand Coulee

glacial stream valley. It is registered as a Scientific Natural Area. I walked a grass path that ended at an old cemetery that sits on top of the western bluff. 69 bird species have been recorded at this site.

 

Recently I started using Runkeeper during my walks. Runkeeper is a free app for your iphone that 28 million people are already using. Track your runs, walks, bike rides, hikes and more using the GPS in your iPhone.

I like the Runkeeper so much – It’s so EASY, so I’ve been using that instead of the pedometer I’m in charge of introducing to our employees next Monday.

Whatever your activity is today – Get Out and Enjoy.

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What’s Behind the Wage Gap Between Women and Men?

Recently, my son mentioned that he’s decided to ask for a raise. My immediate (but unspoken) reaction was caution: Don’t rock the boat. Look what a great learning opportunity you have. In this economy just be grateful to have such a good job. That mindset exemplifies a gender difference—women often are afraid to ask for a raise or insist on a promotion.

When I think about my son’s situation more objectively, I realize he’s right. For the last nine months, he has been doing a product manager’s job without the official title or the additional money a product manager would make. Higher-ups in the organization have publicly recognized his efforts, so it is a good time to ask for a raise.

I was surprised to realize how ingrained my caution is. Because I’m aware of women’s tendency to be self-effacing, I thought that mindset no longer had power over me. And yet, I can recall times that I’ve devalued my contributions. I know that women worry about being disliked if they advocate for themselves—I’ve done that, too.

Reluctance to rock the boat is one of the reasons why women’s salaries continue to lag behind men’s.

The pay gap figure that’s often used is that the median earnings of full-time female workers are 77 percent of the median earnings of full-time male workers (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Often women aren’t confident, effective negotiators. Many times women feel grateful for the job—lucky to have it at all—instead of recognizing the value we contribute. Or women want to be liked and worry that pushing for what we’re due will be seen as being aggressive. There are good reasons for women’s concerns.

A recent New York Times article describes research that validates the persistent, and often unconscious, perception that women who ask for raises and promotions are unfeminine and demanding.

Linda C. Babcock, one of the researchers the article cites, addresses the “apples to apples” argument in her book Women Don’t Ask. When comparing the salaries and negotiating experiences of single men and women who had just earned MBAs, she asked, “When you got your offer, did you attempt to negotiate?” She found that about 7 percent of women attempted to negotiate, while 57 percent of men did. Of those people who negotiated, they were able to increase their salary by over 7 percent.

There are other systemic reasons for the wage earnings gap. Here are some of the common counter arguments rationalizing it:

Women often take more time off – They are more likely to interrupt their careers when they become parents, and they are more likely to be the default caregivers for sick children and parents.

Although I couldn’t find evidence to conclusively confirm or disprove it, this assertion feels true. The trend is certainly true of the women I know. Obviously, if a woman works fewer hours and/or her family leave is unpaid, she will make less money in a year when she has heavy caretaking responsibilities (whether or not she should be responsible for more of the caretaking is a different issue).

But it doesn’t make sense for women to be penalized long-term for shouldering that responsibility. For example, 10 years’ experience should be 10 years’ experience, whether the employee is a man or a woman. If a woman works full-time for five years, then takes off for five years to be with her children, then brings her skills up to speed and returns to full-time work for an additional five years, her pay should be that of a person who has 10 years’ experience. The interruption shouldn’t have a lasting effect, but often it does.

Women often enter lower paying professions such as teaching, nursing and food preparation, and that’s why they earn less.

The low-paying profession argument deserves a closer look. Female elementary school teachers make 90.9 percent of what men make and female nurses make 85.6 percent of what their male counterparts make (Institute for Women’s Policy Research IWPR #C350a). That’s still a wage gap.

Women in high-paying industries also lag behind men. Female physicians and surgeons earn 71 percent of what males in those fields earn. Female lawyers earn 77.1 percent of what male lawyers make.

The size of the gap may vary, but the fact of a persistent wage gap is undeniable.

The gap grows during the span of a woman’s career. If a woman doesn’t make the same salary as a man at the beginning of her career, she is very likely to be playing catch-up at her next job. The lag will compound over the course of her career.

What makes pay equity even more challenging is that employees don’t know the salary range for their positions. Many employers have spoken or unspoken rules that forbid inquiring about coworkers’ salaries, so employees can’t ask without fear of retaliation. The Paycheck Fairness Act 2014 is intended to make it easier for women to know what their counterparts are being paid and give women the data as well as the legal clout to insist on equal pay. But even if salary transparency were legal, discussing income is nearly taboo in our culture.

As history and other anti-discrimination laws have taught us, changing hearts, minds and cultures is even harder than changing laws. Addressing women’s reluctance to negotiate and employers’ subtle bias against women who do seek raises and promotions are the real challenges.

On Losing My Ambition (Open Letter to 35-Year-Old Hiring Managers)

Recently I had dinner with my friend C., who mentioned that after years of freelance writing, she was interviewing to be a marketing communications manager—a position she’s eminently qualified for.

She confided that during the preliminary phone interview, the interviewer expressed concern that C. wouldn’t be satisfied with being a mid-level manager. Perhaps C. would be uncomfortable taking direction from the younger director of the organization. C. paused during this anecdote, with her eyes wide and eyebrows raised. We both burst out laughing and couldn’t stop.

“Being the director is the last thing I want! I just want to do the kind of work I’ve been doing . . . but someplace else. For me, learning the rhythms of that office will be challenging enough,” C. said and paused for a sip of white wine.

“I know! I just want to do interesting work with coworkers I like and be respected for what I know,” I said.

I’m not sure when I lost my ambition for climbing the corporate ladder, but it’s been gone for a while.

womanclimbingladderEven saying that feels odd. I have always cared about my career, and I’ve gone to some trouble to have one (got a graduate degree, made several cross-country moves in pursuit of jobs, been a working mother). But I simply no longer have a driving need to be promoted. Unlike Sheryl Sandburg, who encourages working mothers to be all they can be career-wise (see Lean In), I leaned back a long time ago.

When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s, my career was my main focus. But my priorities broadened after my sons were born. Instead of pursuing a classic corporate marketing or ad agency path, I launched my own freelance writing business. Would I have made different decisions if the workplace had been more flexible? Maybe. But having my own business worked well for me—stacked hat logo

a) It gave me the flexible hours I wanted when my sons were growing up so I could be a bigger part of their lives. They spent fewer hours in daycare. In the summer, I’d occasionally knock off early and we’d go on excursions—the beach, the zoo, or the park. When they were sick, I’d be home. I still had deadlines and needed to work late after my husband returned from his job, but it was easier to manage. Plus, I could volunteer at their school and go on their field trips.

b) With half a dozen clients, I could have the creative variety that’s often lacking for ad agency copywriters. Instead of being the head writer on the agency’s Visa team, I’d write for Land o’ Lakes, Visa, Radisson, Medtronic, Sears—whichever account was active that week.

c) As a freelance writer, I had more free time to write personal essays and memoir pieces—the kind of creative writing I’d always wanted to do.

I made choices that supported the life I wanted; my decisions did not advance a traditional career path.

Shortly after my second son was born, while I was still working full-time, I was offered the opportunity to be promoted from senior copywriter to associate creative director. It was hard to say no—at that point I still had traditional ambitions and wanted to advance. But I turned down the promotion, because between work and family, I was already at or beyond full capacity. I simply didn’t have the energy to do more and to do the job justice.

Several years ago, I chose to leave my freelance business behind (it stopped being as much fun and my sons were grown) and take a part-time job writing marketing communications for a children’s hospital. I’ve had several chances to go full-time and get back on the classic path to career advancement. Ambition flickered in my heart. I briefly heard the siren song of advancement, “You’ve got more in you–you’d be good at that job.”  But I leaned back again. New logo 2

I have other goals and responsibilities now—

a) Having the flexibility to help my siblings care for my 91-year-old mother in Ohio

b) Having fun with my husband who recently retired

c) Making time for my creative writing projects

As I told C. during dinner, “Hiring managers don’t have to be so worried about Baby Boomers. A lot of us don’t want to take over anything. Work is just one of the things we care about. We have a number of priorities.

C. and I raised a toast to that reality.

Beware of the Queen Bee

In her Wall Street Journal article, “The Tyranny of the Queen Bees” Peggy Drexler reports that a 2011 American Management Association survey of 1,000 working women found that 95% of them believed another woman at some point in their careers undermined them. Drexler cites a number of other surveys in which women bosses were bullies, and most of the time their targets were other women.

The Queen Bees’ favorite tactics are making snide remarks about another woman’s appearance, holding subordinates to unreasonably high standards, gossiping about them, and generally acting like high school mean girls. Various sources in the article theorize that Queen Bees bully because they are insecure and view up-and-coming women as threats.

Screen shot 2013-03-27 at 10.24.04 PM

My first reaction was dismay. As a baby boom woman, I have vivid memories of the days when men often disrespected women in the workplace and discriminated against us. How could a woman who’d lived through workplace bias treat another woman so poorly? I expect middle-aged women to know and act better. And I HATE IT when women act out negative stereotypes (catty, bitchy, etc.) Not only is their bad behavior galling, but it also makes it harder for the rest of us to succeed.

But after some reflection, I realized that while I believe Queen Bees exist, and I’ve known people who have been hurt by them, I know far more women who are supportive of other women and willingly mentor younger women.

One friend was a senior leader at a Fortune 500 and she was an active part of a corporate women’s mentoring group. Another friend, a successful business owner, is very generous with her time and advice. In addition to mentoring professional women, she volunteers with organizations that reach out to younger women. My middle-aged coworkers and I are very willing to mentor.

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What’s interesting is that the youngest women in the department (recent grads) seek out several of us for mentoring, while the women who have a little bit experience are fiercely independent and prefer to go their own way. Sometimes I have watched in horror as some of them do things the hardest way possible. But they don’t want advice, so I don’t antagonize them by offering any.

While I believe Queen Bees exist and can wreak havoc, I think generous, supportive women outnumber them. The dynamics of women in the workplace are as varied and complex as women are themselves.

What’s your experience as a mentor or mentee?  Have you ever dealt with a Queen Bee?

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

I’ve never met Kathy Mayer, but we have the Toledo Fire Department in common.

In 1984, she was one of the first women firefighters to join the fire department, where my Dad had been a fire chief until the late 1970’s.Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 10.04.35 PM

According to a recent article in the Toledo Blade, Mayer is retiring after 28 years. Whether she meant to or not, she broke barriers, and she has much to be proud of.

In the early 1980’s, firefighters worked 24 hours on and 48 hours off. Firehouses were a men’s club—the men slept dormitory-style and there was one bathroom. I don’t know what accommodations were made for women firefighters when they came on the department.

From what I know about fire department culture, I’m pretty sure that in the early years, she and the other women put up with a lot of guff and practical jokes at the very least and outright hostility at the worst. And it wasn’t just the firefighters who resisted women firefighters—some of their wives also worried about their presence. Would living in close quarters lead to affairs? During a fire, would their husbands have the same backup from a woman as they would from a man? Although I count myself as a feminist, I think those were legitimate concerns.

However, the women had to pass the same physical tests as the men: rolling a fire hose (heavier than you think, especially with the metal couplings), pounding a sledgehammer on a target more than 50 times, climbing several flights of stairs in firefighting gear while carrying a hose, and also carrying a 100-pound weight (the assumption was, that if the person being rescued weighed a lot more than that, the firefighter would be expected to call for help).

At first, Dad resisted the idea of women firefighters. Although he retired before that issue came up, he still identified with the fire department. But because my sister and I were in our twenties then, and Margo was interested in being a firefighter, he had to rethink his views. Even though he was skeptical, he didn’t want Margo to be discriminated against. But I suspect he was relieved when she decided not to pursue a career as a firefighter.

Despite the inherent challenges, Kathy Mayer persevered.  She joined the fire department, later became a paramedic, and eventually gained the respect of her coworkers. I give her a lot of credit for making a 28-year career out of the fire department.

Like the 1970’s Virginia Slims ad headline said, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Kathy Mayer embodies the vision so many Baby Boom women had when we joined the workforce in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s—women holding their own in nontraditional fields. That is the subject of my memoir-in-progress, Colette’s Legacy.