Opinion: Mothers who work remotely are not ‘mommies’

photo by: Contributed

Froma Harrop

Pandemic well over, a growing number of companies want their workers back at the office. Many still allow certain employees to continue doing some or all of the job remotely. Parents raising young children especially welcome the opportunity to work from home.

But as office culture returns to normal, it is understood that those who show up physically may advance faster than those at home. Proximity to the boss can matter.

That has led some feminists to complain that women who continue to do their jobs from home are being returned to the “mommy track” that existed before COVID — that is, a career path with fewer promotions and pay raises.

Activists cite with disapproval a remark by David Solomon, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, on why he wants people in the office. “I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture,” he said, “this is not ideal for us and it’s not a new normal.”

Feminist legal scholar Joan C. Williams bats down the impression held by some that flexible work schedules are for those who don’t work as hard. She contends that requirements to be in the office may “just be strengthening the invisible escalator for white men.”

Inserting race does not help her argument. Professional women who worry about the “mommy track” tend to be in high-powered white-collar jobs and are overwhelmingly white. The population of women who have no option but to show up at a workplace — nurse aides, cafeteria workers, bus drivers — are more heavily people of color.

Employers may not discriminate on the basis of race or gender, but they have the right to determine the place of employment. And, of course, no one has to work at Goldman Sachs if they don’t like the deal.

Women’s advocates really aren’t doing mothers a favor by implying that anyone, male or female, can do demanding child care at home and devote as much of their energy to the job as their motivated full-time office colleagues. Sure, after doing laundry, making dinner and bath time, she — or he — can put the little ones to bed and then pound the laptop until midnight, but is that any kind of life?

What’s so awful about an employer offering the option of working at home even if it means a missed promotion? A parent who does the job remotely might well have a better work-life balance than the career-obsessed.

A millennial friend who is single, male and brown likes doing most of his tech work at home. But he resents having to be on call from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. He’s looking for a job that offers more free time, even at lower pay.

Neither he nor I see much wrong with hopping on a slower career escalator in return for having more time for yoga or carpentry or friends.

In any event, the expectation that work be done in the office is a business decision by management, not an “attitude” as academics who get summers off might belittle it. If it’s a bad business decision that deprives the company of valuable workers, that’s the company’s problem.

If the stress is really rooted in the lack of child care, that is a matter for public policy. And if the unfairness is that both mother and father have jobs, but the woman ends up doing most of the cleaning and child care, that’s something to be ironed out between the two of them.

One final thought for the sisters: Please drop the infantilizing term “mommy track.” Children refer to their mothers as “mommies.” Employers call them workers, wherever they perform their jobs.

— Froma Harrop is a syndicated columnist with Creators.


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