When African-Americans received the right to vote and desegregation occurred in this country, I do not think anyone thought about a negative cost of that glass ceiling breaking- in fact, except for bigots and racists, it was a win-win for the economy and the individuals who won that right. However, the same cannot be said about women entering the workplace especially entering traditional male jobs, including athletics and the military. In fact, I think across this country as women excel in all career fields to become CEOs, CFOs, Olympic gold medal winners, and Generals in the Army, there is a cost.
I initially wrote this blog as a big whine on the military and how unfair it is to women, especially those who are trying to raise kids and find work/life balance. However, someone was wise to point out to me that the cost of breaking the glass ceiling does not exist for just women in the military, it occurs across the board. From the woman who has to travel for work three to four days a week, work extra hard to get the same position on the board as the man, the athlete who cannot take her infant with her due to antiquated rules in the Olympics, to the woman who deploys for six months or more, leaving her infant child behind, it seems that everyone is making a sacrifice. In the case of women earning their place in society, the corporate world, athletics, and/or the profession of arms, there does seem to be a cost and everyone is bearing it.
It is not easy to leave behind an infant in the middle of nursing to go fight a war on foreign soil, likewise, it is tough to ask for a leave of absence from work for more than a few weeks especially if you work for a Corporation and the way to get ahead is to be seen and present. It is tough for an athlete to take a break from the sport and even after returning, to take breaks to go nurse a child. Moreover, athletics takes a toll on nursing as well – it can reduce breast milk production. Whether we choose to admit it or not, there is a glass ceiling and while we as women strive to break it, this comes at a cost to our families and ourselves. Many women decide early on to make the sacrifice – to not return to work, to give up their careers and their passion because of another equally important passion – being a full-time mother. Others cannot or choose not to do so. I am still surprised to learn of antiquated practices in the workplace- whether professional, blue collar, or otherwise. Many workplaces are family unfriendly. While our government has attempted to make strides in family-friendly practices including alternate work sites, part-time and alternative work schedules, there are those employers and corporations out there that have not- it is a traditional male work place mentality: Work here, or take vacation; work when we tell you to instead of just getting the job done; and work under the conditions provided – no lactation rooms, or private rooms for pumping. It is interesting how many more employers are family friendly and yet, the glass ceiling remains along with an equal number of employers who refuse to change with the times. Whether it is because they choose to overtly discriminate is another story but if they are not forced to change, why would they? After all, it would involve changing a culture- a mindset.
The military, for example, has regulations and laws which require a woman to be deployable (in shape, immunized, and so on), within 6 months of childbirth. It is not six months post-partum to “start getting ready” – No! The Regulations are clear: be ready to DEPLOY 6 months from the date of childbirth. After all the statistics on child bearing and nursing, why should a mom be deployed for 4 months after a mere 6 months of nursing and being with her baby? That makes no sense. There are no accommodations made either for the nursing moms in many professions. You cannot take your child along with you or let him or her stay with you. Many corporations will not pay for childcare or the child’s ticket if he or she travels with mom. Why should they when they can get away without paying for it in the case of a man travelling instead of a woman? There is no incentive for an employer to make special cases for a woman and the employer who is family friendly tends to be the exception rather than the rule.
Despite the fact that studies indicate breastfeeding and remaining with a child at least 1 year after birth improve the child’s immunity and well-being, we choose as a society to ignore medical and health science and instead of working with the mom, offer her a choice: feed your baby, remain with your baby OR excel in your career by being more like a man. Well, if it were that simple, it would be very easy. It is not. Biologically, if men could nurse a baby, then, what a different world we’d be in! Unlike the racial barrier, the gender barrier is harder to overcome. In race, there are no biological differences per se except skin tone. In gender, there are. And therefore, for better or worse, there remains this cost of our attempts at breaking the glass ceiling and no matter how far we get or what we achieve, we still face these costs – whether that cost comes in the form of our emotions, our children, our spouses, our healthcare, our social programs and … our society!