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Breaking the Glass

Working Mothers Attack the Glass Ceiling

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We've all heard the phrase glass ceiling, and while there are many different minority groups affected by this phenomenon, it has a great impact on working moms today. Faced with the task of juggling parental responsibilities and full- or part-time careers, many moms have to battle barriers to advancement, and are subjected to lower salaries or difficulty advancing in the workplace. And that's simply not fair.

Why should a working mom be penalized for having to attend her daughter's kindergarten graduation, or face scrutiny when she opts to miss a meeting because her son has pneumonia?

The glass ceiling for women with children -- also referred to as the maternal wall -- denies mothers the ability to land promotions, achieve accolades or earn the pay men and their childless counterparts do. In fact, published reports confirm there are an increasing number of workers who have filed lawsuits against employers due to discrimination because of their parental responsibilities. For this reason, various groups, such as the Program on Gender, Work & Family, a research and advocacy center based at American University, Washington College of Law, are trying to fight against the glass ceiling that impacts parents in the workplace.

When combating the glass ceiling, moms have a few tools in their arsenal:

Find a Way to Have Job Flexibility. Many moms will opt to work part-time after having a child. While this may seem like the best option, it often takes away certain job advantages, such as health insurance, and 401(k) benefits. However, if you've been at a company for a period of time before having children, it may be in your best interests to arrange a more flexible schedule that allows you to work from home two or three days a week, or on weekends or evenings when you might be able to better juggle parental responsibilities with your spouse or co-parent.

Go for That Promotion. If there is opportunity for advancement, go for it. Many women neglect to be as assertive in the workplace as they were before motherhood. Break -- or at least crack--that glass ceiling by showing your boss that you mean business. Once you obtain the new position, then you can broker for perks -- such as onsite daycare or flexible hours -- that will enhance your ability to juggle motherhood and your career.

Hire Help. Many working moms want to be hands-on and "do it all." But you can't be at the morning PTA meeting and big board-of-director's meeting at the same time. Instead, hire a trusted nanny who can be there for the events you may miss due to work responsibilities. Even if your child is in daycare, hire someone who can be your eyes and ears for certain activities when you're at work. If your spouse or co-parent has a job that allows for a more flexible schedule, allow him to assume some traditional "mommy duties," such as orchestrating play dates.

Avoid Jobs with Extensive Travel Requirements. One of the biggest obstacles for working moms is a job that requires extensive travel. Having to be away from the kids for extended periods of time can be very emotional, frustrating, and in some cases, incurs costly childcare. If your job required excessive travel prior to motherhood, try to negotiate a way to have subordinates assume some of the travel responsibilities.

Don't Take No for an Answer. If you think you can't get a certain job because of your parental responsibilities or the glass ceiling is impenetrable because it's a male-dominated industry, don't get discouraged. Instead, set a goal and work toward it. While you may have to proceed at a slower pace than you did pre-motherhood, no goal is too hard to reach. You just may have to be more strategic in your planning.

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