Women never had it so good

By BETSY HART

Some people are just complainers.

Working Mother magazine, in a well-reported cover story, has just come out with its list of the top 100 companies for working moms, and it’s a smorgasbord of good stuff for working women.


At Abbott, the No. 1 company, 65 percent of employees use some form of flexible work arrangement. American Express allows "employees to take advantage of flextime, compressed weeks, telecommuting and job-sharing." At Bayer, "staffers can share jobs, work off-site, or reduce their hours while still receiving health benefits." Eli Lilly, Ford, General Electric, CapitalOne _ even places like The Discovery Channel and Lego _ all have amazing benefits for women, often including on-site day care and extended maternity leaves _ essentially, the kitchen sink.

My favorite? Genentech has a hair salon and a full-time concierge to help moms "knock some items off their to-do list _ from waiting for the cable guy to planning a child’s birthday." (Now (ital) that (end ital) I could really use!)

Let’s review: While often the benefits technically exist for men and women, they are overwhelmingly designed for, and used by, women. And these typically larger employers are setting a pattern _ and a high bar _ for all kinds of other, often smaller, employers.

So it’s no surprise that The Wall Street Journal reported this week in "The Mommy Drain: Employers Beef Up Perks to Lure New Mothers Back to Work," by Sue Shellenbarger, that more and more companies are doing everything they can to keep moms in place after baby arrives. Employers, the Journal reports, are "increasing maternity-leave pay, facilitating longer leaves, (and) offering meaningful jobs with reduced travel and hours." And let’s not forget the hair salon.

From providing mentoring for new moms to keep them in touch professionally, to just throwing parties for expectant moms and saying "we want you back!," Shellenbarger shows that the marketplace is forcing ever more companies to jump through hoops to keep women employees happy. Turns out we are pretty valuable.

(Oh, and research shows that today, when variables like education and experience are controlled for, the so-called "wage gap" between men and women essentially disappears.)

So, over at the National Organization for Women, was its Web site cheering these trends? Perhaps a headline pointing out that at no time in the history of the world have women been treated as well or had the opportunities, choices or status we have now in the United States? Maybe even how we can help to export these incredible successes to women around the world?

Um, no.

When I brought the Working Mother cover story to the attention of the folks at NOW, President Kim Gandy told me that yes, there are some positive trends there _ it’s "good, but not great" _ and yet, she explained to me, the report just wasn’t on NOW’s radar screen.

Here’s what is, as featured on NOW’s Web site: "NOW and other women’s rights organizations plan to follow up on the U.N. Human Rights Committee recommendations concerning (widespread) sex-based employment discrimination in the United States."

NOW may find that at this point such "discrimination" may largely be running against the guys. I mean, how many men can, or would, really indulge in the luxury of ever thinking to themselves, "Gee, would I like to be respected for having a meaningful job with all kinds of perks for being a dad, or respected for staying home and raising my children, or maybe a little of both? Hmmm, what should I choose, let me think. …"

Yes, it is certainly the case that a lot of women still have crummy jobs where their bosses wouldn’t lift a finger for them. Guess what? That is, and has long been, the case for so many (if not most) men, too. That’s not what we are talking about here.

We’re talking about a generation of women in the United States who have unprecedented, extraordinary possibilities and choices available to them in professional and family life, including ones that are, for all practical purposes, not open to men. And, yes, I fully concede that the early feminist movement ignited many of these amazing advances.

My mother used to point out that there are some people who just aren’t happy unless they have something to complain about. Sigh. So it seems to be with the modern-day sisterhood.

Well, anyway, at least the rest of us can celebrate that, hey, we’ve come a long way, baby!

(Betsy Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids _ and What to Do About It." She can be reached at www.betsyhart.net or betsysblog.com.)

7 Responses to "Women never had it so good"

  1. Fred P  September 29, 2006 at 4:43 pm

    As a former officer of a NOW chapter, I must applaud you for actually 1) Looking at the NOW website and 2) Actually getting the organization’s name correct. The second, in particular, seems to be a very difficult one for non-members.

    However, what a small number of companies do to attract specific groups of females (while it may be worthwhile to applaud those companies) has little to do with what the majority of companies do, or what the worst large companies for females to work in do. The later two groups are typically the focus of women’s rights organizations such as the National Organization for Women.

  2. Ruth Benderall  September 29, 2006 at 6:41 pm

    ms Betsy Hart:

    “Women never had it so good”
    ??????
    How in the world can you say that?
    Do you not know that most women (who work outside the house) are: overwhelmed, overstressed, overtired, and underpaid?
    A hairsalon at the workplace is no more than a piece of cheese to try to catch the mouse.
    Women (especially when they have young children) are better off, emotionally, physically AND financially, when they (can) stay at home.
    Most women (especially those with young children) do not have that “luxury” (or so they think), since it, usually, takes two incomes to make ends meet.
    However: if and when those women take into consideration the costs of: day-care; the costs of driving the car to and from the workplace; the expense of (having to) buying clothes (be representable in the workplace…); and so on, ad infinitum, then those women (and their spouses) would, indeed, be better off when “mamma stayed home with her babies”.

    I have no idea in whicvh world you live, ms Hart, but it seems to me that you applaud the fact tha companies are luring women back into the workforce with a piece of cheese (hairsalon).
    Are you an advocate of “Corporate America”.
    “Women never had it so good”.
    What totally utterly nonsensical rubbish.
    Look around you, and you will see the fatigued-to-the-bones females, running around in their SUV’s (payments: $ 500.– to $ 600.– per month); bringing the children to day-care or school; racing to make it to work in time; then back to retrieve the children; then run to the grocery-store; and when home: make dinner, and so on and so on.
    None of those women have as little as 30 minutes to themslves…enslaved as they are; none of them have the patience, or wherewithal, to read to their offspring: they rather have their babies brainwashed, and their brains radiated, by the stupidity of television.
    “Women never had it so good”.
    Ask them whether they can live without their prozac, or any other poisonous anti-depressant.
    Ask them whether to ever go outside to enjoy the sunshine, or watch the flowers grow.

    You are out of line, ms Hart, with your saying: “Women never had it so good”.
    In fact, and in essence, they have never had it as bad as they are having it at the present time.
    A hairsalon in the workplace will not alleviate the loads and burdens on the shoulders of those women. (I wonder how much those “salons” charge for a decent haircut…).

    Anyway: here you have my rant.
    And please, please, look around you before you ever again make statements as: “Women never had it so good”.

    Thank you.
    Ruth Benderall
    whitepatches@ev1.net

  3. Imas Sakin  September 29, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Betsy Hart is right. There are some people who aren’t happy unless they have something to complain about. The high stress world trying to manage a family and a career is your (women)own fault. The entire goal of the women liberation movement was so women would be equal to men in the work place, as if being a mother and a wife and raising smart, strong healthy children wasn’t an important enough job. You women wanted to burn the candle at both end and congratulations you got your wish. So stop wining about the consequences that comes with that wish. You have only yourselves to blame.

  4. Margherite  September 29, 2006 at 8:30 pm

    The problem with the conclusions of this article is the (unfortunately, typical) reliance of a “reporter” on 2nd- or 3rd-hand information. My first question concerns the reliability of the conclusion that “women never had it so good”, considering that it is based on a cherry-picked sampling of employers who employ a cherry-picked (pun not necessarily intended) sampling of young, caucasian, decorative women.

    I have nothing against their wanting on-site hairdressers as part of their benefits package, nor against the employers who offer it. But I don’t want to work for employers who offer window dressing instead of challenge, because they perpetrate the myth that that’s all women want.

    If Working Mother had included in the sample employers who offer tuition remission, you would probably find a completely different picture. My second question logically follows: who are you to determine what women “really” want?

    I would never have entered the workforce at all, if my husband hadn’t degenerated into a violent jerk who refused to feed and clothe his children and, when I complained, dumped me. I looked for and found an employer that provided college tuition.

    If the second question is addressed by most of my women friends, you wouldn’t even see hairdressers or concierge services on the list! You might see some gratitude that NOW is addressing circumstances that we cannot, because we are working too many hours to start a campaign.

  5. John Hanks  September 29, 2006 at 9:24 pm

    The purpose of a union is to help suckers develop some smarts. Union cleansing has left a nation consisting of nothing but crooks and suckers. People imbedded in corporate America are as useless a flies in amber. Silly articles like this are not enough any more.

  6. Greg Beckham  October 2, 2006 at 8:05 am

    I’d be willing to bet the women would gladly swap the hair salon for a company paid pension and healthcare that cost hundreds of dollars a month out of most workers’ wages nowdays. That stuff is just a carrot and a lot cheaper to the employer.

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