Women never had it so good


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.)