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Guest Blog- Why the Term “Working Mother” Should Be Put to Rest

By Christine Besset

 

I met Christine at a women's leadership conference in Nashville this past January and we instantly connected after realizing we both came from the finance world and were also in the midst of raising a family while working full time. In speaking about my coaching business, I may have used the term "working mother" one too many times for her liking, and she quickly made the case for why we should retire that term and that women are actually doing a disservice to themselves by using it.


The conversation got my wheels spinning within the first few hours of being there on day 1. Fast forward to day 2 and one of our public speaking assignments was to pitch the audience in 5 minutes on any topic. It could be work related, persuading someone to buy a favorite product, a personal plea etc...but it needed to be clear, concise, and organized.


When it was Christine's turn, what topic do you think she chose?


Yep, you guessed it.....


"Why we should ban the term 'working mother' in the US."


And after listening to her passionate plea and clear and concise argument, it REALLY got my wheels spinning and I asked her to write out this post.


So, I urge you to read through her points below and let us know what you think!

  • Are women in the United States doing a disservice to themselves by using the term "working mother?"

  • Should we be using "working parent" instead?

  • For women who work in male dominated industries-- do you play down your parental responsibilities at home? Do you purposely not mention your kids in conversations?

  • Do you think men are ever asked by their colleagues, "how do you manage to do it all?" or "who's caring for your children" when they are traveling?

 

Why The Term "Working Mother" Should Be Put To Rest By Christine Besset


As a French native who moved to the US in my late twenties, I am always startled when

professional women use the term ”working mother” to present themselves. There is actually no equivalent in French for this term so it's always been a difficult word phrase for me to grasp. Living here for over 20 years now, having my own children, and being a working parent, I better understand the expression now.


However, I strongly believe that it's an outdated term, and is reminiscent of the obsolete expectation that mothers are supposed to stay home with their children. I also really believe this term is disempowering for women and falls utterly short of solving the issues all working parents face.


Language shapes thoughts. Words matter. When you describe yourself as a “working mother”, you are telling the world that:

  • You are a mother first, and a worker second. That because you work, you are a second class mother. That because you are a mother, you are a second class worker.

  • You are either a superhero who does it all (please give me a gold star) and/or a martyr who needs special help or coddling (more on what we need to do to support working parents below).

  • You have internalized society’s expectations about what a great mother looks like (she stays home; she packs lunch boxes at 6 am, picks up the children from school at 3 pm, runs from a dance class to a soccer practice until 6 pm and manages to get the family dinner ready on the table at 6:30 pm); and you have accepted what a great worker looks like (stays late in the office; is available 24/7; uses week-ends to catch up on special projects).

  • You have accepted your traditional gender role as the primary caregiver for your children and presumably your co-parent doesn’t have it as hard as you do. Aren’t offices full of men with children? Why aren’t we talking about the “working fathers” too?


The last point is the crux of the issue in my opinion. A more productive way to frame the challenges faced by working mothers would be better tackled by using the term “working parents” instead. Using the outdated “working mother” term locks women and men in their traditional gender role as nurturing and caring mother or financial provider, respectively - forever perpetuating the patriarchal structure of the workplace and the society as a whole.


What parents need is support systems that allow them to realize their full potential as a human in their personal and professional lives, while parenting effectively, including:

  • Parental leave. The United States is actually the only wealthy country in the world without a national program for paid parental leave.

  • Subsidized child care. One should never have to drop from the workforce because childcare is too expensive compared to their income.

  • Free, public pre-kindergarten.

  • More flexibility around how, when and where work is done.

Finally, I hear this term often used to recognize the challenges faced by professional women

with children in a competitive, male-dominated environment - setting aside with the same stroke that these women are very likely in a privileged situation, and that advocating in their workplace for more flexibility and benefits will do nothing for:

  • Women in low paying jobs who had to drop off the workforce because of unaffordable childcare.

  • Women doing essential work where remote and flexible work is not an option.

  • Fathers who want to be an effective co-parent but don’t have the option of parental leave or added flexibility, and/or are expected to perform as if their partner were performing 100% of the housework and childcare responsibilities.

  • Children--who deserve the best start in life--independently of the specific privileges or benefits their parents have access to.


Truth be told, we have seen tremendous progress in benefits offered by Fortune 500 companies in terms of parental leave and flexible working in the past five years, with a clear acceleration due to the pandemic. But there is still, ALOT to do at the national level to better support all working parents in a more equitable and meaningful way.




 


Christine Besset is a senior corporate credit analyst at S&P Global Ratings, leading a team covering about forty

business services companies. Over her 15-year career at S&P, she has covered a wide range of industries through

multiple credit cycles, both domestically and in Europe. She has a vast experience in sectors experiencing high

growth, high market activity and distressed debt transactions.


Within S&P, Christine is a subject matter expert for Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria. She

is passionate about coaching and mentoring junior staff, in particular young women. During the pandemic, she

created, led and implemented a remote onboarding program for newly hired analysts in the Corporate Ratings

division.


Prior to joining S&P, Christine worked for French bank BNP-Paribas. Christine holds a M.S. in Engineering from

Ecole Centrale de Lyon in France and an MBA from University of Texas at Dallas.


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