I realize this is a bit random – I rarely talk about work here (and this isn’t really about my job, anyway), and I rarely get into very deep thoughts on anything other than credenzas, but I just thought I'd use my little space to complain for a moment. Or to think out loud, rather.
I recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. It’s not the kind of book I normally read for various reasons, but after about 3 glasses of wine one night I downloaded it. There’s a lot to be said about it – good and bad and indifferent and unsurprising. She makes some good points, but she’s also kind of preaching to the choir (why write this book for women, why not write this for your fellow corporate executives?). But that’s not exactly why I bring it up. It made me think a lot about how this applies to me, my job, my industry.
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I’ve mentioned before that I work in publishing – an industry famously dominated by women (76%, according to Publisher’s Weekly), however still lead largely by men. According to PW’s most recent salary survey, male respondents reported an average salary of $85k, while female respondents reported an average of $56k. This is largely because of the prevalence of men in senior management roles, and the average male respondent having been in the industry for 19 years, compared to 9 years for female respondents.
One of the (many, many) concerns I have about staying in this industry is that I look around and don’t see many women past about age 40. Where do they go? According the PW survey, 30% of female respondents were under 30 and the average age of female respondents was 35 (compared to 45 for men), and 38% of women respondents said they thought they would change companies or careers within 2 years’ time.
There are about a thousand reasons for a woman of a certain age (ahem) to leave the publishing industry. Bad pay? Check. An industry in flux? Check. Too few women in leadership positions, or too few promotions for women? Maybe. Bad/terrible family leave benefits? I’m going to say check. (yeah, I’m going to whine about the lack of maternity leave in this country again).
In her book, Sandberg writes:
“Forty percent of employed mothers lack sick days and vacation leave, and about 50 percent of employed mothers are unable to take time off to care for a sick child. Only about half of women receive any pay during maternity leave. These policies can have severe consequences; families with no access to paid family leave often go into debt and can fall into poverty… Too many standards remain inflexible and unfair, often penalizing women with children. Too many talented women try their hardest to reach the top and bump up against systemic barriers. So many others pull back because they do not think they have a choice. All this brings me back to Leymah Gbowee’s insistence that we need more women in power. When leadership insists that these policies change, they will.” (pgs. 211-212)
I’ve often wondered about the publishing industry: there are so many women in it – a majority of employees - but why don’t more publishers provide better policies for women, particularly women with families? Why isn’t that 76% of the industry better served? I can only think of one or two publishers that offer a maternity/family leave policy that is much better than the bare minimum of what is legally required (and this is America, so the “bare minimum of what is legally required” is basically little more than nothing whatsoever). Publishing has notoriously terrible pay, and try to mix that with miserable/no paid maternity leave – it’s actually an unfriendly industry for women with children to progress in. It’s hard to make it work in this city, in this industry, with a kid (or more than one! Yikes!) What is the point of staying in a low-paying career when faced with the too-soon return to work after having a baby? The rewards are too few. And what effect does that have on the potential for more women to become senior management in this industry?
|nothing to do with anything|
I won’t share what company I work for, and I have nothing negative to say about my company. It has a very standard policy on family leave*, and I have been given some flexibility in my return to work, for which I’ve been grateful for. And, in fact, there are a lot of women in leadership and senior management roles at my company – including our ceo. However, it should also be noted that those women are almost exclusively in the UK, which of course does have paid maternity leave.
And this is ‘Murica, and publishers and the publishing industry are just one of many that don’t offer paid parental leave for any length of time that would benefit working mothers. I personally feel that the lack of paid maternity leave, and especially that lack of time a mother is given with a new baby to develop, recover and adjust, forces women out of the workforce. How many women would remain in the workforce – to be promoted and take leadership roles - if they were given up to 52 weeks of leave? I don’t know. I suspect it would be significantly more.
Sandberg writes that “The more women attain positions of power, the less pressure there will be to conform, and the more they will do for other women. Research already suggests that companies with more women in leadership roles have better work-life policies, smaller gender gaps in executive compensation, and more women in midlevel management.” (pg 214) Interesting.
I know: I have chosen this industry, I have even chosen to live in this country, and I chose to have a family and keep working. I know, I know. But I still have to wonder why publishing is so heavily dominated by, and yet seemingly so unsupportive of women.
* In case you’re curious, I received 12 weeks off thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which protects the job of an employee for up to 12 weeks (unpaid) for the birth of a child (if the employer has more than 50 employees). I was paid for 6 weeks, partially, due to New York State’s “short-term disability” insurance, and my employer topped up that partial pay so that I received my full pay for 6 weeks. I also used some vacation time (paid), so that in all I took about 14 weeks off. So, in fact, I was actually incredibly fortunate compared to many (most?) American working moms.