The phrase “working mother” is redundant. Between childcare, chores and, often, a career, a mom’s labor goes beyond “being on the clock.” Rather, it is more accurately, around the clock. Job or not.
Having grown up the daughter of a “working mother,” I experienced this firsthand. I will not pretend that in my younger years, I did not wish I could see and be with my mum more. I watched her hustle and bustle, caring for my older sister and I, between in-person meetings and phone calls in her home office. But, as I grew and became a woman in the workforce myself, enthusiastically building my own career, my sentiment shifted entirely.
I like to think that the worker, peer, and colleague I am today, is a direct reflection of my mum’s ambition and precocity. As a saleswoman in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, she often dealt with harassment and discrimination. Though she never let it distract or deter her from her goals.
I work hard, with compassion, knowing in my heart that she spent 30 years actively fighting gender inequity in the workplace, whilst exemplifying excellence in the male-dominated occupation of telecommunications sales. She did so to provide the best life she could imagine and create, for my sister and I.
My mum demonstrated untiring diligence, humility, and vigor, with style and grace. Her successes at work allowed my dad the means to accomplish his entrepreneurial dreams of building businesses. As a result, my sister and I have found purpose in our work, and financial independence, as we pursue our own careers. Without my mother’s sacrifices, I might not have been afforded the opportunity to contribute to the growth of a company that helps organizations value their people and people realize their value, let alone write this blog.
This Job’s Not For You
On my birthday this year, I received an especially meaningful gift. A poignant, written account of “One woman’s Struggle in a Man’s World,” a nonfiction book entitled This Job’s Not For You, written by Linda Nyland. On the back cover, Linda writes “For all of you who were told you couldn’t when you knew you could, this story of struggle and redemption is for you.” Above this inscription, a film photo of a petite woman wearing a hard hat, and a bright orange safety vest, smiling warmly. The caption reads: First Day as a Longshoreman, 1988.
Despite Linda’s heroic integrity and steadfast work ethic, she endured endless harassment and blatant sex-based discrimination as one of the first longshore(wo)men in the Tacoma ports in the late 80s and 90s. She grinned and bared more than a decade long antagonization, with awe-inspiring patience, to make ends meet and honor her family. All she ever wanted was to do her work hard, and to be treated equally to her male counterparts.
Unfortunately, the toxic conditions surrounding the ports at the time left little room for workplace checks and balances. When Linda finally was able to report grievances to the union, she recalls her paperwork being torn up and thrown in the trash as she walked out of her supervisors’ office door.
Despite Linda’s best efforts to solve her issues internally with her employer, through the channels built to safeguard her, it was clear that the aggrieving would remain unmitigated. The book culminates in a group lawsuit alleging, among other egregious and factual reports, that women and minorities were denied promotion to better jobs because of their sex or race.
Eventually a settlement was reached. The results of which set a precedent that supports women and people of color, to this day.
A Mother’s Love
As I cracked the book open to give it a read, and began thumbing through her thoughtful dedications, I landed on this poem, a tribute to her daughter:
A Mother’s Love
I know you’ve not always understood
The things I’ve done for our collective good
But they were and will forever be
To keep you safe from harm and free.
A single mother’s plight is to be torn
Burden’s mount, hope flies,
And here alone – all is borne.
I could not quit, I could not stop,
Your protection is cause I will never drop.
Now a mother’s mantle you too wear.
To see your child without a care?
For all those times I was angry, hard and cold,
In defense of our safety, I had to be so bold.
I had to work and it took our precise time,
But it was all for you, precious child of mine.
To My Daughter
I Love You
Every time I even think about these potent words Linda wrote, my eyes water up, deeply moved by, and grateful for, her fortitude. She helped pave the path for not only her daughter, but for all women in today’s workforce. Myself included.
It is hard for me to imagine channeling strength, from the depth of your being, for the sake and safety of your daughter, while surviving unimaginable working conditions. But as I have experienced from my own mothers’ vitality, this unbreakable will must come from the superpower of motherhood, an experience I have yet to have. And therefore, can only infer by proxy.
To this day, Linda has yet to divulge the trials and tribulations she braved as a longshor(wo)man to her daughter, worried the weight of it might be crushing. To cope, she turned to writing her experiences as a release, or as she said in her own words, when I was fortunate enough to speak with her, “this book was my therapy.”
The Motherhood Penalty
Unfortunately, the context surrounding Linda’s discriminatory work experiences is neither new, nor uncommon. Women, even in the year 2022, still face inequity. For mother’s it’s even worse.
According to Payscale’s annual State of the Gender Pay Gap Report, when women indicated they were a parent or primary caregiver, we observed an uncontrolled pay gap of $0.74 for every dollar earned by a male parent. With the controlled gap, in 2022 we saw that mothers who remained in the workforce earn $0.98 for every dollar earned by fathers with the same employment characteristics.
Conversely, the gender pay gap shrinks considerably between men and women who are not parents. The uncontrolled pay gap reduces to $0.88 on the dollar, suggesting women without children face fewer social barriers in climbing the corporate ladder or securing higher paying jobs.
The global pandemic exacerbated the motherhood penalty. Disproportionately impacting women, who statistically speaking, were more likely to take on child and elder care, resulting from the lockdowns. For example, eighty percent of working mothers took the lead on remote learning versus thirty one percent of working fathers, according to a FlexJobs survey from 2020.
Failing to support women in the workforce has economists concerned of the potentially detrimental effects on the broader economy: Every 10 percent increase in women working is associated with a 5 percent increase in wages for all workers as overall labor force productivity increases, one University of Akron economist found.
The solution? Flexibility is a new currency. Productivity is no longer defined by one’s ability to show up to a physical office. Reliable high-quality childcare is critical to a woman’s ability to enter and stay in the workforce. Paid time off to care for family, or when you are ill are no longer nice to haves.
As employees are rethinking their relationship to work, in the midst of The Great Renegotiation, employers will have to rethink their workplace models, policies, and practices.
Prowess and Progress for Progeny
Like my own mother, the circumstances Linda braved were in her own words, “to keep [her daughter] safe from harm and free.” A virtuous cause that reaches far beyond her own progeny.
Linda’s self-learned aptitude, and bold perseverance, kept anyone and everyone from encroaching their limiting beliefs on her potential. All the while, her volition was pleasantly masked behind the placidity she exuded. She kept her cool, but stood up for herself firmly, and worked even harder, despite the persistent prejudice from her colleagues and employer.
When the time was right to seek redemption, Linda had already built her case. Along with others in her lawsuit, she helped blaze a trail and hold leaders accountable. Every workplace has the potential to fall into patterns of inequity. It takes valiant people, like Linda, that stand up for what’s right, to protect those who cannot yet protect themselves. Like mothers, organically bound to the care and nurture of their children.
The significance of Linda Nyland’s story of tenacity and reclamation extends beyond her daughter, and other young women. It truly is for all the people that “were told you couldn’t when you knew you could.” And for that, I thank Linda not only for sharing her accounts, which undoubtedly took extraordinary courage, but for allowing me to share her life’s work, with you.
For the Working Mom’s of Today
My mother, who is serendipitously also named Linda, and Linda Nyland are just two examples of how the working mothers of the past endured hardship in the workplace. Their courage, along with that of many other mothers before and after them, helped usher in a new age of work, where woman can be and do what their heart desires.
But as Payscale’s Gender Pay Gap report data shows, year after year, there is still work to do. With the global pandemic, the great resignation, and the climate of today’s worker movements, the opportunity to make long-lasting change for our (future) daughters, is upon us.
As Dr. C Nicole Mason, President & CEO of Institute for Women’s Policy Research said as part of her Compference21 keynote, “There’s been a real shift and opening for re-imagining work and our workplaces. We are all on the front lines and have the power in our roles to determine whether our companies and organizations will lean in and help to define the future of work or conduct business as usual.”
How will you choose to support and preserve the extraordinary resolve of working mothers passed down through generations?
On behalf of Payscale, we wish all the moms of the world a beautiful Mother’s Day, this Sunday! We hope the special day is filled with peace and love. Forever grateful for your many contributions that provide women in the workforce today the safety and freedom to follow their dreams — whatever they may be!