Women Still Pay a Big Price for Motherhood

Last Updated Dec 21, 2010 3:47 PM EST

Ann Crittenden's wonderful 2000 book, The Price of Motherhood, has been reissued. And it's bad news that people still need to read this book. For while any author would be thrilled to see their book reissued, the persistent relevance of this one is, frankly, tragic.

Because what Crittenden does, in her level headed, sane and numerate way, is point out a fundamental social hypocrisy. Everyone pays lip service to family being the most important thing - but they leave women to pay the financial price. Neither corporations nor governments are prepared to offer the financial support that families need.

Lying So You Can Go to Your Child's Play

I used to have men work for me, who were relieved when they could confess that they didn't have to go to a client meeting - that was just the cover story for attending their daughter's school play. Now I have women using the cover story, hoping I've never heard it before. I used to work with guys who thought all-nighters divided the heroes from the wimps; now I have women who come in off of red eye flights, using Preparation H around their eyes to eliminate the appearance of fatigue.This is not progress.

The sad truth is that what Crittenden wrote ten years ago is as valid as ever. We say families count, but how we spend our time says otherwise.

How Women Execs Balance Work and Family--With Difficulty

As a female executive, women often ask me how I've managed to combine a family with a career. I no longer have Crittenden's patience to spell this out in detail, so here's the honest truth:

1. I work like a dog. That's okay because I have always done work I adore. I'd go crazy if I didn't do it. This is my choice.

2. I have a fantastic husband. We both believe passionately in fairness. We both have pursued jobs we believe in and the fact that they pay differently is irrelevant. At home, we are equals.

3. Everybody feels guilt. Stay-at-home mothers. Moms who work part time. Moms who work full time. Moms who work overtime. The only smug parent is a dead beat. If you don't want to feel guilty, don't have kids; adopt a snow leopard.

4. I ask for - and get - a lot of help. From friends, neighbours, in laws, strangers. This means my kids learned, at an early age, that everybody does basic things differently - and that's okay. No one starved.

5. I am always frank. No I won't do 7am breakfast meetings; I have a family. I know that lets the guys off the hook; I hope it teaches them courage too.

I don't mind any of this. What I do mind is that, because I'm female, I've often been underpaid. Because I do work I believe in, people ask me to do work for nothing - on the assumption that there is some guy in the background footing the bill. All of this makes my blood boil.

If as a society, we believe that family matters, then everyone has to make their contribution: parents, friends, family, employers, government. We need an employment and tax system that articulates family values. What we have right now is sentimental twaddle - and a remuneration system that rewards anti-social behavior. I love Ann Crittenden's book - but I can't wait until it's history.

Is it history in your household? Or in your company?

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    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on www.MHeffernan.com.