The Enormous Stress of Balancing Work and Family ... and Race

4 years ago

How do race and ethnicity factor into our experiences as women balancing jobs, children, bills, and aging parents? Different employment patterns, caregiving expectations, and job discrimination can factor into experiences with juggling career and family for women of color.

Last month, the Center for American Progress (CAP) held a discussion about the added hurdles women of color face while balancing career and family—and it was a fascinating conversation.

Image Credit: Hans Spliter via Flickr

Jocelyn Frye, former deputy assistant to President Obama and current CAP Senior Fellow, moderated the hour-long segment. The panelists included women of diverse experiences and racial backgrounds:

Jenny R. Yang, Chair, U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Adriana Kugler, Professor and Vice-Provost for Faculty, Georgetown University
Kuae Mattox, National President, Mocha Moms

The panel started off by discussing how the relationship of women and work has historically been different for African American and Latina women.

Mattox explained that until the 1980s or 1990s, the vast majority of black women worked outside of the home.

"With the rise of the black middle class, with the rise in our husband's incomes, it enabled us to make the choice which was unheard of a generation ago."

Her organization, Mocha Moms, grew out of the need for African American stay-at-home mothers to find a support system, especially since career decisions are often fraught by pressure from older family members to succeed.


Often, discussions about women breaking the glass ceiling focus on professional women trying to advance from mid-level jobs to executive positions. But even among the 40% of women who are the main breadwinners for their families, only one-third of those are highly educated.

Kuebler said that group skews white and has an average annual household income of $80,000—enough to pay for some services such as housework or childcare.

The majority, two-thirds of breadwinner moms, are African American and Latina women, who are less educated as a group. They earn an average annual income of $18,000.

"Latina women are facing a different reality," said Kuebler. "They are having to face both work and family responsibilities all on their own and with very few resources."

Minority women are also more often employed in part-time jobs. "They may not have access to health insurance. They don't have access to paid vacations. They don't have access to a lot of things that come along with a full-time job," said Kuebler.


Yang, who heads the federal agency overseeing workplace fairness laws, said that women of color often face stereotypes based on their race, as well as their gender. For example,

"Often Asian American women face that double bind. Certain expectations that you'll be passive in the workplace. And then when you're not, social science studies show a double backlash. Women who are more assertive then have to counteract that stereotype that you 'don't know your place'."

Yang added, "In some of our lowest-wage jobs we see the most egregious offense of discrimination because people are not empowered to speak up because they need those jobs."


In addition to the usual stressors of raising children, caring for aging parents, and paying the bills, women of color often have an extra layer of pressure. Women who are immigrants or of the first generation to attain a particular level of education or career often face an expectation to be a good representative of their community.

Mattox described this as a "double-edged sword" saying she sometimes feels that, "because I choose to stay at home, I'm doing a disservice to my race." She added that additional pressures often affect families in the form of stress levels and related diseases.

Want to know more? You can watch the entire panel discussion about work/life issues facing women of color on YouTube.

News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs about raising an Asian mixed-race family at HapaMama.

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