Lean On Me

4 years ago
My new friend and sister in the trenches is Shay Chan Hodges, the author of Lean On and Lead, Mothering and Work in the 21st Century Economy, which presents new perspectives on families and the future of work through a collection of twenty-six interviews and deep-diving interactive data.  The primary thesis of Lean On and Lead is that a successful 21st century innovation economy depends upon women’s participation in the workforce -- which is inextricably linked to policies and work cultures that support women and parents.  The ebook was first published in November at the iBooks Store and was updated with new interviews, data, and video in February, 2014.   Shay lives on Maui ( in Hawaii, can you believe it??)  with her husband and two teenage sons, is a grant writer for nonprofits, a community activist, and the former owner of a children's bookstore.  Welcome, Shay!
A few weeks ago, Janet Yellen, the first female Chair of the Federal Reserve Board, made a speech at the National Interagency Community Reinvestment Conference.  Her speech addressed economic recovery and the Fed’s intentions to keep interest rates low.  The speech also included stories about real people’s experiences with joblessness, which was considered noteworthy by some.

Prior to Yellen’s appointment three months ago, unemployment was cited as one of the most pressing challenges that the Fed would address — and one that is of personal importance to Yellen.  In fact, in January, the National Journal quoted colleagues who spoke about Yellen’s empathy and commitment to the unemployed, with one saying, “she feels the pain of the jobless on a gut level.”

This is good news for working families who bear the consequences of economic decisions that often overlook their day-to-day realities -- particularly in light of the fact that President Obama had originally considered Larry Summers for the Fed position.

In fact, according to a January Huffington Post article, it was Obama’s desire to nominate Summers that galvanized women to push hard for the eminently qualified Yellen.  Summers’ “failed economic track record and his history of sexist and insensitive remarks” spurred organizations to educate the public about Yellen’s impressive record. Additionally, powerful female donors made calls and sent letters to members of the Senate Banking Committee, President Obama, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

These women were not organizing to achieve the goal of appointing the first female Federal Reserve Chair. They worked to enlighten the public about Yellen’s credentials because they feared that the most qualified candidate for the second most powerful US post would get passed over because she is a woman.

The fact that a woman of Yellen’s stature and experience could need such a robust support group in order to be acknowledged is telling – and not surprising.  Smart capable women at all professional levels are often overlooked — and they frequently lean on other women and networks for support.

In Lean On and Lead, Mothering & Work in the 21st Century Economy, I interviewed twenty-six working parents who describe the people, family members, and other community supports they regularly lean on in order to succeed professionally and personally.

For example, Jennifer, a Project Manager in the health care industry who is the primary breadwinner for her family, states:

“In my industry, there are professional networks…which provide ways for women to communicate with each other about all kinds of professional issues and find out about various companies’ family policies, to determine whether there is gender pay inequity, or to learn about other women’s experiences with their employers when they’ve had a sick child or parent…Women are used to leaning on each other both on a personal level and professionally. Women organize carpools, help each other out with kids in emergencies, and know that they can rely on each other. They lean on each other so they can lead. And by being examples and providing concrete support, we know we can propel the whole group forward together.”

Due to recent discussions of pay inequity, most people are aware that though females have been better educated than males for decades, they earn 25% less than men over the course of their careers at all levels of educational attainment.  Furthermore, the gap widens when breaks women take for childbearing and childrearing are included in the equation.

Yet in 2012, 70% of mothers worked outside the home, and in 40% of households, the mother was the primary breadwinner.  Thus, women are crucial to the economic support of families, and policies that address unemployment, underemployment, and pay inequity are crucial to ensuring their ability to lead.

Janet Yellen’s experience provides a high profile example of what many educated women and minorities face at all professional levels.  While it is fortunate that she was able to lean on a network of strong powerful women, we need to recognize how close we came to foregoing her experience, brilliance, and perspective.

We also need to acknowledge that the current system’s biases and discrimination impact our economic prospects as a society.  Addressing gender and ethnic inequities in the workplace and accessing our total talent pool is not just about equality and justice, it is an economic imperative.

Thanks, Shay.  I loved clicking and tapping my way through your iBook.  Great fun, and heaps of relevant info, too.

'Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington


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