Lean In, Lean Back or Stand Tall?

 

Yesterday I was surprised to see a feature about women’s ‘real’ feelings about work on the front page of The New York Times.

Surprised because the front page naturally favors breaking news or lately, daily worldwide unrest. And surprised because instead of the usual fawning over female Celeb CEO’s like Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer, this story by Catherine Rampell followed Sara Uttech from Falls River, Wisconsin, who simply wanted to be successful enough so that she could be a wife, a mom, a professional communicator and a woman she was happy to meet in the mirror.

Turns out Sara had ‘made it’ but had made the choice to ask for a flexible schedule. By working every possible angle and hour, she managed not to miss any of the six ballgames her three kids play every week, no mean feat. Now, Sara is lucky. She has a supportive husband, a job that requires little travel, plus she has a responsive manager and her firm is run by a woman with an open mind. Having no kids myself, the boss’s story also touched me, since she acknowledged that despite being childless, her own personal life deserved flex time too. No matter how keenly felt by moms, flexibility isn’t only a mother’s issue, it’s a human one. But we can be our own worst enemies.

According to the Families and Work Institute, only 37% of women and 44% of men actually want a job with more responsibility and yet, we can’t stop leaning in till it kills us. As I travel to speak, I still find women resisting the idea of downshifting, not because of financial limitations but for ego.

Some of the linked-in women’s career groups frankly scare me. In a recent posted question, “Is it okay to be happy where you’re at?” (I still can’t get over the careerist dangling her “at”, but… ), most of the commenting women declared they will never be satisfied until they get the next bigger job. When did “happy” become a synonym for surrender? At a recent speech, I described my own reinvention of a more livable work/life, and one woman raised her hand and asked, “Wait…are you saying the only difference between your busy life then and now, is that now you’re happy?” Well, yeah. That would be the difference. Isn’t it time that we stop defining fulfillment only in the elusive corner office (been there, my friends…it isn’t that pretty) or flex-time as tantamount to opting out, and that we find that center place where we stand tall and seek ‘enough’ space to live happily ever after? Wouldn’t we love to be in that front-page story?

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A Personal Letter to Disney: Be Brave

There is a storm brewing with the Disney release of a toy line featuring its first truly ‘brave’ heroine, Princess Merida. Seems that in an effort to appeal traditionally to little girls’ doll tastes, the rough and tumble star of “Brave” has lost weight, filled out her too tight gown and adopted that doe-eyed sparkle princess look….the look and the life that the animated Merida despised.

I will let anthropologists and psychologists dissect why this is right or wrong. Or just cowardly.

I will turn instead to my own experience, watching the animated film alongside a 7 year old redhead named Soleil.  From the moment that Merida, the cartoon ginger wild child, picked up her bow and galloped through the woods, Soleil’s heart pounded in the saddle alongside her heroine. Proud, cheering, valiant.

For once, the story wasn’t about a cookie-cutter forgotten waif lifted by a prince to a palace. This was true grit, the kind of beauty any girl with guts can achieve. The knowing eyes, the powerful stance, the in-your-face joy of being a girl alive in her own skin spoke to Soleil. And the hair, the untamed, boundless curls that said, “Remember me!” Go ahead, Disney, give our real ‘brave’ Merida a sparkly crown. We need her in the Magic Kingdom. But don’t mess with her curls or her curves or her courage.

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Watch Three Generations React to “Makers” on PBS

This week, PBS aired a groundbreaking (and we hope, award-winning!) documentary called “Makers” tracing the journey of women from the awakening of the feminist movement through to today. Chelsea, a prime Gen Y woman and I, a member of the class of ’75, gathered a group of ten women to watch together and weigh in. We invited representatives from all different life stages; a college senior getting ready to transition to the professional world, recent graduates starting careers, newlyweds looking forward to starting a family, empty nesters and life-reinventors.

Our living room of new and old friends represented the movers, shakers and MAKERS of today. This video captures the conversation that just wouldn’t quit—inspired, candid and as women are, openly engaging. Listen in!

 

As Chelsea said, “It’s easy for Gen Y women to forget how many doors had to be knocked down in order for us to be standing where we are today.

We may not have lived through the height of the women’s movement in the 60’s and 70’s, but the energy that was generated then certainly lives within all of us now. Unfortunately the road to equality is still lined with roadblocks, detours and “Do Not Enter” signs. It’s now up to our generation. We each have to ask ourselves—what are the issues and values that I want to stand up for to make a difference for myself, my peers and future generations? When that answer comes, you will be ready to make your mark.”

Sent from both of us with love and with thanks to June, Joanna, Erin, Kelley, Amy, Nidia, Alexis and Maggie.

Mary Lou and Chelsea

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What Makes a Mom


 

Yesterday, I performed my one woman show “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story” at the day’s end of the annual Marketing to Moms conference in Chicago. At the start, I could tell that the audience of women, most of them moms who had sat through 9 hours of PowerPoint slides and impassioned speeches…were tuckered out. And cocktails beckoned from the next room.

These colleagues of mine are experts in their own right, devoted to the power mothers of America. What could a play teach them? Turns out that love and loss and hope and mother/daughter bonds trump theory and marketing trends. At least that’s what their tears and laughter showed me.

Why should marketers care about digging into the personal lives of women? Because that is where the truth is. Not at a desk. Or from an armchair. Or the back of a focus group room. In our hearts. Crossing that boundary from marketer to actor was worth the risk.

Have to say, I didn’t need a PowerPoint to tell a love story.  Neither do Moms.

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Three Reasons Why JCPenney’s Latest Strategy Won’t “Check Out”

Sorry, but I have to continue my JCPenney rant. I didn’t gloat when they admitted that their strategy to de-coupon the stores was a failure. Or when more top level folks gave up their mission to coolify. But today’s news that CEO Johnson is planning to rid the stores of those pesky cash registers and ‘expensive’ cashiers at checkout just can’t go unnoticed.

 

Let’s start with checkout. While every retailer likes to brag, “We want to be a destination store,” instead they ought to promise, “We want to be the evacuation store.” Once women have given a retailer their precious time, they want to get the heck out of there as fast as possible. With the exception of the apple store and maybe anthropologie (where we pretend we are adopting a languid, poetic lifestyle!), women want to bolt and get on with their day.

 

Now it’s true that some mass retailers have taught customers to accept self-checkout. But JCPenney, the store for women who are already doing it all, isn’t WalMart or apple and anthro-anything. And I predict that while someday we may all be asking our mobile phones to talk to a kiosk, we are not all there yet and in this category, we expect more. Here’s why this I predict this initiative will be put in the slow lane within months.

 

The customer: Just a guess: the largest segment of JCPenney customers are women with a low to low/mid HH income, a more limited education, children to support and a technology repertoire that is more email and facebook than apps or code scanning. The loyal ones are likely older.  Just picture these women being asked to aim, scan, tap and tangle with tech when their kids’s humor is wearing thin or their tired feet are giving out.  At the first hiccup, I see them dropping the merch and heading out the door for good.

 

The product: I don’t care if I have to pack my own groceries, but clothes and the cute household decorations? Yeah, I’ve suffered through part-time clerks who stuff, wrinkle and ruin my discount finds in Marshall’s, but for the most part, I feel like the cashiers, pretty much all of whom are women, try. Because they’ve been there. What’s so special now about JCP (Who?) if they make you bag your new bought sheets and clothes and kids’ stuff like it’s off the back table of the dollar store. Even they have cashiers.

 

The experience: For the shoppers who go to Penney’s for a little treat, now the store is taking away one more customer service perk and replacing it with what? Maybe improved customer service that will cost them more because they either have to hire more trained people or spend more money training the ones they have…the ones, whose heads must be spinning by now with the changes that start and stop? We know that eventually, we will all be checking out alone, but for store whose hold on their best customers is so fragile, was this the only way to save 10% of costs?

 

Before the board allows Mr. Johnson to add another apple-esque idea to a store that doesn’t have apple’s customers, products, staff, environment, juice or core, can someone say it might be time for someone else, as smart as he is, to checkout?

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Mad Women for a Change

Last night I was invited to a terrific party hosted by Ken Roman, former chairman of Ogilvy. The occasion was the debut of a new book by the wonderful creative director and writer Jane Maas. It’s called “Mad Women” published by St. Martin’s Press.  The book takes a fun and honest look at what it was really like for women in ad agencies in the sixties and seventies. Was there really that much sex?  Were women relegated to the steno pool, no matter their ambitions and talent? Jane’s book says, yes and even more so than in the Mad Men series. She interviewed me for the book, not because I was one of those women (I was in grade school!) but because my mom worked in ad agencies throughout those decades. For the record, my mom did her share of typing and shorthand but thankfully avoided the seamier side of the inter-departmental relationships that Jane vividly describes.

In her book, Jane retells my story of how I grew up at a dinner table where storyboards and media plans were normal conversation. My mother loved working in advertising, certainly more than cooking dinner. She once worked for an agency where the Campbells soup account came under fire for exaggerating the pile of vegetables in a soup shoot, so she was in charge of counting exactly how many string beans, peas and carrots were in a can and verifying that the bowl was ‘honest’ before the cameras rolled. I love that she loved her work and she inspired me to follow in her footsteps. Not that it was as racy as the TV drama but advertising did bring out the crazy in a lot of people.

Jane is headed out on a 40 city tour, (OMG!) and having done it myself, I wish her a lot of great applause, as many flight upgrades as she can get and a good night’s sleep or three.

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New Blog for WorkingMother.com

Jen authors a guest blog as a Thought Leader for WorkingMother.com http://bit.ly/1TjqNg,  Read it.  Tweet. Pass it Along. Comment. 

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Diaper Genius

diapers.jpg 

Big changes this week at the Chapman house. I just returned from maternity leave and Hannah has moved on up to size 2 diapers. Before I gave birth no one told me just how diaper obsessed you become in the first few months of motherhood. I thought the biggest worry would be about diaper rash but these little suckers help you keep track of how well your child is thriving…too few diapers and your baby isn’t eating enough…a mom’s worst nightmare! 

So my lifesaver was that little wetness indicator on the front of the Pampers Swaddlers Sensitives. Diapers today are so good at wicking away moisture it can be hard to tell when they are actually wet. It’s no surprise that diaper manufacturers figured out they were selling less diapers and needed to give parents and caretakers a reason to change more frequently. So while I know that a blue line doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change it right away (even if they want you to), that wetness indicator gave me the reassurance that I was doing a good job as Hannah’s mom and that was worth paying extra for!  

Now with Hannah at almost 15 lbs, I’m no longer as obsessed with the wetness indicator and dare I say it, willing to extend the life of each diaper. As we move to the next size I am reminded how many of my mom friends swore by Pampers Sensitives for the early months (although they never said why) but suggested going to whatever brand is on sale in the later months. How brand loyal are Moms once the insecurity of early motherhood has worn off?  For now we’re sticking with Pampers but I have to say the Huggies at Costco are quietly calling my name.

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Working Women Want to Be Organized, really?

Kudos to Office Depot for their support of women in business.  They have a robust program with resources for business owners, access to an all female advisory board and in the past they have also staged big conferences with big names in business (which we would like to speak at BTW).  So I will gladly award points for that.

BUT shame on Office Depot for releasing the most common sense survey results ever.  When you do a survey and your most insightful learning is that working moms want to be more organized you should just cut your losses and move on.  Check out the survey here if you really must see this for yourself.  More “thank you captain obvious” findings include: Working moms are cutting back on household spending (84%), taking on more household responsibilities (60%) and want to be more organized this year (87%).  Oh and BTW water is wet and ice is cold.

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No Life? You’re Hired!

Something happened yesterday that struck me, not as a marketing story, but as one about women and work, and I just had to write.

PA Governor Ed Rendell became the most recent politician to be stung by a hot mic, when he said that fellow Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona would be perfect to head the demanding Homeland Security department because she has “no family…no life.”

As a born Pennsylvanian who’s met Ed several times, I know he’s a straight-talker, hot mic or cold, and he can sometimes be too quotable. But he was surprised that this gaffe garnered reactions ranging from sexism (why don’t we flag men’s family status when they’re promoted?) to anti-singleton (do singles have no lives because they aren’t married or moms?) to mom-marginalizing (does that assume moms are excluded from higher-pressured jobs?).

Ed was wrong, but sadly, he was right, too.

Raising the ‘family card’ is sexist because it so rarely happens with a man. The last highly public male politician I remember with a lot of kids was Robert F. Kennedy, and his 11 kids only added to his power and allure.

But I don’t see this as a knock only against single women; unfortunately, prejudice against childless women, single and married, is a dirty secret in most of corporate America, not just the beltway.

As a married but kid-free executive throughout my career, I often felt that I was expected to be available for travel and late nights when moms had to take care of kids. There’s an unspoken hierarchy of ‘what counts’ as worthy family obligations and (justifiably) kids are on top, followed by husbands or significant others, though aging parents may trump them soon. Single or married, not having kids is code for having more time to give at the office and childless women usually suffer silently, out of sisterhood or out of fear of alienating moms. And when those mom colleagues age, and their kids are gone, they, too, probably get lumped back in the ‘after hours available’ club.

Here’s where Ed Rendell was right. There are millions of women in this country with careers that squeeze the life out of their lives. As one senior women answered, when I asked if her oft-touted ‘good for women’ company actually was: “Sure, it’s great if you don’t have a husband, a kid, a dog, a plant or a life.”

As this economy tightens, and more women (and men) are forced or lucky to stay in high pressure jobs they hate, there’s less room to protest, “But I have a life, too!”  I’m afraid we are far from the day when every woman’s life choice is equally respected at work…and it may be unrealistic to expect that top jobs won’t require that all-out, 24/7 sacrifice that is so humanly punishing. It’s tough at the top. And lonely. But you shouldn’t have to be alone to be there.

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October 17, 2018
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK

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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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