Texting 9 to 5: A Generational Throwdown

Lately, I have noticed that my Gen Y colleagues have been spending more and more time pecking away at their mobile phones during the work day, (a boomer pet peeve that I have learned to live with). I assumed my millennial partners were exchanging one-liners or plotting cool parties with friends but in today’s Wall St. Journal, I learned that the person most often on the other end of the text is a mom.

Seems that twentysomething’s are g-chatting parents, mostly moms, as often as 20 times a day, just to dish on the sly or to share an indignity of office life. The article didn’t question whether daylong cubicle texting is a career-enhancing move but instead, asked whether the younger generation ought to be dumping work issues in mom’s lap rather than building independent problem-solving skills. After my initial eye-roll’s, I realized that I have actually embraced this digital reality and can even see the good in this changed office etiquette.

First things first. When I was climbing the corporate ladder (yes, and I walked barefoot to school in the snow), personal phone calls were NOT allowed. If Mom called, which she didn’t because she thought I would get in trouble, I would rush to hushed tones and hang up with promises of “I’ll call you tonight!” I’d been taught that the boss was paying for my attention to the job, not to my personal life.

But that was back when my workdays used to end at 6PM and when that same boss rarely, (make that never), called me at home at night. And there was no email. Can I say that again? There was no email. Today’s jobs aren’t 9 to 5 and haven’t been for years. Work summons us with the beep on the bedside table and haunts us with the last blink of night, while emails pile up on the pillow. So, with the workplace boundaries widened, the window for daytime personal duties opens. So I’ve decided I can get over my reflexive cringe at the sight of a clutched iPhone and admit that I like to text from my desk too–my husband, my friends, my to-do’s zip seamlessly in and out of my day. (Oh, how I would love to still have my Mom to text to!) Distracting? Yes. But helpful. And hard to kick. And I’m the boss, so why not? And if so, why not, others on the team?

And while at first, I felt annoyed reading about young-un’s running to mom with every office bruise, on second thought, maybe it’s not a bad idea. While it’s critical that we learn coping and negotiation skills early on, there’s nothing wrong with turning to “the source” for advice. I know I talked to Mom every night about every little nick and achievement. One friend said to me that her daughter texts her the moment her lunch break begins, her cue to lay out all her morning frustrations. And my friend’s responses are usually wise: “Give it some time.” “Think about why that might have happened.”  “Next time, try this approach.” Sound, thoughtful perspective or, one might say, skills training, which let’s face it, is rarely coming from the boss who can barely keep up with her/his own email avalanche. So, as long as the digital umbilical cord doesn’t extend into the performance appraisal session (“But she’s was so smart in fifth grade!!!”), I welcome the life line of Mom, AKA career coach. If the job gets done, I’m good with it. Ping away!

 

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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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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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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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Earliest Impressions of the OWN network

Thanks to the East Coast snowstorm and our vacation from the office I was able to spend some time cleaning out my DVR. Yes, my life can be that exciting. It was a priority actually because I needed to make room for the new programming on the debut of Oprah’s network OWN. I’ve caught a handful of shows so far and here are my first impressions.

1. Master Class: The debut with Diane Sawyer was wonderful albeit I would watch Diane do laundry because I worship her so much. The storytelling nature (i.e. Diane telling her own story) is appealing versus the narrated versions like A&E Biography – this definitely feels more intimate. Not sure if this will be a must watch for me unless it is about someone I already find compelling.

2. Kidnapped by the Kids This show made me mad. The premise is that parents who spend too much time working get “kidnapped” by their children for a week to reconnect. The debut episode featured a man who traveled a lot for work and his wife and three kids who felt neglected. They got permission from his boss to take him out of the work mode for a week and hijacked him at the airport. It was touching to see young children so articulately express how his absense and the distractions of his BlackBerry and laptop made them feel. I teared up a little when the son said he thought his dad “had another family he liked better somewhere else”.

But a poorly timed toungue lashing by his wife killed the poignant moment. What followed was a montage of things the father got to do with his kids (camping, fishing, grocery shopping, swimming) and it ended with a moment in the family’s yard where he cried and apologized for spending so much time on work. Big hug. End credits with an update that dad has taken a job closer to home. WHAT?! That’s it? The solution here was crying and hugging? What a missed opportunity for the show to take a more practical turn to fix the problem that face so many of us. Let’s start small. Maybe no blackberry at dinner? Maybe a technology free day of the weekend? But the solution can’t be that dad feels guilty about earning a living. Can you tell this is a sore point for me as a working mom? My daughter recently interupted our bedtime story so that she could “take a call” on her pretend phone. Ouch, right? Parents who work don’t love their children any less and unless this show gets constructive it is just another guilt trip.

3. Behind the Scenes: A reality show about the production of Oprah’s last season of shows. Gimme more. Gimme more. This is like candy for me. I live for the behind the scenes look at how the show is put together. Since finding women to interview is part of my daily life I love watching the producers scramble to find the right guests. On the catty side I like seeing the knowing glances among the staff when they think that the big O is being unreasonable or overly demanding.

4. Overall I worry about the TBS and Oxygen effect. Will the lack of new programming make this channel a repository for tired chick flicks? I’ve seen some Tweets in the last few minutes that An Officer and A Gentleman is playing right now. What’s special about that? How is that Oprah-esque?

Being realistic I know that there isn’t enough new material for 24 hours of coverage but monotonous re-runs and old movies will not make for destinationl television. BUT maybe, just maybe the Oprah geniuses already know their audience well enough to know that we will all DVR the shows so it doesn’t matter what’s on in between. That must be it. See I knew they were smart.

I can’t wait to see Gayle’s new show next week and I’m a big fan of Dr. Berman too… but I’ve had enough of Phil, Oz and Orman to last me a lifetime. Tune in and let’s discuss… Stay tuned here because I will post soon about how I believe brands can use this platform to really market with women.

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The WHOLE Truth about Mommy Tracking

My second blog as a Working Mother Magazine Thought Leader has been posted. The institutionalized Mommy Track may have faded away but is the remaining covert (and often inadvertant) Mommy Track keeping women from advancing their careers?

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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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February 23, 2017
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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