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The Cards Are Stacked Against Mothers in America -- Here's How We Can Fix It

Joan Blades, founder of MomsRising.org, discusses bias against mothers in the workplace and the "mommy wars." <i>(with video)</i>
 
 
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Don Hazen: How did Mom's Rising get started? How have you grown? What is your long-term vision and ambition?

Joan Blades: In 2005, I was shocked to learn that, though there isn't as big wage gap when it comes to women without children, there is a huge wage gap for mothers. Since 82 percent of women become mothers, women still have a long way to go before they achieve pay equity. The fact that single moms make about 60 cents to a man's dollar explains pretty easily why there are so many women and children living in poverty, and the profound bias against moms in hiring and wages also goes a long way to explain why there are so few women in leadership. I don't think many Americans are aware of the deep bias against mothers in the workplace.

MomsRising.org was launched Mother's Day 2006, along with The MotherHood Manifesto , the book Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner and I wrote to tell the story about how the cards are stacked against mothers in this country and how we can fix that. We already have over 130,000 members.

Grass-roots engagement of mothers makes a big difference when speaking out for paid family leave, after-school programs, quality childcare, paid sick days, fair work practices and getting toxics out of our homes. Long term, I want to see MomsRising.org engage millions of citizens to be a grass-roots support system for good leaders, good policies and a family-supporting culture. Parents think long-term. As a society, we need powerful grassroots voices that support policies that are going to be good for the next generation and beyond. Too often, businesses don't think beyond the next quarter, and politicians don't think beyond the next election.

Hazen: I was struck by the concept that was developed by the Mom's Rising team called "maternal profiling." Can you explain?

Blades: Many employers don't want to hire moms, or they don't advance them in their careers. The opening story in the motherhood manifesto was about a single mom who could not get a job, because at interview after interview she was asked, "Are you married?" "Do you have children?" Nobody wanted to hire a single mom.

Admittedly there are 22 states where the employer is not legally supposed to ask about marital status. That said, wedding rings are a common giveaway. The biggest deal is kids, though. A recent study found mothers were 79 percent less likely to be offered a job given equally qualified job applicants. The New York Times reported on maternal profiling as a new term this year, and frankly, that is important. Naming this practice identifies the challenge.

Hazen: What is your take on the well-publicized "mommy wars?" Is there really a lot of conflict between working mothers and nonworking mothers? And if so, what is the solution?

Blades: From personal experience and talking to others, I'd say the "mommy wars" are a trumped-up media conflict. Most mothers help each other. Just the other day I was talking to a mom who described picking up her working friend's kids after school and then being able to drop her kid with that friend on the weekend when her daughter was younger. A mom she heard on NPR talking about a similar arrangement had reminded her of hers. Most of us have worked or will be again if we aren't now. Mothers tend to be understanding about other mothers too. And, yes, there are always exceptions, but it is not the norm.

Hazen: Is there a lot of difference between Clinton and Obama on Mom's Issues? And how do they contrast with McCain? What might change if a Democrat is in the White House in January?

Blades: Happily, both Clinton and Obama have very good policy on family issues. McCain has been less forthcoming on family issues. I was absolutely appalled at his response to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. He didn't show up to vote, and he made a statement saying he would not vote for it because women needed more education and training. He is talking apples and oranges. More women are graduating from college than men. We are talking about equal pay for equal work. This country had an enforceable equal pay law from 1964 to May 2007. The House passed the Fair Pay Act last year to restore the law. The Senate brought it up this year, and 43 senators voted against! We are stalled and working hard to move three senators.

Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tire for 19 years, got paid less than any man. Didn't learn until near the end of her employment that she was earning less, and the Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 decision overturned her award, saying she needed to bring her suit within 180 days of the first discriminatory act! They gutted the ability to enforce the law! What employee knows when they are getting less than others within 180 days of the first discriminatory pay check?

Hazen: I heard you mention the Fair Pay Restoration Act. Can you tell us about that and what its chances are for success?

Blades: There is a great coalition of groups pressing the Senate to do the right thing here. I have to believe that we are going to succeed because anything other than that is not acceptable. Join us!

Hazen: It seems that when you take a close look at the philosophy and approach of Mom's Rising, that you are interested in celebrating different approaches to work and how people use their time, and not just women. Is that a fair assessment, and what would be different in a better world of work?

Blades: We have a section of our website devoted to "open, flexible work"; people need to be able to both work and have lives outside of work. This is good for families, good for society and good for individuals. In fact, it turns out that businesses are finding that flexible work is good for business too. Glorification of extreme work happens in our society, and frankly it is a bizarre manifestation of the Puritan work ethic that wouldn't even please the Puritans. Remember the priorities used to be God, family and work? Work first is simply perverse and unsustainable.

Hazen: Since we are so dependent on consumption for the so called "health of our economy," what would happen if we adopted less consumptive, more earth-friendly ways of being? Might we have economic crashes and people out of jobs, or are those just scare tactics?

Blades: I appreciate Peter Barnes' book Capitalism 3.0 . We can create and consume intellectual property in vast quantities, not hurt the earth and support the economy. Clearly, limited resources need to be consumed sustainably. This is something we should be applying our intellects to.

Hazen: What's your message on Mother's Day? How should all of us be aware of the fact the history of Mother's Day is really about social change, and what progress would you like to see us make -- men and women -- over the next year or two? And, finally, what can women do? How do they get involved in Mom's Rising?

Blades: So kind of you to ask. I of course believe that one great thing to do is join http://www.momsrising.org/.

Then, of course, inviting all your friends to join us by sending them our super fun yet remarkably educational Mother's Day card would be a great second step.

I'd like to see us turn things around in this country so that having a child isn't the top cause of a poverty spell for families. I'd like to see more women in leadership. I'd like to see 90 percent of Americans voting.

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.