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Journalist Explores Challenges For 'Power Moms' In New Book

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've said it before. The coronavirus pandemic has flattened the finances or the already shaky work-life arrangements of millions of Americans, but especially working women, and most especially mothers who work in fields dominated by women. But that's not the whole story. More women have gained power in corporate America. And for her latest book, journalist Joann Lublin decided to focus on them.

Lublin spent years covering how Americans work as a writer, editor and columnist for The Wall Street Journal. In her new book, "Power Moms," she decided to focus on two generations of executive mothers to show what's changed and what hasn't. And she finds that many of the challenges from decades ago linger. The book is called "Power Moms: How Executive Mothers Navigate Work And Life."

And Joann Lublin is with us now to tell us more. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

JOANN LUBLIN: Oh, I'm happy to be back, Michel.

MARTIN: Now, you've been writing about work in general, but especially the ways women have navigated work and life for decades now. What made you decide to focus on not just executive moms, but two generations of executive moms?

LUBLIN: Well, I decided to focus on the two generations because I was kind of curious whether things had gotten much better. And I had met a number of executive mothers in reporting and writing my first book, "Earning It," in which not only were a majority of those women mothers, but among those who had become public company CEOs, the percentage was even higher. And it just made me curious now that there was another generation, a second generation of women getting into the executive level of companies and also having children - women in their early 30s or early 40s - to what extent had us boomers who had been trailblazers actually made life and blazed the trail so that things were not as difficult for those younger women?

MARTIN: So let's just take it separately then. So let's do glass half full first. What do you think's gotten better?

LUBLIN: Well, I think there are a couple of things that have made things a lot better for the Gen Xer/millennial women, and one of them is the advances in technology. We never could have had this past year's experience of working from home if it weren't for technology. The boomers, you know, if we were lucky, we could dial up at great, slow speeds, you know, when we got home from work. And so you were more inclined to stay late than you were to bring work home or to ask about working from home.

And there are two other forces that have helped make things easier for those younger women. And one is that the workplace is very different. There are many, many more family-friendly workplaces, and there are more women in senior levels in those workplaces who can act as role models and mentors and sponsors for those younger women. But the third leg is having more involved and supportive of spouses. Whether it's a husband or a life partner or a wife, these women who are trying to be successes in their careers and successful parents have a very committed partner who's helping to make it happen.

MARTIN: So let's go to the kind of glass-half-empty part of it. And part of what you say is that it's not 50/50. And I think any, you know, person who's been in a relationship for a long time would say nothing's ever 50/50. But what I think I hear you say is that the so-called third shift, it still really overwhelmingly falls on women, even though a lot of times their attitude has changed. Like, they don't hide the fact that they have to take their kids to the doctor, for example. In fact, they kind of use it as, like, a break from work or much more generally have the authority and the willingness to, you know, speak openly about the accommodations that they need to handle these things. But you point out that it still overwhelmingly falls on women. And why is that?

LUBLIN: And I think it overwhelmingly does still fall on women for two reasons. No. 1, it's because women think that this is what they have to do in order to be, you know, seen as the good mother. But at the same time, it's because men are still, for the most part, working in workplaces where it's not acceptable behavior for the man to be the guy who's always leaving work to take the kids for their well-baby checkups or who's always leaving work to stay home, you know, and bring the kid home when the child is sick. And it's seen in the very stark numbers that are often reported about the relatively low percentage of men who take their paid parental leave, or when they do it, who actually spend it with the baby as opposed to kind of still staying connected at work.

MARTIN: OK, but this is where I got to get really - you know, push some hard questions here. For one thing, I'm sure that people listening to our conversation will be like, bring me my tiny violin, because the coronavirus pandemic affects so much of what we're talking about. You address it a bit in the book, but, you know, you had done the bulk of the reporting before the pandemic started and we saw the effects of this become clear.

You know, there are people who are being evicted from their homes. I mean, there are people living in storage units. And we know, you know, that the eviction crisis affects women, particularly women of color, in the same way that the incarceration crisis affects, you know, men. And a lot of people are thinking, you know, what's the deal here?

You know, we know that 2 million women have left the workforce since the pandemic began. Some it's because they've lost their jobs, and some because they can't manage all this. So I guess the question would be, you know, if people are, like, that hard up against the wall, why do you feel it's important to focus on this particular group? I mean, representing the fact that you were doing this work a long time and you certainly started this particular reporting project before this all started, but can you understand why some people might not think that this is what people need to be worried about right now?

LUBLIN: Well, no, it is actually an issue that I address in the book and I was focused on, you know, when I was reporting and writing the book, all of which, like you said, happened before the pandemic completely changed our view of ourselves and of the world. And what I was really struck by in having chosen to focus on these high-achieving, highly compensated women was, oh, my God, if it's hard for them, multiply that 10 times, 100 times, even a thousand times for women who are single mothers working two jobs, both of which are minimum wage and don't have much else in the way of financial support to look to.

And so if it's difficult for the women who are at the top of the heap, that, to me, is a clarion call for why we need legislative action and bring our country into sync with the rest of the industrialized world when it comes to things like paid mandatory medical and family leave or subsidized child care. And so in that sense, I think that the examples that I write in my book just highlight how big a need we have as a country of dealing with the issues that face working parents, but especially working moms.

MARTIN: That is Joann Lublin. Her new book, "Power Moms: How Executive Mothers Navigate Work And Life," is out now. Joann Lublin, thanks so much for talking to us once again.

LUBLIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.