For the average American mother, “opting in” really isn’t an option—it’s a necessity.
Thanks to the high cost of raising a child (it’s now an estimated $241,000 per kid, not including college!) and the fact that the job market remains stagnant and wages are static, many families require two incomes. This reality, coupled with ambition, is why women now serve as primary or substantial earners in two-thirds of American households.
Yet, in spite of its robust female workforce, the U.S. lags far behind other countries when it comes to enabling mothers to successfully juggle careers and kids. For one, companies aren’t legally required to offer paid maternity leave, which is a given in countries like France by law. Put simply, working mothers get short shrift, argues Katrina Alcorn in her new book, “Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink.”
Four years ago, while raising three children and working around the clock at her dream job as a creative director at a design agency, Alcorn suffered a breakdown on her way to buy diapers. After quitting her job, she decided to examine not only the personal decisions that push working moms to the edge but the social and political forces at play too.
The result is a counterpoint book to Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” which—along with countless career experts and blogs—advises women to just work harder without considering the many ramifications. Intrigued, we asked Alcorn to share some key insights from “Maxed Out.”
LearnVest: You argue that “leaning in” can lead to burnout, but scaling back can also cost you, no?
Katrina Alcorn: I don’t think scaling back is always the right thing to do, and, of course, everyone’s decision is personal. The reason that I wrote this book is because we can’t solve the problem on an individual level—it’s also a societal and systemic problem.
Still, if you’re in a situation where you can’t afford to make less money or reduce your hours, you should at least consider your worth. Women are now the better educated half of the population. Companies who have women leaders make higher profits, and do better on the stock exchange. So our companies need us. When we realize how valuable we are, we can advocate better for ourselves.
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