Pando

Take that, patriarchy: Even more evidence of the productivity of working moms

By Sarah Lacy , written on May 15, 2017

From The Gender Wars Desk

People keep asking me if I’m going to review Ivanka Trump’s new book.

This isn’t a crazy question. Pando certainly hasn’t been opinion-free when it comes to the first family. And I frequently write about the challenges women face at work, particularly mothers. In fact, I’m so obsessed with the topic generally, I wrote my own feminist manifesto on the topic that is…. Actually a feminist manifesto.

And yet, I am not reviewing Ivanka Trump’s new book. Life is simply too short, too many other excellent writers have done so, and also, life really is too short.

My favorite piece I read on her book came from Buzzfeed, about her meaningless overuse of the word “passion.”

...the book repeatedly puts forth passion as absolute directive, a spur, without ever describing what that means in practice...Women Who Work decouples the concept of passion from any specific activity (the subject of Ivanka’s is never quite clear) or any emotional experience (there are no feelings of doubt to be found here). It’s an affectless passion. Imagine a group of 35-year-old women staring toward the horizon and repeating, without inflection: Passion is what makes us feel most alive. Passion is what makes us feel most alive.

...This isn’t Ivanka’s fault, exactly; the word "passion" has become a synonym for interest — an activity more than a feeling.

This all sets aside the idea of passion as intellectual suffering. The archaic definition of the word actually concerns the agony of martyrs (i.e., Christ’s death on the cross). But even the technical modern definition entails interior violence. The word literally means “extreme, compelling emotion” — an emotion that implicitly has an “overpowering or compelling effect,” something that NEEDS to be exercised, that owns you in some way, that can inspire sacrifice or despair or euphoria, something that can break you, actually. 

Yes. Katherine Miller not only puts her finger on the watered down feminism and work life balance that Trump so wants us to think she stands for. But the hollow “save-the-world-isms” of the startup world.

I have a passion for selfies. I have a passion for software as a service. I have a passion for take out delivery.

Like most things troubling about the Trumps, Ivanka merely reflects an extreme of what broader culture-- particularly startup culture-- has done to the word “passion.”

A watering down of what “passion” is supposed to be is particularly jarring coming from a working mom. I feel like both motherhood and entrepreneurship exploded the barriers of my previous emotional range. I thought I knew what “sad” and “happy” and “guilty” and “proud” felt like before, but I was nowhere close. Words I’d used before to describe emotion were no longer sufficient. The opposite of what Ivanka and startup bros have done to “passion.”

An inspiring contrast point to the bland “have it all-ness” of Trump is a study I got last week from Adam Grant, the Wharton Professor, best-selling author, and all around Sheryl Sandberg collaborator.

Grant along with other researchers Jochen Menges, Danielle Tussing, and Andreas Wihler have released a study looking at the motivation of working moms, working far more menial jobs than anyone with the last name Trump will ever have to.

They studied women working in one of several thousand “maquiladoras,” Mexican facilities in border towns where women do poorly paid, menial work involving assembly, processing and manufacturing. Things like, scanning discount coupons for US retailers for accounting purposes.

These women don’t have the luxury of “following their passions” like so many of us in the US. And yet the researchers found something interesting: Their actual love for their families and pride in providing for them proved to be a significant motivator for these women.

From the study:

When employees at a Mexican coupon processing factory saw their work as a means to benefit their families, their boring jobs felt more important. Those who were high in family motivation were significantly more productive and energized than their peers…

...instead of causing strain, families made several positive contributions to workers’ performance and well-being, providing a boost in employees’ energy and increased productivity.

Employees with high family motivation processed 10% more coupons. Bring this up the next time someone tells you that a baby will make you less ambitious, more distracted, or you’ll have to prove your dedication again. That some “biological imperative” will make working impossible once you become a mother.

Or as Grant said when he emailed me the study: “Take that, employers who think family is a distraction from work.”

This builds on top of research from the Federal Reserve Bank that shows that mothers were more productive than any other type of worker, and mothers of multiple children become even more productive. What’s more: They stay that way for the rest of their careers.

It’s not a surprise that women with more to do figure out ways to wring more productivity out of each day. But what’s so heartening about this new research is that the women weren’t just finding a way to do more with each moment, they wanted to do more because each coupon scanned was making a better life for their kids. When you become a mother, not only can you find a way to do more, you want to do more.

It’s almost like Maternal Bias-- the most explicit form of sexism women face at work-- is complete and total bullshit.

That’s a far more aspirational and inspirational message about the power, resilience, and dedication of working moms than anything that might be in some passion-less heiress’s book.