Last week business news widely reported that a Vice President at Goldman Sachs was suing the firm for “mommy-tracking.” The same firm that is handling her case is also suing Citigroup on behalf of an associate in the asset finance division who claims she was demoted following maternity leave. Morgan Stanley and Smith Barney have settled similar suits without admitting any wrongdoing.
Interestingly, Goldman Sachs, Citi and Morgan Stanley are also all part of the Working Mother Magazine Best 100 Companies list. How to square this paradox?
Charlotte Hanna claims that Goldman provided an off-ramp — allowing her to work three days a week after the birth of her first child — but failed to provide an appropriate on-ramp back to full-time employment. While she worked part-time Hanna was effectively demoted from her VP job, and ultimately was terminated during a maternity leave with her second child a few years later.
But the hard truth is that if you are a Vice President at a major financial services firm and head of your department, it’s not realistic to expect to work three days a week and retain your position. The fact that Goldman offers the opportunity to scale back is in itself a very flexible and family-friendly policy. It’s too much to expect that they preserve the exact same jobs for people who go part-time. And I don’t think companies have an obligation to provide on-ramping opportunities; if employees want to scale back up they have to do it with the understanding that they have accrued less time on the job than others who stay in the game full-time.
At the same time, I suspect that Goldman executives weren’t entirely honest with themselves or their employees about the reality of on-ramping and off-ramping. The Working Mother profile claims that, “taking a few years off to raise a child is no impediment to success at [Goldman Sachs], which makes it easy for stay-at-home moms to reenter the workforce.” That’s good PR, but it’s also utterly ridiculous. In any industry taking a few years off is an impediment — you lose income, years of experience, and networking opportunities. It may well be a sacrifice worth making, but it is a sacrifice.
What if Goldman had agreed to Charlotte Hanna’s request for part-time hours but had been crystal clear about the cost, ensuring that her expectations would be in line with the firm’s need to meet its business goals? There is an important case to be made for keeping experienced and skilled working mothers at companies, but no one should expect business to operate at a loss to do so. Why sugar coat the professional consequences of scaling back? Instead, they should have put the onus squarely on the employee to reintegrate, with the understanding that reintegration would require a full-time commitment if she wanted to return as an executive.
There is no doubt that the nature of work and corporate culture needs to change to meet the needs of families. But we need to be careful — these changes must be seen as good business, not corporate citizenship. From the press on this case, I’m not sure where the good business would have been in keeping a department head who worked only three days a week in her job. That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t have been a place for her knowledge and skills at the company; it just means that if she wanted to limit her hours that place couldn’t be in a corner office. And as someone who has chosen full-time work, that seems fair to me. What do others think?
- More press on the case from The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, The New York Post, and Gothamist.
- Amy Hatch at ParentDish aptly points out that the comments generated by this story indicate that there is still a lot of mom-hating in corporate America.
- Discussion of the story on The New York Times‘ Motherlode blog.
- A take on the lawsuit from Edmundo Braverman at WallStreetOasis.