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A Slow Adjustment to Female Work Force : Few Companies Have Considered Impact of Pregnancy, Maternal, Paternal Leaves

October 18, 1985|ELIZABETH MEHREN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Professionally and physiologically, her profile "says it all," Felice N. Schwartz said of Ellen Futter. Not only is Futter president of Barnard College, Schwartz pointed out, but she is seven months pregnant.

"Unfortunately," Schwartz said, Futter had had to be hospitalized abruptly and thus was unable to attend a recent symposium here on executive-level pregnancy.

And in a way, that said it all too.

For while more and more corporations nationally are including pregnancy, maternal health and paternal leave policies in their broad employee health and benefit programs, few are adequately planning for a phenomenon that is estimated to affect 85% of women during their working lives.

Changing Role of Women

"Society," said Susan Schiffer Stautberg, author of "Pregnancy Nine to Five," "has been slow to respond to the changing role of the American woman, her family and their many different needs."

And Schwartz, founding president of the not-for-profit research group Catalyst, an organization dedicated to helping corporations and individuals develop career and family options, agreed.

"Today's work force is totally different than it was a decade ago," Schwartz told the gathering organized by Touche Ross, one of the "Big 8" accounting firms.

Discussing families where both parents are present, Schwartz said, "Today, only 11% of the work force are members of single-wage-earner families. The balance are two-career families."

Further, Schwartz added, "By the end of the decade, more than half the work force will be female."

Then, in answer to the title of a seminar titled "Pregnant Employees: Risk or Benefit," Schwartz declared that "Catalyst's view is that human resource policies that respond to today's realities are not a risk. They are a sound investment."

Many Executives Involved

Schwartz shook her head in disbelief: "It never ceases to amaze me that human resource policies are not at the top of the corporate agenda, but they're not."

Nearly 100 people had turned out for this early morning session, many of them executives from such concerns as Morgan Guaranty, Citibank, Monet Jewelers, Avon Products and McDonald's. Most were female, and many fell into the 22-to-55 age bracket, 54% of whom are in the work force.

"That is where the talent is, that is where the whole thrust is," Amory Houghton Jr., retired chairman and chief executive officer of Corning Glass, said of this burgeoning female work element.

Sometimes he finds it all quite astonishing, Houghton said: "The difficult thing for people like myself--I am 59 years old--is to learn. When I started to work in the early '50s, I mean, we didn't have any women at Corning Glass." Houghton smiled. " 'Course, that's all changed."

His own company has been a pioneer in adapting to a dual-career work body, he said, offering options such as flexible schedules and parental leave. Said Houghton: "Is there an inconsistency between turning a profit and supporting family life in the community? I don't think there is."

In his own company-town environment of Corning, N.Y., Houghton said, "We happen to live in a fishbowl. In microcosm, we are industrial America. Our little town is 12,500 people. It's a total community. Men have got to be good fathers, and women have to be good mothers. It has to be a caring community.

No Entity Unaffected

"What we feel in our community is those policies which are consistent with those you are striving for are not theory. They are policies, and if they are not there, we die."

Virtually no entity, public or private, is unaffected by the dual-career family, Houghton said. "We are talking about concern for the men, the women and the families and the different type of life they have now."

While women have been pouring into the work force in great numbers for several decades now, only within the last six to eight years, said Schwartz, did women enter management in "significant numbers." On the subject of pregnancy, the emergence of the female executive has left employer and employee alike in a mild state of chaos, Schwartz said.

"Without support from their employers," she warned, "many of these women are going to drop out, or return to less important jobs."

Or, as Susan Schiffer Stautberg wondered: "How many bright young women who scrambled halfway up the corporate ladder have slipped off the rungs into a pile of playthings and diapers because of conflicting home and work priorities? How many companies have lost their investments of money and time in top women because of anxiety and fatigue which come from overload and burnout?"

Pregnancy, said working mother Stautberg, "should not be an end to a woman's career, but a starting point for revamped employment policies more responsive to the changing needs of the American family."

The dilemma begins with a definition: As Stautberg notes, "Pregnancy is a condition, not a disease. Yet myths and stereotypes persist about pregnancy and pregnant workers."

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