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Monday, April 30, 2007

Diversity at the top (or lack of it?)

Today's Miami Herald carried a smart article called Diversity at the Top that highlighted a nauseating reality: Even with a diverse South Florida population, Hispanics and blacks remain rarities in the upper ranks of companies. And, South Florida still lacks in the number of women senior executives and board members.
In the paper version of the article, faces peer out at me, diverse faces of some of the minorities and women who are senior executives at South Florida companies. What's missing? Black women. I've heard from these women over the years and their stories are ugly. Frustrated by lack of opportunities, by low-end assignments and by lack of networking opportunities, these women leave companies to start their own successful businesses. It's a chicken and egg scenario: Are women and minorities not advancing because they give up to become entrepreneurs or are they giving up because they aren't welcomed into executive suites and have found a suitable alternative to an emotionally consuming fight?
The only glimmer of hope I see comes from a statement made by Seabourn Cruise Line CEO Pamela Conover who told reporter Niala Boodhoo "Today there is an effort by women, whether formally or informally to try and assist their female colleagues. It is a different atmosphere from when I entered the workforce 30 years ago, where it was very much survival and you were doing everything you could to get on."
I would like to believe Conover. I would like to think that all women and minorities are willing to reach out and pull up those below them. If Conover is right, we stand a chance at reaching diversity at the top!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Working and raising a special needs child

What are the real challenges faced by working parents of children with special needs? This is an important question given the statistics - one in five households includes a child with special needs.
According to an article by Linda Roundtree, of Roundtree Consulting, a guest blogger for, the big challenge is the complexity of work and life arrangements. Roundtree writes: "I’ve changed jobs, teleworked from hospital rooms, turned down a promotion, curtailed travel, shifted work hours daily, and started my own business – all in the pursuit of finding the best work and life fit. "
She highlights one study that found 48% of parents had to quit work altogether to care for a child with special needs and 27% of parents had their employment terminated because of work disruptions due to care responsibilities. Roundtree says there are plenty of simple things employers can do to help. Click here to read them.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Take your kids to work, and get fired!

When I recently interviewing author Leslie Bennetts, she told me that when managers learn someone is a mom, they are reluctant to hire them. I think most working parents would agree that kids are a major distraction from work, whether through sleep deprivation or unexpected absences from work due to school days off or children's sick days. Part of me understands a manager's reluctance.

But working moms also happen to make up some of the most experienced and loyal employees. Is it right then for a worker to be turned away because she's a mom? Is it right for her to be fired for taking a day off to care for a sick child or to bring a child with her to work in an emergency? Joan Williams at the University of California Hastings College of the Law discovered these type of firings happens more often than you would think, especially among the working class. Click here for her report One Sick Child Away from Being Fired: When Opting Out Isn't an Option.

In my column today in The Miami Herald, I quoted lawyers who said work/family conflicts regularly lead to firings in Florida, but there's little recourse. Of course, there are parents who abuse employers' good will, but there are real emergencies too. I don't think giving someone the ax is the right way to go, do you?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Women march for pay equity

At lunchtime today, hundreds of women will wear red and stomp down Lincoln Road in Miami Beach to make a statement for National Pay Equity Day. It's disappointing that this still is necessary. After all these years of progress, women are still “IN THE RED” when it comes to Equal Pay for Equal Work. On average, women working full-time year round earn approximately 25% LESS than their male counterparts.
Men, this affects you, too. Every dual-income household suffers when a woman makes less than a male for doing the same job. And when single woman make less, it taxes our social welfare system. THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE.
I salute the Miami Beach Commission on the Status of Women for organizing the march and drawing attention to this issue.
To help resolve a personal situation involving unfair pay, contact:

Monday, April 23, 2007

Take Your Kids to Work, is it fair?

I received a letter from my the Broward County Public Schools. They have officially designated Thursday as "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day." The letter says its an event to help children learn about the array of job possibilities for their future. The school board is urging parents to participate in this national observance.
I'm all for exposing kids to the workplace. But I worry about all those kids whose parents don't participate, the ones whose employers won't let them bring kids, even on this designated day. I am concerned about the kids in our county's poorest schools whose parents work low-wage jobs. It's simply too dangerous to have a child ride along on a garbage truck. The reality is many of these kids won't have the opportunity to be exposed to job workplaces with higher salaries, where they can dream of becoming a department manager or the head of international sales.
I love the idea of exposing children, especially young girls, to workplace opportunities. But I can't help but wonder if this is a day that will benefit the students who need it most. What are your thoughts?
For information on the official observance, go to

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Launching a product and juggling family

Launching a product, keeping a family financially afloat and raising children might seem overwhelming. But two South Florida couples figured out how to make it work by using a tag-team approach.

Michal Chesal was working as a day trader when she gave birth to her first child in 1999. In trying to carry around her son, who had Down Syndrome and low muscle tone she couldn't find a baby carrier that had the features she wanted. Just three blocks away in Hollywood, Florida, Aviva Wernick would later experience similar issues with her infant son. The couples teamed up to develop a unique baby carrier.

"The 3 A.M. phone calls to our manufactures in China, and our late night meetings after the kids were all in bed paid off,'' says Michal. Two years later, the couples brought the Baby K'tan Baby Carrier to market. Baby Ktan is a soft carrier that is a cross between a sling and more structured baby carrier and sells in local retail stores and on
Brian Chesal and Aviva Wernick continue their careers in aerospace and law, earning steady income. Michal Chesal and Isaac Wernick run the daily duties of Baby K'tan. The four alternate watching their combined six children and developing new designs, reaching out to vendors and manufacturers, filling orders and preparing for trade shows.

"It's a lot more hectic than we thought but we are learning every day," Michal says. "Sometimes we work through the night or on weekends, and we trade off watching the kids. It works.''
(Pictured below: the Wernicks and the Chesals, and their Baby K'tan carriers)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A working mom's worry

My oldest daughter will be going to middle school next year. As a working parent, my biggest concern is safety. For me, it has become even more important than education. I need to be able to go to work and feel my daughter is in a safe place where she won't get beat up in the girls' bathroom (a real issue with the middle school I'm zoned to attend).
After the massacre at Virginia Tech, I once again have to wonder, "Can you ever leave for the office and feel 100 percent comfortable that your child is safe while at school? Have all the school shootings taken that away from us?"

Monday, April 16, 2007

Jobs and Moms

In my interview with Leslie Bennetts, author of the Feminine Mistake, she said companies penalize women on a job search when they discover they are a mom. She also said many moms delude themselves about their opportunities to reenter the workforce as well as the value a corporation might place on volunteer work. So how does a mom find a job?
Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But Nancy Collamer, a career coach and founder of Jobs and Moms, has all kinds of advice on her website, It's worth a look!

Ultimate Day of Balance

What an amazing turnout at the Ultimate Day of Balance conference sponsored by the Work-Life Balance Institute last week! About 1,100 women from South Florida attended, which shows the tremendous interest in this subject. I moderated a panel of six fascinating businesswomen and tossed them questions such as, "What's the best advice you've received in both business and your personal life?"
Susan Towler of The Blue Foundation for a Healthy Florida shared this advice from her mom: "I ask myself, is it going to matter 20 years from now? That really grounds me in the decisions I make."
Belinda Keiser of Keiser University answered: "Never look at the odds and believe in the power of your dreams."
I also asked the panel whether they feel the quest for balance gets easier or more challenging as they age?"
Debi Davis of Fit America MD said: "I think it gets easier as we get older. We get tired and that does make a difference." For more on the conference, read my article in The Miami Herald on Wednesday and/or visit

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Feminine Mistake

If your a mother and haven't read Leslie Bennetts book, The Feminine Mistake, get started. It's filled with information every mother should have, whether or not they choose to act on it. Bennetts looks at the decision to stay home with children from an economic viewpoint. She says the "feminine mistake" is giving up money-making work for a domestic role because of the steep toll of financial dependency. Although she says her book is not intended as a contribution to the Mommy Wars, it has become just that. I spoke to Bennetts , a journalist and mother of two teens, about her book and the reaction.

Q. Are you surprised by the reaction?
A. A lot of stay at home moms who haven't read the book have mounted campaign against it. They think I'm attacking stay at home moms, calling them stupid. I think they should just be gathering information to have informed choices and protect their interests. There's a lot of shooting the messenger going on.

Q. What gave you the idea for this book?
A. I was frustrated by way this issue was covered by the mainstream media. There was a lot written about women opting out to stay home and have Martha Stewart lives, but no one mentioned the economic risks. I found as I reported that many women were blindsided by the consequences of opting out and unprepared by the difficulties of reentering the workforce.

Q. Is there a way to gauge the economic impact of opting out?
A. Opt out for as short as three years and your earning power take a 40 percent hit. Opting out is just a disaster for women's economic future...I'm not talking about the ability to buy a Lexus. I'm talking about the ability to provide food and shelter if something happens to the family's breadwinner. What women find when try to go back in the workforce is they are lucky to get entry level jobs. Some companies are not even willing to interview women returning after a time out.

Q. How do you respond to women who say choosing to stay at home is about children's welfare?
A. I am not telling anyone else what to do. If they want to make the choice to stay home, that's fine with me. The fact is it's a high risk choice. I would not take that gamble with my children's future. No one has job security now. Even if you are happily married in a stable situation, your husband can still lose his job and what is the family supposed to do if he's the only breadwinner?

Q. How have working women responded to the book?
A. Working women are thrilled to point of euphoria about this book. They so rarely get validation in this culture. They are sick of being made to feel guilty for helping support their families.

Q. Do you think some women choose to stay home because they didn't find the right career?
A. When I interviewed women who love what they do, they usually found ways to persevere. I worry that we are not raising girls to understand they they have to take responsibility for themselves. They still think a prince is coming to take care of them. Marriage represents a segment of adult life. By the time women are 60, two-thirds already don't have partner and many will live until their 90s. We have to raise girls to understand it is crucial to find something they love to do because they will have to stick with it a long time and support themselves.

To read my full review of The Feminine Mistake, go to

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Would you sign a love contract?

Last night, I was watching Boston Legal when one of the character's comments really made me think about how tough it must be to be single and overworked. Brad, a partner at the fictitious law firm, threatened to sue for wrongful termination because he refused to sign a love contract—more commonly known as a consensual relationship agreement. It seems some companies are beginning to ask employees to sign love contracts when they become romantically involved with another employee ( to prevent harassment suits).
"I'm lonely,'' Brad told his senior partners. He said working 60 hours a week, leaves him little time to meet someone. It was his explanation of why he turned to a co-worker for romance.
I believe attitudes are changing about office romance. While most would agree that relationships between employees at different levels of the company can be a bad career move, people seem to be becoming more tolerant of coworkers shacking up. Still, are love contracts necessary? Would you sign one?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Camp for mom

What working woman couldn't benefit from a weekend getaway to recharge?
Leave to The Miami Bombshells, authors of “Dish & Tell” to come up with a way for us women to put ourselves on the top of our to-do list. They call it Camp Bombshell. I love this idea! It's an all-inclusive weekend with other women and includes lodging, meals and activities, campfire & s’mores, canoeing, yoga, color war games, archery, Zumba, dancing, obstacle course, climbing walls, or just rest and relaxation.
The best part: no distractions and interruptions of daily life (including cell phones, which are not allowed). Obviously this concept has appeal. On April 26-29, the Bombshells will offer their seventh camp in the last year and a half ( an average of 75 women attend). This one, Mother Daughter Camp Bombshell, will happen at Orange Springs Retreat, near Ocala, Fl. The Bombshells say you don't have to come with mom, just bring a special woman in your life. Visit

Parenting classes for grandparents

I hadn't thought much about the issues that face grandparents raising children in today's high-tech world until I saw a recent article on grandparenting classes.
I have trouble keeping up with my kids, staying on top of websites they should or shouldn't be on, learning how to communicate best with their teachers (should I send e-mails?) and helping them with school projects on the Internet. It must be a real challenge for some grandparents who don't have a computer at home and are clueless about how to find resources.
Thankfully, someone out there is willing to clue them in. The School Board of Broward County is starting a parenting series for grandparents raising children, with information on support groups and school resources in English and Spanish. The only problem is the free classes are not conducive to working grandparents. (And many grandparents who support young kids still work) Anyway, the classses are at 3:30 p.m. for the next four Tuesdays at Hollywood Park Elementary, 901 N. 69th Way. For info, call 754-321-3614.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Day care funds scarce

An article in today's Miami Herald reveals a pathetic reality: about 7,400 low -income working parents in Broward County, Florida, are on a nine-month waiting list for government-subsidized day care. Statewide, 45,000 remain on a waiting list. How can our state's low-wage workers hold jobs when they can't find affordable child care?
As the article points out, the long waiting list puts children at risk, because some parents who can't afford child care leave their kids with unqualified baby-sitters or neighbors. Some even have resorted to leaving them home alone. Not long ago, I wrote about our state scaling back on funding for afterschool programs.
Should it be a surprise that The Miami Herald has a front page article today on how youth gangs in Florida are spreading? Given the value our state places on child care funding, I think not.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Spring break and working parents

Shortly after my first child entered public school I came to realize, the school calendar and most of our work schedules don't mesh. Teacher work days, early release and long breaks became a patchwork of childcare arrangements -- many of them costly. Now, with three kids in the school system, I gave up trying for coverage. I take vacation time every Spring Break.

I wonder how other working parents do it. For me, the economics of trying to work during Spring Break don't make sense. My part-time salary doesn't cover the cost of child care. Also, I want my kids to have some down time. Around me, my friends struggle with this too. I realize I am fortunate because of my employer's generous vacation policy. Some parents don't have a choice.

Increasingly, local kids are booked for camp, school trips, internships, sports tournaments and community service projects. For younger kids with working parents, it's day camp at local museums and attractions.

The result is that many kids yearn for unscheduled free time and many parents feel the pull between work and family. One single mom I know told me she will work a reduced schedule this week -- a good comprise. To read the Miami Herald's article on Spring Break, click here.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Sick of your boss?

Feeling horrible? Maybe your boss is to blame. A bad boss can be bad for your health, says new research from Florida State University. "Employees stuck in an abusive work relationship experience more exhaustion, job tension, nervousness, depressed mood and mistrust," says the researchers. They also were less likely to take on additional tasks, such as working longer or on weekends.
But bad boss behavior is surprisingly common: Almost a third of the 700 workers in a variety of occupations reported their supervisor gave them the silent treatment and failed to keep promises or made negative comments bout them to other employees.
If your boss is hard on you, researchers suggest staying visible, staying positive or filing a formal complaint if it reaches an abusive level. Click here to read more of the report.