Having it all: The truth and the myth don't match

May 31, 1998|By SUSAN REIMER

JOYCE PURNICK IS the metropolitan editor of the New York Times. She recently told a commencement audience at her alma mater, Barnard College, that she wouldn't be if she'd had kids.

If you know anything about the New York metropolitan area or the New York Times or the journalism business, you know that Joyce Purnick is way, high up there, and she wouldn't be if she'd had a family that was anything more to her than a picture on her desk.

She supervises 150 people in the largest department at the Times, and she never leaves the office before 8 p.m. Most of the time, it's 10 p.m. She says she never decided not to have children so she could be metro editor of the Times. It just sort of happened that way. But she's learned a few things.

"There is no way in an all-consuming profession like journalism that a woman with children can devote as much time and energy as a man can," Purnick said in her address. And then the roof fell in.

The women on her staff, and some of the men, were indignant. She was talking about her personal life, but they thought she was talking about corporate policy.

The shock waves continued beyond Purnick's office door.

The associate editor of Working Woman magazine said she was "appalled" and pointed to the picture of Jill Barad on the cover of Business Week magazine and noted that the chief executive of toy-maker Mattel has two children.

The editor of Working Mother said it wasn't about working longer, it was about working "smarter," and that results matter more than perceived effort.

Yeah. Sure. Right. Where do these people live? The Planet Parenthood?

Joyce Purnick is right. Absolutely right. If she had kids, she'd know how right she was, and she wouldn't have to backpedal and apologize, which is what she has been doing for the last week.

"I touched a raw nerve," Purnick said over the phone. "It was unintentional."

Purnick said in her speech that women who have children and return to work only four days a week or who seek flexible schedules or limited hours can't expect to travel the same, presumably upward, path that childless women -- and men -- do.

If you have children, you find yourself making lots of those accommodations -- from declining to travel while they are young to taking the afternoon off to see a school performance. And those choices, even the smallest ones, have consequences. Every working mother knows this.

Even if you manage to camouflage those choices and create the illusion that you are the same worker you were before your heart took up a life outside your body, your bosses will probably make all sorts of assumptions about you.

Don't kid yourself. If you leave work early to rescue a sick child from the school nurse's office, you will probably be viewed as distracted, undependable or of divided loyalties. But if your boss splits to watch his kid play baseball, he will probably be considered a great dad.

Purnick told the truth when she spoke to those young women leaving Barnard -- that you can't have it all, but you can have a lot more of it than your mother did. That if you choose to have children, you will have to make other choices that will alter the course of your work life.

The lie is pointing to the woman CEO on the cover of Business Week and suggesting kids don't have to matter to a woman's work life.

Pub Date: 5/31/98

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