Will Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Now “Lean In” and Help Single Parents?

Sheryl_Sandberg-cropA mere 10 days after her husband died unexpectedly, Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer for Facebook, announced that she was back to work. Her public return so soon after her husband’s death struck a chord with me as a single mother. I’m sure plenty of people in the tech industry think she’s a real trooper who believes the show must go on under any circumstance, but I think her actions highlight a real problem with Silicon Valley.

The reality is that Sheryl is now a single parent like me and nearly 14 million other women and men in the United States who have been put in this position due to a vast array of circumstances. Whether the cause of becoming a single parent is death of a spouse, divorce, or other reason, this status makes it darn near impossible to get hired at Facebook or maintain the work schedule required to sustain a position there. The same could be said of nearly every other tech company in Silicon Valley and beyond. While Sheryl’s job is protected, countless other single parents can’t get hired or will be let go because of scheduling issues due to the challenges of solo parenting.

It’s no secret that Silicon Valley loves to hire young men because they typically don’t have commitments like having to do the daily school pickup or having to make dinner every night. Companies aren’t known for working around single parents’ schedules. Not so surprising, men make up 69 percent of all Facebook employees, and 77 percent of its senior-level employees. This doesn’t look like a company that is overly welcoming to women, especially those who are also juggling being full-time parents.

No one can dispute Sheryl’s success within the tech industry and her personal desire to promote gender equality with her “Lean In” movement. Yet, there remains little equality for single parents who have to juggle 24-hour parenting and also work to make ends meet. Unlike Sheryl who is a billionaire, the vast majority of single parents scrape by and don’t have extra funds for childcare, housekeepers, and chefs so that they can devote the hours needed to grow their career. In other words, we can’t “lean in” when we’re not even at the table. We’re too busy juggling a frenetic schedule and too many bills to make an impact at the next big startup.

In a recent Huffington Post piece, media and tech entrepreneur Laura Wellington, who is also a young widow, explained that Sheryl had “joined an exclusive club that no one ever wants to be part of.” This is true. I can only imagine the devastation of being suddenly widowed.

However, the everyday challenges of becoming a single mother without support is no cake walk either. I know this firsthand. Not only do you lose your partner, you also lose a substantial amount of your family’s income and all of your time, too. And, there’s no one there to comfort you about it. In fact, I’m sure I could walk into Facebook with my 20 years of experience as a marketer and technical writer and would be quickly shown the door. I wouldn’t “fit” into the culture there because I have to send my kids off to school, pick them up, help them with their homework, and make dinner for them each and every day.

If the majority of Facebook’s employees are men, single mothers are probably the least likely to join the company’s payroll. I figured this out very quickly after applying for a couple of tech company jobs following the birth of my first son. I think I’m too much of a mother to also be a tech employee.

I’m one of the lucky ones, though. I was able to offer my skills as a freelancer. This year, I celebrate a decade of being self-employed, and interestingly, most of my clients are tech companies! They like my work, just not my schedule.

If I hadn’t become a single parent, I would probably be sitting in a corporate office putting in 60 hours a week and thinking about my stock options and retirement down the road. Instead, I work from a desk in my living room and make enough to pay the bills and to occasionally take the boys to dinner.

Hopefully, Sheryl will embrace joining the ranks of single parenthood and realize that she’s in the unique position of being able to call attention to the need to help this vast group of people who often don’t require anything more than a flexible schedule and a little encouragement. There are millions of talented single parents out there who want to lean in too. But, they just need to do it at the dinner table, instead of the conference room.

Song of the Day:

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Mom Knows Best

mother_knows_bestThis week started off with a bang, or actually more like a scratch. Our 14 year old cat, affectionately named “The Captain”, swiped at Rex with sharpened claws on Monday morning, and managed to leave a nasty, inch-long cut below his eye. The Captain very fortunately missed Rex’s eyeball, but he certainly left his mark on his face.

We did everything right. We flushed it with water, dabbed triple antibiotic gel on it, and I let him stay home from school and relax. By the end of the day, Rex was looking and feeling better. The cut was already healing.

I thought the drama was over, but it was only heating up.

That evening, Rex called his father (my ex-husband) to tell him about what had happened. I had no problem with that. Unfortunately, my ex had a big problem with how I handled Rex’s cut. He didn’t understand why I didn’t rush him to the doctor to get the cut stitched up and a round of antibiotics. I received a flurry of text messages from him. He consulted with his sister who is a nurse and her friend who is a “Harvard-trained” plastic surgeon. They all decided that I had handled the injury all wrong, and I needed to get him to the doctor right away!

In their minds, I was a horribly negligent mother. In my mind, I’m a mom who would rather treat an injury at home. If it looked infected or needed stitches, I would be the first one in line at the Urgent Care, but this wasn’t the case.

Yet, here’s what’s so funny and rather sad about this minor family situation. Neither my ex, nor his “highly educated” medical team actually saw the cut. To add insult to injury, my ex-husband’s sister (Rex’s aunt) has never even shown particular interest in getting to know Rex. The plastic surgeon has never met Rex.

And, even more importantly, I receive no child support for either of my children. My ex, nor his family, who were so amazingly concerned about Rex’s scratch, don’t seem to have the same level of concern about how Rex, or his brother for that matter, are being housed, clothed, and fed on a daily basis.

Yet, they were all over me like a cheap suit when it came to this cut. Ironic, infuriating, unbelievably misguided – YES, YES, YES!!!

Yesterday, there was actually a little bit of pus on the cut, so I did take Rex to be seen. The doctor said to continue to use the topical gel. He gave me an oral antibiotic if it looked like an infection was spreading, but said he was healing nicely on his own. In other words, I did everything correctly despite not being a nurse or having gone to Harvard.

The moral of the story – People who aren’t involved in the day to day care of a child probably should keep their mouths shut when it comes to critiquing the child’s primary caregiver. This single mom is doing a pretty darn good job, and she’ll let you know if she wants some advice.

Song of the Day: Cat Scratch Fever, Ted Nugent


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Reason #285 for Working from Home – Avoiding the Corporate Lingo

stroftThere are so many reasons why it’s such a wonderful thing to work from home. From being able to pick my boys up every afternoon from school to not having to sit in a cubicle, the perks are undeniable.

After participating in a conference call yesterday with several individuals who aren’t as fortunate as me to be able to have a home office, I realized a whole new reason why home-based employment is so great.

I’m not exposed eight hours a day to obnoxious corporate speak. I haven’t added to my everyday vocabulary an ever-shifting list of fad words that seem to spew from so many mouths of otherwise intelligent people.

What words are we talking about? Here are a few that I heard yesterday in a 30 minute conference call:

All Hands on Deck – If I had been working on a maritime project, this may have been an appropriate phrase to throw out yesterday. Rather, it was a launch of a new tech product, not a boat!

Automagically – I nearly burst out laughing when I heard this come out of the mouth of one of the phone call participants who I don’t care to name here on my blog. Hybrid fake words are the height of ridiculousness. The last decent one was coined by Northern when they proclaimed their toilet paper was indeed both strong and soft. In other words, it was “stroft!” Maybe, I should throw out “stroft” in my next corporate pow-wow. I could start a new trend.

Ping – This one annoys the crap out of me. You can call me, text me, Skype me, or email me, but please don’t ping me unless you have a paddle and a little white ball in your hand, and you want me to pong you back.

Out of Pocket – I had to look up this dumb phrase after I heard it. I guess it means that someone is unavailable or offline. It used to be an accounting term that meant you paid for something that you want to be reimbursed for. How the heck did it turn into “don’t try calling, because I won’t pick up the phone?”

Touch Base – Isn’t it just easier to say, “Let’s talk later?”

There were other choice corporate words and phrases mentioned during this call, but I should probably stop here before I get found out for writing about the ridiculousness of it all.

Fortunately, I have only limited exposure to these dumb words and phrases. They won’t be infiltrating my regular vocabulary. And, if I do suddenly have an urge to “ping” someone, I’ll know I need to spend more time “OOO.” That’s “out of the office” for those not privy to corporate speak.

Song of the Day: Talk Talk

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For Every Season…

mailbuOver the years, I’ve had a lot of different identities – younger sister, college student, working gal, wife, small business owner, and for the last several years, single mom. All of these identities are still in me today.

For the last several years, my life has been primarily defined by the challenges of divorce and taking care of two young boys alone. It probably seemed dreary and scary for those around me. Being a single mom or listening to one complain about it is not for the faint of heart.

Fortunately, life goes on, and I’d like to communicate my appreciation to all those who have listened to the drama and have been supportive. I’ve navigated through a long dark tunnel, and I’ve made it through somewhat unscathed with my humor intact.

Now, I’m entering into a new phase. I’m still not sure what it will be called. Perhaps – happy 40-something.

In a couple of weeks, I’m moving back to my home state. This is certainly enough reason to celebrate after spending a third of my life in the desert. But, it gets even better! I’m starting a life together with someone who truly inspires me, makes me laugh, and gives me new hope for what will happen next. I feel very fortunate. Very fortunate!

All the twists and turns in my life have led to this new adventure. I guess the moral of the story is to be open to change and to be patient. Things do get better. Usually, it takes a lot longer than you think they will. But, they do.

What I’ve learned? You have to ride the waves. For now, I’ll be riding them in Malibu!

Song of the day: Turn! Turn! Turn!


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Learning to Work in Fits and Starts at the San Mateo County Office of Education

mail cartWhen I was in high school, I worked where my parents did – The San Mateo County Office of Education. They worked upstairs, and I was down in the basement mailroom. I didn’t mind. I made $4.75 an hour which was significantly higher than minimum wage in the mid-1980s. And, the cast of characters with whom I worked were amazingly entertaining. I still have fond memories of the pot-smoking janitor who used to laugh for no reason, the printing press operator who looked like Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch and played cool R&B music, and the kindly old PBX operator who would tell me tales of when she was a little girl.

I would arrive at work after school, and there would be a big pile of mail to sort from all of the schools and satellite district offices. I became lightning fast at sorting letters and packages into the bins and mail cart. From there, I would push the cart through the upstairs departments – working as an in-house mail-girl.

I could get my work done in under an hour, and then I had two hours to shoot the breeze with my work buddies, drive the County Ford Fairmont to 7-11 for a Slurpee, or play with my boss’s dog “Lucky.” She was certainly a pioneering innovator in the concept of bringing pets to work.

From this early career experience, I trained myself to work in fits and starts. I could have taken three hours to sort and deliver the mail, but instead, I learned to put the “pedal to the metal” so to speak for a short amount of time so that I would have time to take it easy.

I still do this!

I wish I could steadily write eight hours every day, five days a week, but I can’t. I don’t function like that. Rather, I have bursts of amazing productivity followed by bouts of not wanting to do much else but watch fun clips on YouTube.

Yes, I do write every day, but some days I churn out 10,000 words or more. Other days, I’m lucky if I squeak out 1,000.

Over time, I have learned to take care of non-writing tasks when I’m feeling less than productive. I’ll create invoices, make calls, and work on proposals. But, somehow I feel less than pleased with myself when I’m not writing.

I wonder if others share my less than consistent cycle of work. Or, did my stint as mail-girl create this problem? And, is this really a problem at all or rather the brain’s way of recharging the batteries.

Song of the Day: Bang on the Drum, Todd Rundgren

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The Irony of Lean Cuisine

lean cuisineYesterday, I was at the grocery store with the boys. We were getting the usual things we need to make breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the week. While we will pick up an occasional bag of pretzels or chips, the majority of our shopping cart usually consists of fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat, and grains/beans.

While cruising the aisles, Judd noticed this woman placing cartons of vanilla flavored soy milk in her basket. He wanted to know why she needed so many cartons. Sorry, Judd, I don’t know what motivates other shoppers, but let’s keep going.

We rolled past her again down another aisle. She was loading up on some sort of day-glo colored, sugar-free energy drink. Darn it if we didn’t just kept running into her. In the frozen foods, she was piling a stack of Lean Cuisines into her cart.

Please forgive me for being judgmental. But the woman was very overweight, and my first thought was that she was buying products that marketers cleverly promote as low-calorie and healthy. I know it’s not for me to judge, and she could have been buying items for a family member or a friend, but her story seemed pretty clear by looking at her shopping cart.

I have seen this very scenario countless times in the grocery store. A heavy-set person choosing processed and artificially sweetened and colored foods and drinks instead of the basics. Is there a connection between a person’s weight and the food that they’re choosing. I’m going out on a limb and saying a resounding YES!

And the sad thing is that these consumers truly believe that they are choosing products that will help them get healthier. It’s a vicious cycle and rather predatory on the part of marketers that know very well who they are targeting and how to position their products.

It’s my humble opinion, for what it’s worth, our population would be a whole lot healthier if we just used our kitchens – no frozen dinners, no deli counter takeout, no artificially flavored/colored convenience foods.

Cooking is fun, and homemade food just tastes better. It’s also not all that time-consuming. In the time it takes to heat up a Lean Cuisine, I can whip up a salad, an omelet, a sandwich, or countless other quick meals. And, I don’t get a plethora of preservatives and additives on my plate.

When you walk the aisles of the grocery store, it’s shocking to actually look at how many products are for people who don’t want to take the time to really cook and don’t apparently want to eat the basics. Real cheese tastes good. So do fresh vegetables, chicken that you cook yourself, beans, and oatmeal. Flour isn’t something to be afraid of, and real sugar in small amounts tastes way better than aspartame. How about water instead of diet drinks, too.

Ok, off of my soapbox. I have a flank steak to marinade for dinner tonight.

Song of the Day: Stir It Up, Johnny Nash

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Overcoming the Fear of Barbecuing

barbecue_grill_1680x1261Yesterday, my mother was at the grocery store and was asking the woman at the fish counter how to cook king crab legs. Another customer piped in that barbecuing was a good option. She said to my mom, “Just have your husband throw them on the grill for a few minutes.”

My mom politely told the customer that she was a widow. An awkward moment for sure! The grocery store woman, the customer with the cooking tips, and my mother looked at each other, and the conversation basically came to an abrupt end. No husband – no barbecue. It was completely understood amongst all three of them.

My mom relayed the story to me this morning, and we got to thinking about this. Why is barbecuing the domain of men? As women, have we been conditioned to fear barbecuing by men who feel this is a macho pastime only fit for those with ample amounts of testosterone? Do you need a hairy chest and a love of professional football to pour lighter fluid on briquettes and flip meat with a wood-handled prong?

What about all the women like my mom and me who don’t have the luxury of having a man in our house on a full-time basis? Is being barbecue-deprived our punishment?

The whole idea that barbecuing is a man’s activity is crazy when you think of it. I’ve cooked 25 lb. turkeys in my oven, cut mountains of vegetables on my cutting board, kneaded bread by hand, and can even fry doughnuts. Why on Earth can’t I barbecue?

I have a perfectly good grill on my patio, but I’ve never used it. And frankly, I’m kind of afraid to. I think it’s time that I and other women deem the barbecue an equal-opportunity cooking apparatus.

I think I can muster placing a burger or chicken breast on the grill. I’m good at cooking meat in my kitchen, so I can’t imagine that it would be tremendously more difficult if I cooked it outside.

So, I’m going to work on overcoming my fear. I’m heading to the store to buy some briquettes and I’m going to show my two boys that women can and should barbecue.

What’s next? Maybe, I’ll start waxing my car by hand, too!

Song of the Day: Fire, Ohio Players


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