Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Should you change your name upon marriage?

The question of married name versus maiden name in the work-place is a tricky one, especially in the US, where cultural norms have favored the woman taking the husband's last name upon marriage.  There are many opinions for, against and for hyphenating or combining à la Hillary Rodham Clinton.  It becomes even trickier if one factors into account divorce, remarriage, naming of children and step-children, and loss of professional identity if a woman has published in her maiden name or has degrees or licenses in her maiden name. 

Reading this research published in 2010 by researchers from the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research, Tilburg University in Holland suggests that the penalty for a change - resulting from the opinion or prejudice of others - might be $500,000 over the course of a woman's career.  Smart Money has a good summary of the research methods here.  The title of the Smart Money article is "Are Maiden Names Worth $500,000?"  My first thought was - Are you kidding me? I wouldn't willingly pass up $500,000 to share my spouse's last name!

Now, back to the survey: The survey subjects were college students, and they were also in Europe.  But the application of the research to the US is supportable.  Women may be applauded for changing their names in support of family unity, but on the other hand may be seen as less dedicated to their careers.  This penalty may be an unexpected cost born by the woman - and her family. 

My recommendation on this subject is that any woman who has established herself in her career, made contacts and obtained professional licenses should keep that name.  An alternative would be to retain one's maiden name as a middle name and - like Hillary - use all three in daily use.  A third alternative would be to use one name professionally while changing the legal name to the husband's name: One big drawback to this last alternative would be that professional licenses may need to be in one's legal name.  A final alternative would be to keep one's legal name the same but use the husband's name socially: Thus, a woman would introduce herself as Susie Marriedname while keeping Susie Maidenname as her legal name. 

I have met many women with different last names than their spouse and/or kids and I must say that I rarely get confused.  I hope you have the same experience.  And I hope that over time, society becomes more accepting of whatever name one chooses to use.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Working and Parenting, 2011 Version

Recently, there have been a number of articles about the impact of children on women's career trajectory.  This one at the WSJ here talks about why women don't reach middle management.  Another WSJ piece, this one an opinion on why women's pay should lag that of men's, as the author thinks women have less investment in the workplace: In reality, some women are punished strictly on the basis of being part of their gender group.  This one reported in cnn.com (originally from parenting.com) on why women are working at home instead of working outside the home.   And the regrets of a stay-at-home work-at-home freelancing mom, more than a dozen years later. 

As for working at home and being an entrepreneur, there are many drivers:  Among the issues here are a desire to be present on the part of mothers.  Childcare costs.  The second shift, where women still - by choice or by coercion or by society's expectations - put in more hours at home than their male partners.  The glass ceiling in many industries.  And the inability (or the perception of inability) to do both jobs (paying job, out of the house and unpaid, in the home) well or even acceptably.

For the new generation, those of Gen X or Gen Y who have baby-boomer parents, they have the additional experience of being latch-key kids, which impacts in turn their perception of working while parenting.  Many aren't willing to make the sacrifice that might be required, no matter what the rewards. 

Add in the additional opportunities at home due to technology.  Work at home.  Telecommuting.  Writing books and blogs.  Entrepreneurship.  Working at home is acceptable now, whether it is self-employment or as part of a "real" job. 

Unfortunately, life is not a Petri dish. No parent can put in the variables of work/no-work/part-time-work, home/not-at-home and find out what their life, their kids, their finances will look like in 20 years.  So they muddle through.   

I do know that things are much better now than they were when I was contemplating combining motherhood with career.  Maternity leave was rare, paternity leave an aberration. Whole departments and companies had no working mothers.  Twenty years ago, I had a stellar employee who wanted to work to telecommute to save two hours of commuting time per day. She was going to be a first-time mom, and I argued and hit a brick wall.  That company lost a lot, and the employee also lost although her career wasn't derailed, just delayed.  Now I think I could get that type of arrangement approved for a good employee who had already proven him/herself, with benefits all around.  The question is: Would she want it?  Readers - what are your opinions?