Well, give ABC credit for trying, but their 20/20 report on working mothers was not the hard-hitting call for action one would hope for. Elizabeth Vargas hosted a toothless overview of the issues working mothers confront: the need for safe, affordable day care; paid maternity leave; flexible work schedules.
The interview with Joan Blades of MomsRising must have been cut, so the remaining experts included Senator Christopher Dodd (D, Connecticut) who is plain-spoken and compelling, reminding viewers that the government provides more oversight of pets and cars than daycare centers. But his voice was fairly well drowned out by a conservative talk radio host giving airtime to people who think mothers simply shouldn’t work, and the (female) deputy assistant Secretary of Labor, a bootstrap conservative who believes that individuals are responsible for saving their own money as a hedge against times when they cannot work, since the consequences to businesses for offering family benefits would be “dire.”
In fact, the statistics show that the 12% of companies offering paid maternity leave report increased profits and productivity when they do. It’s discouraging that these benefits need to be sold as “good for the company” to be adopted, but if that’s what it takes, I’ll take that as a start. Even the (female) VP of Human Resources at IBM downplayed the company’s apparently excellent benefits, including paid leave, flextime, and on-site daycare: “We don’t do these programs because we’re doing good for society, we do them because they’re good for IBM and good for IBM’s business.” Goodness, no, we wouldn’t want to do good for society!
Change will come, I hope, but it won’t come quickly with outlooks like those expressed on 20/20. The panel of “regular moms” concluded that advocating for corporate and government change is just “asking for help,” and added that women aren’t good at asking for help. “Well,” noted Vargas cheerfully, “that might need to change.” Still, her conclusion was less upbeat, characterizing work for change as just adding one more task to “our endless to-do list.” With that attitude, the U.S. will remain awhile longer in the fine company of Lesthoto, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland, the only other nations in the world without a national maternity leave program.