HERO: Joan Blades
Exclusive one-on-one interviews with extraordinary individuals working on behalf of women, children, and families worldwide.
As a working mother and co-founder of MomsRising.org, Joan Blades has used her experience as a leader in online advocacy to amplify American mothers’ collective voices around key policy issues that are important to them. MomsRising mothers advocate for economic security for families through paid maternity leave, health care, family and sick leave, and flexible work schedules.
“My dream is that everybody has the opportunity to live a healthy productive life. I think that’s a shared dream that most Americans would agree with. The question is how do we get there? I just started another project called Living Room Conversations, which I think once again relies on the goodwill and common sense of regular people via civil discourse about charged political issues, on both sides of the political spectrum.”
WHY SHE’S A HERO
Through the organization she founded, MomsRising.org, and her book The Motherhood Manifesto, Joan Blades has connected and catalyzed over one million American mothers online. Collectively, MomsRising members advocate on issues like flexible work options, paid family leave, childcare, and living wages. And last year she co-wrote The Custom-Fit Workplace to help businesses take advantage of work options that are not only good for mothers but good for everybody.
A CHAT WITH HERO JOAN BLADES
IMOW: Joan, you have had an extensive career as a tech entrepreneur and cultural change-agent, co-founding Berkeley Systems, Moveon.org, and finally MomsRising.org. Can you tell us why you decided to take your resources and energy and devote it to founding a mother’s organization?
JOAN: I’m an attorney mediator by origin. Finding common ground is something I am deeply attracted too. When I read Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner’s manuscript The F-Word: Feminism in Jeopardy—Women, Politics, and the future, (she also co-authored the Motherhood Manifesto with me and is the executive director of MomsRising), I got to the data points about mothers and wages. You make 73 cents to a man’s dollar if you’re a mom, 60 cents to a dollar if you’re a single mom. I’ve been a working mother, I am a working mother. And when you realize that 80% of women ultimately become mothers, that’s most women. It tells us why there are so many women and children in poverty, and it also tells us why there are so few women in leadership. Other studies show us why it’s so important for our economy and well-being to have women in leadership. Yet, when you only have 12 women in the Fortune 500 as CEOs, and only 17% in the US Congress, it’s a severe problem. So that’s how I got started.
After reading that data, I wrote The Motherhood Manifesto. It’s really a system that creates bias. I’ve been a business owner and grown a business. I really get it that you have to have a system that supports people having children in the modern workforce. We don’t have that system in this country yet.
The data point that always shocks people—that makes them realize how out of touch we are in the US—is that out of 173 countries worldwide, the US is one of the only 3 countries that don’t have any paid maternity leave for mothers. Paid leave is the starting point that we need to have. Then we need to have work that is compatible with being a parent We need to have child care, and healthcare, and sick days. It all adds up to making it possible to meet your responsibilities, at work and outside of work.
IMOW: Why such a focus on work and motherhood?
JOAN: Because we want to be able to take care of our kids, and being able to support them is a key component. There is a reason that mothers go back to work days after giving birth—they don’t have paid leave. It’s not a fair choice. Shall I feed my family this week? Or shall I take care of my new baby? It’s just unacceptable. And we need to understand that’s the choice we are giving some mothers, and it’s just not right.
IMOW: You co-authored the book The Motherhood Manifesto, which is a call for broad change in US policy to be more supportive of mothers and families. What has the MomsRising movement been able to achieve so far in getting an answer to that call?
JOAN: It’s been wonderful. We have actually been very effective. We’ve worked with policy partners on health care, paid sick days, early learning, clean air and so much more. California already had paid family leave, and now Washington State and New Jersey have passed paid leave too. We have another 47 states to go, but we are hoping once you have enough good models at the state level, the federal level will kick in.
IMOW: What countries have good examples of consideration and respect for motherhood? Why do their policies work?
JOAN: I’ll focus on paid maternity leave. All industrialized countries have paid maternity leave, and most unindustrialized countries. There are countries all around that have better policies. One useful thing to do is think about Canada; I believe it’s 6 months there. Sweden pays for mothers and fathers. To get the full paid leave, fathers have to take time off as well, and it’s actually very important for fathers to do that kind of bonding with the child. They have shown it makes a difference over the long haul.
IMOW: In your recent book, The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When, Where, and How to Work and Boost Your Bottom Line, you discuss flexibility, virtual work, and results from these work practices. How do you think having access to these opportunities such as telecommuting and non-linear career tracks affect the relationship between mother and child?
JOAN: It means you can effectively meet your responsibilities at work and outside of work. The important thing about work policies is you have to show they are good for businesses.You’ve got Jet Blue airlines in Utah that has all these mothers in their homes doing customer service. They are making reservations and doing good work for Jet Blue.
It’s really good for the airline because they have high quality customer service, while keeping business costs low because people work from home, which is incredibly convenient for mothers. Outsourcing is becoming increasingly expensive, so we finally finding that companies are actually “on-shoring,” bringing jobs home, because it’s so good for the bottom line.
IMOW: Where does your passion for all this great work originate?
JOAN: One of the interesting things when you are part of a mother’s organization is it often comes back to your kids. We all want to have a good future for our kids. My biggest issue is global warming—would you let your child play Russian roulette? I’m not a scientist, but I’m hearing that the temperature of the Earth and our way of life as we know it is at risk long term within my child’s lifetime—and that’s not an acceptable risk. That’s wrong.
IMOW: What is the best lesson or advice your mother (or mother figure) ever gave you?
JOAN: Work with people you like. It is one thing I’ve learned, it is wonderful to work with good people. I work out of my home. MomsRising is a completely virtual workplace. We are a team distributed through the country and yet we are very close, so I feel very lucky to be working with such great women.
All photos copyright MomsRising
This short film illuminates the economic value of mothers’ work and the need for policies in the U.S. to effect life/work balance for mothers.
The majority of women face the "double shift" of daily paid work and family responsibilities, making work-life balance a pressing issue for mothers. What can be done to alleviate some of the burden?
Anne is a middle-class mother from Norway – the best country in the world to be a mother, according to the aid agency Save the Children. Nevertheless, her life hasn’t been free from tragedy; she lost one child in labor, despite access to the very best maternal health care.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom, filmmaker and founder of MissRepresentation.org, talks about why working mothers need support from all angles in order for the gender revolution to truly progress.