USA Today, November 2011
“I’ve never worked less than 40 hours a week,” acknowledges Mary Claire Orenic, our poster woman for high well-being at age 50. “In my 20s and 30s, I sometimes worked twice that.” She still managed to raise a child, keep a marriage happy, and start a new business. How did she pull that off?
As we learned in yesterday’s column, Mary Claire was a slacker in high school. She went to a two-year technical college to be trained as an X-ray technician, “but once I started working, I wanted to be an achiever!” She suffered through 40-degree-below mornings in Manitoba, Canada, to learn to become an ultrasound specialist. When her college-educated friends had trouble finding jobs, Mary Claire was already managing the ultrasound department in a community hospital at age 23.
She held off marriage until she was 27 to be free to travel and accumulate training. She also learned from an early mistake.
“Women do not negotiate as well for salaries as men do,” she admits. “I was guilty of that when I was 28 and competing with several men for the same job.” The men had a small edge in experience, but Mary Claire had a better performance record. The men negotiated better deals. “I grew up in Wisconsin where it’s not polite to ask for more money,” she recalls, laughing. “It was 1989 and I was just grateful they were offering me the job.”
Over the next five years she worked up to 80 hours a week, passing most of her peers in performance and increasing her six-figure income. When she was ready to have a child, at 33, her husband offered to take over the food shopping and cooking so she could manage baby care and a career. Chris Orenic, an optometrist, welcomed his new role as a part-time home-daddy.
In her 40s, while working full-time, she went back to college and earned an MBA.
At 50, Mary Claire enjoys a senior management position with a global company, Siemens Healthcare.
One of the hallmarks of a midlife woman of high well-being is a commute no longer than 10 minutes (each additional 10 minutes subtracts from well-being). Our poster woman still works from 45 to 60 hours a week, but a trusting, collaborative relationship with her supervisors allows her to walk to her office â€” a few steps from her kitchen â€” two days a week. On the days she does drive to the office, it’s against traffic. She protects evenings for dinner with her family and a beach walk with her husband. When she needed to miss a budget presentation to travel to an international volleyball tournament with her 17-year-old, the CEO said, “Mary Claire, go watch your son!”
Most Boomer women in midlife are not nearly so happy in their work. A sharp downward spiral in satisfaction with their work environment among younger Boomer women â€” age 45 to 55 â€” has been analyzed by Healthways Science Research team.
Given that female employees are concentrated in middle management and clerical roles, they are being heaped with more work with less and less help. They don’t feel respected by their supervisor. They are not treated as partners in a collaborative relationship. They are far less happy in their jobs than men the same age.
What do seasoned women really want at work? An interesting environment where they can learn and grow; an open and nurturing atmosphere; and trust from a supervisor that when they work remotely, they are putting in extra time and effort. The meanest rub, of course, is banging their heads against the glass ceiling.
The killer statistic is that boomer women with graduate degrees will earn up to $1.2 million less over their career lives than men who graduated with them. The main barrier that has been blocking women from the upper echelons of management is not a male conspiracy. Sylvia Ann Hewlitt’s newest study for the Center for Work-Life Policy has uncovered the real secret â€” “The Sponsor Effect.”
A sponsor is more aggressive on your behalf than a mentor, who offers advice. A sponsor bets on you and uses chips to promote your visibility, introduces you to people in positions of power, and advocates for your next promotion. The study found that women are only half as likely as their male peers to have a sponsor.
A similar finding by Healthways is that men work hard to develop a “buddy” relationship with their supervisor, which is often easier man-to-man. “Having a good friend [male or female] at your workplace who you can talk to adds a great deal to well-being,” reports Janet Calhoun, director of innovations at Healthways. “You will also be more productive and feel a deeper sense of engagement.”
“The Sponsor Effect” worked for Mary Claire. “I had several sponsors,” she says, “they were extremely supportive and their support changed my life.” Now, she’s a mentor: “I really enjoy mentoring and advising other people with their careers. This is where I get a lot of my joy.”
If you, too, find work that gives you meaning and purpose, you will find well-being.