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Professionals speak on balancing work, family

Tricia de Groot | Friday, April 2, 2004

Four professional women spoke to other students about their experiences in integrating work and family life in a panel discussion entitled “Women in the Workplace: On and Off the Career Track.”The event, part of this week’s Women of Notre Dame Series, was sponsored by the College of Arts and Letters, the Career Center and the Alumni Association. Held in the Coleman Morse Center, the discussion included four speakers: Colleen Meiman, a 1988 Notre Dame graduate, B.A. in Economics, Patricia Bellia, associate professor of law, Viva Bartkus, adjunct assistant professor of management, and was associate professor of psychology, Cyndi Bergeman, who facilitated the discussion.Bartkus spoke first and began by sharing two personal stories about her position as a female partner at McKinsey, a consulting firm. Her narratives led her to speak of three important themes: that women have made tremendous progress in the work place, that the work environment is still difficult and that women have a choice with respect to their involvement in their careers.Bartkus told her predominately female audience that she hoped to see a “sea change” with our generation. She explained how the current generations’ grandmothers fought for the right to vote, mothers fought for women in the workforce and how she hoped to see the present generation make even more progress.Although her talk exhibited hope for females in the workplace, she still made a point of noting that it is “still really tough.” “You have to be so good they [either] can’t make a decision without you or you make the decisions yourself,” Bartkus said.”Sometimes we have to be better to get into the game.”Bartkus concluded her talk by leaving women with a choice concerning the balance between work and family. “Anything of value is tough and hard to work for,” she said. “You need to make your own choice according to your values.”Meiman served as a White House staffer and aide to Senator Bill Bradley and recently got off the full-time career track to spend time with her two children. Meiman highlighted the stress caused by the long hours and the responsibilities of her position.”I was playing really serious games at a pretty young age and had no time for myself,” she said. “I decided that I wanted to get back to my interests and wanted to get off the career track.”While Meiman expressed no regrets for her decision to undertake her particular career route, she said she just decided that she wanted her children to spend more time with their parents than with other people. In response, she decided that she could no longer work full time, but she also ruled out being a stay at home mom. Meiman expressed her fortune in being able to work part time but also expressed some downsides to no longer being fully employed. As a part-time career woman, she was working for people with less experience than herself and expressed being seen as not committed. Meiman concluded with a few words of advice. She expressed that options are not guaranteed, that women can’t assume they can have children when they want to and that no option is perfect. But Maiman did say women have to make a choice and be happy with it. Finally, Bellia discussed Supreme Court Judge Sandra Day O’Connor, a woman who was only offered a secretarial job at a law firm upon graduating third in her class at Stanford, but who later become the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She shared the inspiration she received from Justice O’Connor’s story and then proceeded to tell her own story, discussing her life as a full-time professor and as a mother of a 16-month-old daughter. Bellia spoke of the problem that many working mothers face when they are competing with men who have stay at home wives who have more flexibility and are thus not under the same circumstances. She also spoke of the problems many women have who step off the career track and then try to get back on. The final event in the women of Notre Dame Series is held today at 2 p.m. in Walsh Hall South Lounge and is entitled, “Stories from the Beltway.”