On the Women Archivists Roundtable Live Tweet, or a Timeline of Awareness of Awkward Silence

I started this blog under the orders of a friend (hi, Emily!!!) as a means to de-stress and figure out how to get my groove back; a finding aid, if you will. It is a bitching post. One of the early bitching posts was on my experience at the 2014 Society of American Archivists (SAA) meeting in Washington, DC. I went hoping to catch up on the field and gain an understanding of where the profession was heading; I learned to not bother telling anyone I was a housewife.

First, some background. I was an associate archivist (Master of Science degree in Information and Library Science) at a Well Known Non Profit in New York City. I was there for three-and-a-half years. I left work because I had a baby and my salary was not enough to cover childcare. We were in the midst of a recession and my institution was undergoing organizational changes; a new CEO was hired and there was a salary freeze across the board.

Flextime was on its way out the door and, without a wage increase, my bi-weekly check was not enough to cover the cost of a licensed, regulated day care center in my vicinity, nor would it cover a full-time, live-out baby sitter — who, according to friends also popping out babies around this time, made more off the books than I brought home after taxes.

Some women at work had free childcare thanks to family members; others threw an old lady in the neighborhood a hundred or two dollars a week to watch their kids. Neither was an option for me. My husband’s salary just covered our living expenses; me going back to work would actually cost us money.

So, I left the economy in early 2009.

Fast forward to January 2015, when I wrote up my SAA experience piece. Over time it picked up traction and a few people commented and shared similar experiences with me. I wasn’t sure if proximity to an unemployed person was the source of discomfort — as if joblessness was contagious and/or the unemployed people were there to steal their precious contract jobs. Or if it was the whole “stay-at-home mom” (SAHM) thing that my fellow attendees couldn’t negotiate around.

Surprisingly, it seemed like the ones with female symbol pins and Rosie the Riveter buttons attached to their tote bags and lanyards were the most shocked by my admission.

Housewives, apparently, repel some feminists.

The reactions of my fellow attendees affected me, and I went from introducing myself honestly to saying I was a consultant working on small family collections to just not talking to anyone but the vendors — who were candy-offering gems that chatted at the same level of excitement and interest with everyone.

There were SAA sessions for students and new professionals, there were career counselors and mentors, but I didn’t feel any of it fit the needs of individuals who left the archival profession  — at any stage of their career, for whatever ever reason, for however long — and sought to re-enter the ranks of the employed.  What about those of us who left (for children, for health, for new experiences, because of an unstable economy) and want to come back?

How do the people of power in the Society of American Archivists and the profession at large regard those who removed themselves from the workforce? Not just the parents who wanted to take care of their children, but those who went back to school or wanted a change of scenery. Is it just the moms who get the “oh…” treatment or is it everyone who leaves and tries to return? I just don’t know.

SAA has special interest round tables for women, students and new professionals, archivists of color, and lesbian and gay archivists. In 2014 there seemed to be no awareness of — or interest in — this population of long-term unemployed professionals who want to pick up their careers in what should be the middle of their careers. If there was something there for this population, other than a cork board to pin resumes to, I didn’t know about it.

Fast forward to August 2015, at SAA’s annual meeting in Cleveland. There was a research forum poster, “Stuck in the Middle: Exploring the Mid-Career Job Gap.” That’s the level returning archivists would be looking at. And it’s hard to return, or even make a lateral change if you’ve never left, if the jobs aren’t there. Someone openly recognized this neglected population. It thrilled me.

Fast forward, again, to October 2015 and a question tweeted out by Kate Theimer, the archivist behind ArchivesNext and the Spontaneous Scholarship drive (without which I would not have been able to attend SAA 2014. In fact, I re-joined SAA that year just so I could apply for a scholarship — things are tight in a single income household, you know).

Ever the Bitter Betty, I responded as you think I would:

Ahhh, HR. Human resources. The bane of many a professional’s existence. We’ve all had our bad human resources experiences. This is where motherhood bias in the workplace will prominently rear its head. It’s the type of bias we witness and experience firsthand, but isn’t often believed by those who haven’t.

A  2007 survey published in the American Journal of Sociology found that:

The recommended starting salary for mothers was $11,000 (7.4%) less than that offered to nonmothers, a significant difference. Mothers were also rated as significantly less promotable and were less likely to be recommended for management. Finally, while participants recommend 84% of female nonmothers for hire, they recommend a significantly lower 47% of mothers.

It’s not just second wave feminists giving SAHMs the stink eye, there’s also HR people being all “Ehh, she’s got kids. I’ll pass.” And considering that the archival profession is about 65% women, a lot of archivists are at risk of being passed over for positions they’re qualified for.

A few minutes after Tweeting my response to Kate, the following happened:

I would have loved for my missive to have been broadcast in such a forum, but I’m happy just knowing someone read it and remembered it.

After a few more exchanges, this happened:

The Women Archivists cottoned to our conversation. They read the post and it must have struct a cord because on December 4, 2015, this will happen:

The Women Archivists Roundtable will be hosting a live Tweet on “Maternity Leave and Balancing Work and Family.”

And it’s happening because of my bitching post. Thanks, Emily!!!

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