Careers Work From Home

MY GENERATION: HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS

My cousin-in-law, Kitty Eide, came of age after Norway had become a beacon of gender equality. She is a modern Norwegian success story. As chief of communications for Shell Oil, she is one of the most senior women in business in her country. She’s been with Shell since 2002, working her way up the corporate ladder. She’s well regarded in her field and at her company, but public relations is a second career for Kitty. She spent the first thirteen years of her professional life as a broadcast journalist and producer. Like me, Kitty is the mother of three children. Her youngest, Filip, was born just days before my youngest son, Soren.

While my mother and her sister represent the starkly different paths of the previous generation, Kitty’s career path and my career path in many ways are emblematic of how each of our countries have handled having women, mothers in particular, in the workforce. While I have struggled to find personal solutions to integrate career and family, Kitty has been blessed with support at every step by her government, by her workplace, and by her society at large.

In the summer of 2015, Kitty and I saw each other during an extended family reunion. Over a hundred relatives gathered in Kristiansand to celebrate our shared connections and to drink and laugh under the midnight sun. The day after the festivities were over, Kitty and I had coffee to discuss life, family, and careers.

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She and her husband, Johan, live in a house that is large by even American standards. While close to downtown and a mere fifteen minutes from her office, their home feels as though it is deep in the woods with a large tree-filled garden and views of Kristiansand’s bay. Johan, with his deep belly laugh and mischievous smile, is a successful entrepreneur. He has his fingers in a variety of businesses. Kitty, with her round face, large blue eyes, and short dark brown hair, is still broadcast journalist beautiful and also one of the highest paid women in her hometown. They are the definition of a power couple.

When Kitty gave birth to her first child in 1995, Norway had already long been a trailblazer when it came to maternity leave. In 1956, it mandated that mothers receive twelve weeks’ fully paid leave. Over the course of the next few decades, the parental leave policy in Norway was continually extended, and by 1995 mothers had the luxury of 100 percent paid leave for up to forty-nine weeks or 80 percent paid leave for up to fifty-nine weeks with the security of knowing their exact same job would be held for them while they cared for their babies.

In 1996, a year after her daughter was born, Kitty returned full-time to her job as a broadcast journalist. Her career wasn’t hindered or held back by her professional pause. In fact, it wasn’t even questioned by her coworkers or employer. She did exactly what was expected of her to be both mother and professional.

As my cousin and I sipped our tea, I shared the story of William’s premature birth, the pressure I felt to return to my job after only three months, the courage it took to ask for a fourth month, and the professional risk I took when I begged for a condensed, four-day workweek.

“My boss and his boss couldn’t understand why I would want to be away from my baby and often asked me if I missed him,” I told her. “They scheduled critical meetings on Fridays, the day I had set aside to be home with the very baby they wondered if I missed. It was as though they were trying to get me to quit.”

Kitty shook her head in disbelief. “It’s so cruel. How can a mother have a career in that environment?”

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