CAS Employee Organizes Working Mothers’ Support Group

Posted: April 27, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Stephanie Hay

Heather Aleknavage, CAS Dean’s Office, has been “making a difference at Mason” a lot lately—and one of her efforts includes establishing a Working Mothers’ Support Group that meets twice a month.

“I needed to find balance in my life,” says Aleknavage about what sparked her idea for the Working Mothers’ Support Group. “I wanted to share experiences with other working mothers. I was encouraged to start one after searching on campus and finding that none existed.”

The brown bag lunches are available to women interested in sharing stories and being part of an informal organization of working mothers. The group is one way Mason faculty, staff, and students can come together, discuss the issues confronting working mothers, and perhaps motivate changes, according to Aleknavage.

Heather Aleknavage
Photo by Stephanie Hay

Aleknavage, who was recently elected to the Staff Senate and serves on the Quality of Work Life Task Force, worked with Stacey Remick-Simkins, chair of the Staff Senate, and Rebecca Walter, associate director of the Women’s Studies and Resource Center, to get the group going. “Their enthusiasm and support helped to make things happen,” she says. The Women’s Center offered to host the group, and the first meeting was held over lunch in February 2003.

Aleknavage says the group is important because working mothers face unique issues, and coming together over lunch fits schedules and allows members to discuss their experiences in “a friendly, nonjudgmental environment.” She says, “There is always another parent who’s been through a difficult stage and who can say to us, ‘It will get better! It will get easier!'”

The three main topics for discussion, she says, are child care, leave, and telework, or flextime. Promoting the George Mason University Child Development Center and discussing issues of leave and teleworking policies with the Staff Senate are just two activities of the Working Mothers’ Support Group.

Linda Fauteux, a group member and recording secretary for the Staff Senate, says that, based on what she’s heard from some staff around campus, the university does not seem supportive of enforcing compromises that help new moms on a departmental level. This means that different supervisors on campus handle working parent issues differently.

“The university supports teleworking, but supervisors specifically might not allow it. I have heard of some supervisors on campus who will not enforce the university’s policy, or who will ask other staff members for their approval because other people in the department, perhaps even people who aren’t parents, might raise a fuss and get jealous,” Fauteux says.

Fauteux would like to see the Working Mothers’ Support Group’s efforts trickle down and raise awareness among other groups that could change policies at the university and enforce consistency “from the administration down,” she says.

Aleknavage agrees. “Some of us work full time, raise our children, are the major breadwinners, or provide the benefits for our household, or also are working students. We have long commutes and our ‘second job’ begins when we walk in the door. We have lots of demands to balance and lots of roles to juggle,” she says.

There is evidence that some of the group’s efforts are beginning to trickle down, Aleknavage notes. She recently met with Linda Harber, assistant vice president for human resources (HR), at Harber’s request, to talk about leave, telework, and flextime issues.

“I was delighted to find the level of seriousness taken on the issues of our group, especially being an informal voice on campus,” Aleknavage says. She notes that HR is trying to accommodate employees by being more proactive and customer-service oriented. “HR is planning a series of seminars on ‘life issues,’ and the telework/flextime policy will be one of the topics addressed.”

During the academic year, the support group meets every other Wednesday at noon in the Women’s Center, Room 240 of the Johnson Center. The next meeting is tomorrow. The group will continue to meet, although less frequently, over the summer. For more information, contact Aleknavage at 703-993-8721.

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