Why Is It So Hard To Control Our Appetites? A Doctor’s Struggles With Giving Up Sugar

We’ve become convinced that if we can eat more healthily, we will be morally better people. But where does this idea come from? Near the end of the hellish first year of the coronavirus pandemic, I was possessed by the desire to eliminate sugar – all refined sugar – from my diet. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best time to add a new challenge to my life. My wife and I had been struggling to remote-school three young kids with no childcare. My elderly parents lived out of state and seemed to need a surprising number of reminders that pandemic restrictions were not lifted for Diwali parties or new Bollywood movie releases.

Like many people in those early days, we were looking around for masks and trying to make sense of shifting government guidelines about when to wear them. In addition, as a doctor, I was seeing patients in clinic at a time dominated by medical uncertainty, when personal protective equipment was scarce, and my hospital, facing staff shortages, was providing training videos and “how-to” tip sheets to specialists like me who hadn’t practised in an emergency room for years, in case we were needed as backup.

It would have been enough to focus on avoiding the virus and managing all this without putting more on my plate. But cutting processed sugar seemed like an opportunity to reassert some measure of order to the daily scrum, or at least to the body that entered the fray each day.

My former physique was behind me and the stress of clinical practice during the pandemic was taking its toll. Maybe it was all the pandemic death in the air, but I started feeling like I was what the narrator in Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things calls “Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age.” Maybe doing away with sugar could slow things down? More tantalisingly, maybe it could even take me back to a fresher time, the days in college when I had actually gone sugar-free for a while.

My friends offered condolences on what they called my soon-to-be joyless lifestyle. But I was set, compelled by literature about the deleterious, even toxin-like effects of added sugar. I had my doubts about being able to pull something like this off again, though, so I decided – as doctors often do – to tackle the problem by studying it.

That year, in what was arguably an act of masochism, I began the coursework required to sit for a medical-board exam on dietetics, metabolism and appetite. By earning another qualification, I thought, I would credential my way to realising my goal. After shifts at work, during breaks or once the kids were asleep, I would attend virtual lectures and pore over board-review books in a quest to understand the body’s metabolism.

I immersed myself in the physiology of exercise, the thermodynamics of nutrition, and the neuroendocrine regulation of appetite. But this knowledge didn’t break my pandemic eating habits. Cupcakes and ice cream and cookies didn’t call to me any less. And big food corporations were winning the bet that Lay’s potato chips first made back in the 1960s with its “Betcha can’t just eat one” ad campaign. So, I found myself reaching for Double Stuf Oreos while flipping through my medical textbooks and scarfing chocolate bars even as I correctly answered my practice-exam questions.

My body refused to be disciplined by my intellectual mastery of its operations. I passed the board examination, but my appetite for sugar didn’t change. I was left with more questions than I had when I started. Was sugar really a problem? Or had I internalised hangups about desire from the culture at large? Why did my soul feel so inexplicably sick – so unsatisfied – with the outcome of my first effort to quit that I tried it all again? And what does my “success” – I’ve been sugar-free for a year now – even mean?

I turned to Plato – a man occupied by appetite – for some answers. In his body map of the soul, the stomach was the dwelling place of desire. Reason, of course, resided in the head, while courage rested in the chest. In this tripartite architecture, it was up to reason – with the help of courage – to subjugate appetite and elevate the individual. The thinking went that if we could just rule our stomachs, we might be able to hold our heads up high and our chests out wide. For the Greeks, the right moral posture was key to the good life, or eudaimonia.

Early medical science in the west borrowed heavily from Plato, beginning with Aristotle, who practiced and taught medicine throughout his life. Aristotle agreed that eudaimonia could be realized by moderating the visceral and sensual appetites. He saw the heart as the vessel of intelligence, and arguably the most virtuous of organs. In his hypothesis, the heart occupied – physically and figuratively – a central place in the body, controlling other organs. The brain and lungs played supporting roles, merely cooling and cushioning the heart. The heart was, for Aristotle, where reason flowed.

Five hundred years later, the Greek anatomist and surgeon Galen challenged the centrality of the heart but still adhered closely to Plato’s triadic notion of the soul. Galen’s treatises, foundational to the development of modern medicine, are suffused with Platonic assumptions, and he painstakingly tried to stitch the divided parts of the soul – the rational, the spirited and the appetitive – on to specific organs in the human body.

In a striking display of topographical certitude, Galen writes in On the Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato: “I do claim to have proofs that the forms of the soul are more than one, that they are located in three different places … and further, that one of these parts [rational] is situated in the brain, one [spirited] in the heart, and one [appetitive] in the liver. These facts can be demonstrated scientifically.”

The Harvard classicist Mark Schiefsky writes that, in Galenic physiology, equilibrium is understood “as a balance of strength between the three parts; the best state is when reason is in charge, the spirited part is strong and obedient, and the appetitive part is weak”.

Should we be sceptical of this aspiration to tame appetite? Sigmund Freud doubted whether desire could ever be so readily controlled. In tossing Plato’s map aside, Freud erased the “soul” and instead sketched a three-part atlas of the “self” and its ratio of desires and repressions – endlessly fractured, negotiating between order (superego), consciousness (ego) and appetite (id). For Freud, appetites could not be overcome but only better managed. Perfect harmony and permanent equilibrium were nowhere in sight. Rather, in Freud’s idea of the self, anxiety for order loomed above the ego, with desire buried beneath it. Appetite was the subterranean tether that consciousness could never escape, but only sublimate.

There was something talismanic about my focus on sugar. So often, liberty is conceived of as the ability to say yes to things. To make affirmative choices: to open this door or that window. But there is also a flipside to that freedom: the power to say no. To refuse. Increasingly during the pandemic, I felt like I was powerless in the face of my cravings. If there was a knock at the door of appetite, a tap on the window of impulse, I had to answer it. And this felt shameful. Why couldn’t I say no? And why was realizing this so painful?

I don’t pretend to anything approaching total understanding of my motivations. But there were a few loosely detected currents worth illuminating here. For one thing, not being able to say no to sugar sometimes felt like a form of bondage to the demands of the body, the very body that I was eager to assert power over, particularly during a global health crisis that was damaging bodies everywhere.

If I couldn’t control this plague, could I not at the very least control myself? I wonder now if this insistence on regulating appetite was my sublimated response to the coronavirus’s immense death toll – a way of denying mortality in the midst of its excess. In this respect, perhaps there was not as much separating me from other kinds of pandemic deniers as I would like to believe. Were we all just coping with the inexorability of our decay – laid painfully bare by Covid-19 – in different ways?

Maybe. But there was something beyond the exigencies of the pandemic on my mind as well. The inability to resist sugar cravings – to break the habit – seemed like a victory of the past over the present. It felt like the triumph of the mere memory of pleasure over real satisfaction in the moment. Saying no to that memory – the neurological underpinning of craving – became important, because it felt like the only way to say yes to imagination. “I am free only to the extent that I can disengage myself,” the philosopher Simone Weil wrote.

Detachment from an indulgence, however small, felt like a way to stop being beholden to an old storehouse of desires (and aversions and beliefs). Developing the ability to refuse to reach for the cookie was also a way to break free from the impulse to reach for patterns of the past, from the compulsion of replicating yesterday at the expense of tomorrow. It’s the trick of habit to convince us that we are reaching forward, even as we are stepping back. Or, as the British scholar of asceticism Gavin Flood elegantly summarizes: “The less we are able to refuse, the more automated we become.”

If Freud dismantled the soul, modern medicine mechanized what he left of the self. But where Freud’s psychoanalytic theory allowed for a pinch of poetry, materialist models hold comparatively dry sway today. A look at the biomedical literature on appetite reveals a tortuous mix of neural circuits and endocrine pathways. What’s clear is that if there was a moral aspect of appetite for ancient philosophers and physicians, it’s not readily discernible in the language of contemporary scientific literature.

There are upsides to this development. In the modern era, medicine’s tradition-bound framing of appetite as a moral problem has been demoralizing for patients, who often felt – and still feel – objectified, policed and discriminated against by institutions that sermonize about it. The stigmatisation of appetite remains pervasive in the culture, in and out of medicine. The loss of at least an explicit moral charge in the scientific literature is a welcome shift.

In the century or so since Freud’s conjectures, appetite has been atomised by medicine into a problem of eating, or more specifically, of fighting the body’s tendency toward “disordered” eating. In the pursuit of better and longer lives, maladies of appetite – of eating too much, too little, or not the right kinds of food – have been studied and treated with varying degrees of success. The empirical study of digestion and appetite in the laboratory moved hunger from the moral arena into a biochemical one. Still, in both experimental physiology and clinical medicine, the ancient impulse to locate the appetite persisted: was it in the body or in the mind? Lines were drawn – and defended – between diseases of the stomach and diseases of the psyche.

What was at stake in the difference? Pinning down the appetite – claiming it belonged to the gut or the brain – was arguably the first in a series of steps leading to its regulation. Understood this way, medicine’s mission to uncover the mechanisms of appetite, despite the erasure of the soul from scientific databases, cannot escape Plato’s legacy. Whether we’re trying to improve or curtail appetite, we seem unable to resist the desire to control it.

It would have been different – I wouldn’t have felt the need to go all-or-nothing with sugar – if I could have simply walked away after a few bites. But increasingly during the pandemic, I wouldn’t stop even after I was full. What started off as pleasure would morph into painful excess. Sure, there’s pleasure in abundance, in overdoing a thing. But I found myself barrelling past that threshold.

While studying for the board exam in my first, failed attempt at going sugar-free, I was also using various apps and devices to keep track of my body. I had long used a smart watch to log my steps and workouts. I was also using a calorie-tracking app, studiously punching in numbers for every meal and scheming how much I could eat and still remain under the calorie limit. But all that logging and calculating felt joyless and anxiety-ridden. Sometimes, at a meal, in the middle of tallying up numbers like an accountant, I’d explain to impatient friends and family that “I’m just entering my data”. It was a lot of data.

I grew weary of all the inputting, and so I switched to an app with more of a behavioural focus. This app still had me tracking calories, but also came with recipes, a personal coach and “psychology-based” courses, as part of what the company calls your “journey”. The courses were a welcome shift from the myopic focus of calorie counting, and chatting with a coach added an opportunity to get some clarity about my goals.

The coach would share chipper motivational advice and provide tips to overcome obstacles. I diligently went through the app’s courses, answered its behavioural questions and followed its nudges. There were a few weeks where I was able to go sugar-free, but after a couple of months, the coaching advice seemed more and more generic, and the courses too simplistic when I was already spending so much time studying for my upcoming exam. I lost interest and reverted to simply recording calories.

I eventually passed that exam without much to show for it in terms of changes to my nutritional habits. I needed something different, a way to hold myself accountable and mean it. I stumbled upon another app that described itself as being “on a mission to disrupt diet culture and make our relationship with food, nutrition – and ourselves – healthier for good”. It promised live coaching calls with a certified nutritionist, shared recipes, and even offered to tailor my coaching with a vegetarian dietician. It did not ask you to track calories or enter food items from a database. All it wanted was for you to send pictures … of your food. It felt radically different than tapping numbers into a screen: someone else would see this.

The app’s slogan was “100% accountability and “0% judgment”. But, to be clear, it was the judgment that I came for. The simple fact that my nutritionist wouldn’t just know but also actually see what I was eating was the killer feature. I answered a questionnaire about my dietary habits and goals. I made it clear that I wanted to go sugar-free, and repeated as much to my nutritionist during a preliminary call.

She didn’t exactly endorse this goal, but rather acknowledged it as something that was important to me and gently marked it as a topic we would come back to, adding that she hoped I would get to the point where a more balanced approach would suffice. I told her we’d see. I made a promise to take a photo of every meal, good or bad. She kindly reminded me there are not “good” and “bad” foods, and we were on our way.

It’s been a year since I downloaded the app. Every day since then, I have taken a photo of every morsel of food I’ve eaten, whether it’s a handful of pistachios, a salad or a veggie burger. In every one of those pics, every day, I have been sugar-free. I’ve eaten more vegetables and greens and fruits than I’ve probably ever eaten in my life. My plates look balanced (I make sure of it). I take care to snap pictures that look nice for my nutritionist. Though she never judges me negatively, I look forward to the raising-hands emoji and approving words she sends if she sees a salad with asparagus and garlic balsamic drizzle and avocado up front.

Like an influencer on Instagram, I’ll take another shot if the lighting isn’t quite right, or if the framing is off. It’s been satisfying to upload a cache of sugar-free images, all beautifully arranged on the app’s user interface. Even more satisfying has been avoiding feeling like the guy who said he’d go sugar-free only to end up sending in pictures of donuts and cookies. Compared to calorie logs and food diaries, the prospect of someone else seeing photos of what I’m eating has made the potential pain of falling short feel more proximate than the pleasure of eating sweets. So I just stopped eating sugar. And it’s still working. Was this all it took?

Perhaps the persistent effort to control appetite, replicated across many cultures and times, reveals just how vigorously it resists that very control. The seemingly endless proliferation of constraints on appetite – from the disciplinary to the pharmacological – underscores its untamable quality. And yet the training of appetite – both as physiological fact and, more abstractly, as desire – can function as an ascetic practice. In this paradigm, as religion scholars such as Flood argue, the negation of desire amplifies the subjectivity of the individual.

Depriving the body paradoxically accentuates the conscious subject, because hunger unsatiated allows the pangs of the self to be felt more acutely, and renders being more vivid. In other words, appetite unfulfilled creates the conditions for expanding self-awareness. This is seen in the Bhagavad Gita in the figure of the ascetic, one who has renounced the pull of appetite and “attains extinction in the absolute” – in seeming contradiction, gaining infinity through loss.

If philosophy is after theoretical victories, science aims more concretely to hack, or at least short-circuit, a physiological truth. Take, for example, gastric bypass surgery, an operation that cuts the stomach into two parts (leaving one functional thumb-size pouch alongside a larger remnant) and radically reconstructs separate intestinal systems for each segment to restrict the amount of food that can be eaten. By shrinking the stomach to fool the mind into feeling satisfied with less, this surgery builds on growing recognition that the long-embraced brain-gut divide is far more porous than previously thought.

Recipients of the surgery generally do well in the short term, with reduced appetite, marked weight loss, better control of diabetes and improved health markers. But the percentage of patients who “fail” in the long-term after bariatric surgery (ie achieve less than half of excess weight loss) is reportedly as high as 35%. During that first post-op year, studies suggest, an influx of appetite-reducing intestinal hormones decreases patients’ urge to eat. Crucially, however, there are questions about the duration of those salutary hormonal changes and their effectiveness in controlling appetite as post-surgical days add up.

For a significant proportion of patients, even surgically shrinking the stomach – the historical seat of hunger – doesn’t offer complete freedom from unchecked appetite. This fact is not entirely surprising, given what is now known about the multiple neuroendocrine nodes that govern appetite, but it poses a conundrum for medical science: can appetite, as Freud asked in his own way, ever be fully controlled? And if not, is it a wonder that patients turn back to more personal strategies to pursue the work that prescriptions and sutures leave undone?

I can’t say I fully understand why teaming up with a nutritionist on an app worked so well, so fast. Would sharing pics of my food with friends and family in a group chat or a Facebook page have been as effective? Probably not. The issue seemed to be one of epistemology. My friends and family wouldn’t have been as suitable an audience, since they don’t just know me as I am, but also as I was. That knowledge of what’s bygone necessarily shapes the stories we can tell and believe about one another.

But with my nutritionist reviewing pictures of my meals from god knows what timezone, the app created an epistemological gap into which both of us could step. It was within this gap that my future self – the self I aspired to be, still unrealised and therefore unknown – could intercede in the present with slightly less inertia from the past. The app provided an illusion that daily life could not, offering a space for the dormant commitments of the future to come to fruition in the present. A space for imagination to overcome memory.

As my sugar-free streak extended, I began to wonder about the future of this illusion. Was it a rare example of tech living up to its glitteringly naive promise of liberation? Or was this an instance of the digital panopticon yet again determining our ability to imagine ourselves, revealing just how far-reaching its gaze is? And, more practically, I began thinking about how long I needed to keep eating this way. The cravings that had knocked so loudly at my door at the start of the pandemic now softly shuffled from leg to leg right outside it. I could still hear their shoes creaking at the threshold, but they couldn’t force their way in anymore. Things seemed quiet, maybe a little too quiet.

Whereas the Greeks soughtto regulate appetite in pursuit of the good life, perhaps what is sought after today is a facsimile of it: a corporatised eudaimonia-lite, where the goal isn’t virtue but efficiency; not equanimity, but productivity. In this view, it’s not a better way to live we’re seeking, just a less painful way to work and die – all while “looking good”. A more charitable and poetic possibility is that the constraint of appetite continues to appeal because it provides the same sense of structure to selfhood that metre does to a poem: a limit against which to construct narrative unity of the psyche.

As fascinating as it is to think about this question, even more essential ones – about the links between appetite, scarcity and loss – loom in the writings of Toni Morrison, a writer who provides a necessary counterbalance to the obsession with appetite restriction in societies glutted with luxury. In particular, I’m thinking of Beloved, which tells the story of human beings struggling for survival and wholeness in the face of slavery’s horrors. In portraying this struggle, Morrison uses the language of food and appetite to unfurl narratives saturated with the metaphysics of hunger: the difficulty of sating the self; the confusion between hunger, history and hurt.

I was struck by this unexpected resonance while rereading the book in the middle of my bid to quit sugar. Morrison’s characters think about what it would mean to satisfy what the narrator calls their “original hunger” – and whether doing so is even possible. They imagine getting to a place “beyond appetite”, but are also compelled by history to contemplate the price of doing so.

In my reading of the book, the denial of hunger risks becoming a costly exercise in self-abnegation – a severing of self from history, of self from self – whose consequences Plato doesn’t seem to fully consider, but which Morrison is deeply wary of. I think Morrison is, like Freud, skeptical of the metaphysicians who would have us render hunger subordinate. But where Freud is an anti-idealist, Morrison appears willing to reach for hunger, perilous though it may be. Straddling both the risk of self-destruction posed by contact with the original hunger, and the anguish of self-denial created by leaving it unrecognised, Morrison casts her faith in the human ability to embrace the beautiful, blood-hued predicament of incarnation.

About 10 months into my sugar-free life, a scent from the pantry hit me like it hadn’t for a while. My wife had just baked chocolate-chip cookies for our kids as a treat. By then, I was unfazed by sweets around the house. They might as well have been made of stone. But, at the end of a long day, I found myself unexpectedly at the pantry door. Minutes passed. After a while, I opened the plastic container and inhaled. My mouth began to water. I could almost taste the cookies.

I remembered the delightful way the chocolate melted at the back of the tongue. I remembered the satisfaction of soaking a warm cookie in milk. A part of my brain was humming, eager to replicate the memory of sugar, butter and dough on the cortex. Another part was already dreading the pain of not being able to stop. I picked up the cookie and, having built nearly a year’s worth of muscle memory, simultaneously opened the app on my phone. I centred the cookie in the glowing frame and was about to press send when, looking at the screen, it hit me: what would my nutritionist think?

As of this writing, my streak remains unbroken, despite a few close calls. In many ways the story seems to be going the way I intended: I am eating well balanced, sugar-free meals and haven’t counted a calorie in more than a year. The cravings that were troubling me aren’t gone, but the future version of me – the unsweetened aspirant – grows closer with each picture I snap. I feel the spiritual and physical acuity that comes with ascetic practice.

But I also feel some qualms about neglecting Morrison’s original hunger, with all its attendant risks and possibilities. I think about how I have sacrificed memory at the altar of imagination, recognising the chance that imagination ends up being overrated and memory proves to be the last storehouse of joy. But then I remind myself that visions like Morrison’s may be too large, too untimely for us to inhabit. They come from a place we haven’t arrived at. At least not yet.

By

Source: Why is it so hard to control our appetites? A doctor’s struggles with giving up sugar | Health & wellbeing | The Guardian

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Finding A New Job While Pregnant

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was put in place to protect expectant mothers from being cast aside, and there have been updates to the guidelines in recent years as well — but that doesn’t mean finding a new job during pregnancy is easy.

Those actively searching or interviewing for a new job will be competing against other candidates the same way as usual — yet some challenges may arise, such as knowing when to mention a due date or how to stress marketability when visibly pregnant.

If you’re pregnant and looking for a new job, here are some useful tips to consider. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was put in place to protect expecting mothers from discrimination in the workplace.

Have confidence

Jodi Brandstetter, the Ohio-based CEO at Lean Effective Talent Strategies, told FOX Business that having confidence is the secret to a successful interview.

“I always suggest career seekers keep an ‘acclaim box’ [in which] they can put positive reviews, appraisals and recommendations, so they can review it before a big meeting or interview,” Brandstetter said. “This will help them have confidence.”

Jodi Brandstetter is the CEO at Lean Effective Talent Strategies. (Jodi Brandstetter)

“When you’re pregnant, you may be concerned about how you will be judged,” Brandstetter also said. “Go in with your head held high and with solid information as to why you are the best person for the job.”

Demonstrate ambition

Sharing career goals with an interviewer is one way pregnant women can stand out from other candidates, according to New York City-based Kimiko Ebata, a military transition specialist and founder of Ki Coachin, a career consulting service.

“If you aren’t showing and have not yet disclosed your pregnancy to the potential employer, it’s important to exhibit professional ambition and loyalty as a candidate, while remaining true to who you are,” Ebata told FOX Business. “In the interview, brand yourself according to the industry, and be sure to demonstrate competence and confidence in your responses by highlighting your transferable skills, relevant experiences and ability to juggle competing interests.”

Kimiko Ebata is a military transition specialist and founder of Ki Coaching, a career consulting service. “Brand yourself according to the industry,” she told FOX Business.  (Kimiko Ebata)

Any questions an interviewer might ask that go off-topic should be redirected “to your relevant experiences and skill set,” Ebata said.

In cases in which a pregnant candidate’s career commitment is questioned, Ebata suggested saying something like, “My role as a mother is important to me, as is my ability to provide for my family while advancing my career.”

Be true to yourself

Being your true self is the best way to market skills during a job interview, said Chris Sinclair, chief people and culture officer at Bayard Advertising, a full-service recruitment advertising agency.

“If you are interviewing with the right employer, you shouldn’t have to change anything about how you interview to get your strengths across,” Sinclair, who is based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas, told FOX Business. “Be sure to follow tried and tested interview best practices, including researching the company, knowing the job description, anticipating popular interview questions, being on time and sending a thank-you email.”placeholder

Chris Sinclair of Texas is a chief people and culture officer at Bayard Advertising, a full-service recruitment advertising agency. (Chris Sinclair) Sinclair said it’s important to “tailor your prep” and “delivery” for each interview.

This includes virtual interviews. He said job candidates can put their “best virtual foot forward” by ensuring their interview space is well-lit, with a clear background and camera. New moms-to-be might question when they should disclose their pregnancy to a potential employer.

Be transparent — but careful

Whether you have a gap in your resume related to motherhood and child care or some other circumstance, employers are likely to ask about it.

“I suggest explaining gaps in your employment on your resume,” Brandstetter said. “Be honest at the beginning of the process. Also, include any insights or experience you had during those gaps that help you with being the best candidate.”

Pregnant job candidates should make sure to clarify any gaps in their resume, but they should wait post-interview to disclose their pregnancy, said one hiring expert.Brandstetter recommends holding off on maternity-leave discussions until interviewing with a company.

“I would wait until after the initial conversation to provide information about any type of potential leave after starting,” she said. “Ensure that this is a role that you want to pursue before providing this information.”

Highlight relevant experience; prioritize securing a job offer

Ebata told FOX Business that job candidates should display a “relevant experience” section on their resumes to outline professional skills, which “will give recruiters less reason to pause” if time was taken off from work.

“You can always provide additional context to a prospective employer with your LinkedIn profile summary or in an interview,” Ebata said. Pregnant job candidates should focus on their relevant experience when explaining gaps in their resumes, said one career and hiring expert.

For pregnant women in particular, Ebata said that “from a strategy standpoint, it might be best to withhold this information until you have an offer,” especially if your pregnancy is not visible yet.

“Candidates are often surprised to hear that they are under no legal obligation to disclose their pregnancy to a prospective employer — though it’s difficult to imagine how this is helpful for all involved,” Ebata continued.

“Understandably, most women might not feel comfortable telling a potential employer that they’re pregnant during their first trimester because of the risk of pregnancy loss.”

placeholderReframe a career gap to show dedication

“Progressive employers” realize that having a gap in a resume isn’t the end of the world, said Sinclair.

“In fact, I would say the last two years have made employers more understanding of these kinds of gaps in experience,” he told FOX Business. “Caring for loved ones, changing careers, experiencing a layoff or furlough, or simply taking time out of the workforce to prioritize other things are all far more common and accepted responses than in previous years.”

Job candidates who are pregnant can turn a resume gap into a positive story about their dedication. Sinclair noted that job candidates still need to be prepared to explain the gap in their resumes. In some cases, a gap can be reframed as a strength.

“For example, experiencing a layoff or furlough can build resilience; caring for a loved one shows you can prioritize others over yourself, [which is] especially important in managerial roles; and taking time off due to burnout can demonstrate self-awareness,” Sinclair said. “All of these are desirable traits for a potential employer.”

How to know if a prospective employer is the right fit

Figuring out if a potential employer is a good fit with your lifestyle and growing family takes research and careful consideration.

Make a list

Brandstetter told FOX Business that job candidates should make a “must-have” list that they want a future employer to meet.placeholderCandidates can review this list and compare each potential employer to the qualifications they strongly desire.

Pregnant job candidates should make a “must-have” list that indicates desired qualifications for a next employer, one expert told FOX Business.

Check the benefits

Company benefit packages are an important factor that pregnant candidates should review, Ebata said.

“It’s important to consider the maternity leave policies of the companies that you’re interviewing for and the family benefits more generally,” Ebata told FOX Business. “This could be a very overwhelming time for you and your family, so it is important that you are employed by a company or organization that makes you feel comfortable.”

Job candidates who are pregnant can find out if they’re compatible with a potential employer by checking its benefit packages.

Ebata went on to say that pregnant job candidates need to think about which employer “will allow you to champion your career while advocating for the needs of your family.””You get to decide what you’re capable of doing and where your limitations lie,” Ebata continued.

Understand the company’s culture

Getting an idea of a company’s culture will help job candidates determine if an employer is a good fit, said Sinclair.

placeholder“Not every company will be a fit for you — and that’s OK. If an employer appears to cater to every candidate’s needs, it’s a facade,” Sinclair said. “As a candidate, you need to find the employer whose values and priorities align with yours, whether it’s flexibility, compensation, benefits, the opportunity to learn and progress, or stability and job security.”

Pregnant job candidates should research a company and ask interviewers questions to determine a workplace’s culture.

Sinclair noted that job candidates can “uncover” an employer’s “value proposition” and list of “unique traits” during an interview. Making note of these details should help candidates figure out if they’re a good match for the company they’re interviewing with and considering.

Searching for a new job while pregnant (or during period of life) can take time.

Stay optimistic

Remaining optimistic about your job prospects is one of the best things you can do during any career shift, Brandstetter said.

“A job search can be discouraging. There is rejection as well as ‘ghosting’ by employers,” she told FOX Business. “Just keep moving forward in your search, stay positive — and you will find the right opportunity.”

All job candidates should try to keep a positive attitude during their search for a new position.

Don’t be overly critical

Ebata said it’s important to not let “negative emotions get the best” of you during a job search. placeholder

Instead of assuming there are better candidates out there, she recommends thinking of times when you’ve succeeded when the competition was fierce. She also said it’s worth considering other options that may get in the way — such as when internal candidates are given priority.

Pregnant job candidates shouldn’t be hard on themselves if their search for a new role takes a while. (iStock)

“The goal is to find balance in the things you’re thinking about,” Ebata said. “If you feel the worst image taking shape, make yourself think of the best image.”

Have patience

Like most things in life, finding a new job that you’ll be happy with takes time. “Give yourself grace in the process and know that each company and recruiter have a profile in mind when they set out to fill a role,” Sinclair told FOX Business.

“If you end up not being the right fit for what they’re looking for, it doesn’t represent personal failure — it just shows that another candidate was a better fit for that specific position and profile.”

placeholderSinclair noted that job candidates can feel burnout during their search, and in these cases, he recommends taking a break to “recharge and reset.” Pregnant job candidates should make sure to take breaks during their search if they find themselves feeling overwhelmed.

“If we don’t give ourselves that break, we will see diminishing returns from our search efforts,” Sinclair said.

Source: Finding a new job while pregnant: A guide to searching, interviewing and succeeding | Fox Business

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Workers Quit Jobs In Droves To Become Their Own Bosses

The pandemic has unleashed a historic burst in entrepreneurship and self-employment. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are striking out on their own as consultants, retailers and small-business owners.

The move helps explain the ongoing shake-up in the world of work, with more people looking for flexibility, anxious about covid exposure, upset about vaccine mandates or simply disenchanted with pre-pandemic office life. It is also aggravating labor shortages in some industries and adding pressure on companies to revamp their employment policies.

The number of unincorporated self-employed workers has risen by 500,000 since the start of the pandemic, Labor Department data show, to 9.44 million. That is the highest total since the financial-crisis year 2008, except for this summer. The total amounts to an increase of 6% in the self-employed, while the overall U.S. employment total remains nearly 3% lower than before the pandemic.

Entrepreneurs applied for federal tax-identification numbers to register 4.54 million new businesses from January through October this year, up 56% from the same period of 2019, Census Bureau data show. That was the largest number on records that date back to 2004. Two-thirds were for businesses that aren’t expected to hire employees.

This year, the share of U.S. workers who work for a company with at least 1,000 employees has fallen for the first time since 2004, Labor Department data show. Meanwhile, the percentage of U.S. workers who are self-employed has risen to the highest in 11 years. In October, they represented 5.9% of U.S. workers, versus 5.4% in February 2020.

The self-employment increase coincides with complaints by many U.S. companies of difficulties—in some cases extreme—in finding and retaining enough employees. In September, U.S. workers resigned from a record 4.4 million jobs, Labor Department data show.

Kimberly Friddle, 50 years old, quit her job as head of marketing for a regional mortgage company near Dallas in September 2020. Her daughters in the sixth and eighth grade were struggling with attending school virtually, and, months into the pandemic, both were showing signs of anxiety. Although her employer was understanding, she wanted flexibility to provide them help without juggling Zoom meetings and projects.

Ms. Friddle planned to stay home indefinitely with the support of her husband, a pharmaceutical-company executive. But when a friend contacted her the next month, she saw an opportunity.

The friend sold home décor items on Amazon.com from his home in Canada, and Covid-related border restrictions were making it difficult to process returns. When he explained what he needed—primarily, someone to examine returned items for damage and ship them back to Amazon—Ms. Friddle felt the work could be a good challenge and a chance for her older daughter, Samantha, to gain some work experience.

They began processing returns for him steadily. When other Amazon sellers he knew needed help with warehouse-related tasks that were also made harder by the pandemic, he referred them to Ms. Friddle.

Now she runs an Amazon logistics, warehousing and fulfillment business full time from the family’s home outside Houston and rented warehouse space nearby. Her older daughter works with her about 10 hours a week, and Ms. Friddle recently hired an assistant. She hopes to expand her services to Walmart vendors.

In July, the family’s monthly income returned to roughly what it was when she worked in marketing, Ms. Friddle said. Though the decision to leave that job was an emotional one, she said, a change after 27 years has given her new energy and confidence in addition to the flexibility.

“I didn’t have a plan when I left,” she said. “I wasn’t giving enough attention to the needs of my family. I wasn’t giving enough attention to the job that needed to be done. I felt like I was failing everywhere.”

Now, “I feel so successful and I wake up every day like, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen today.’ ”

Through the late 19th century, the majority of Americans worked for themselves, as farmers or artisans. With new technology such as electric lighting, manufacturing expanded, and many people left the field for the factory floor. They landed in an environment of strictly defined work hours and hierarchies—workers overseen by managers overseen by executives.

By the time Covid-19 arrived in the U.S., the advent of apps, websites and companies catering to entrepreneurs and freelancers was already giving employees options.

Then, the pandemic spurred some people to “pause and re-evaluate their priorities,” said Aaron De Smet, a McKinsey & Co. senior partner and consultant on labor trends. “When you have a big event where everybody takes stock, and trends are already in place, people working for an employer never thought of doing freelance but now when [they] think about it, why not?”

Marcus Grimm, a 50-year-old in Lancaster, Pa., worked at advertising agencies from the time he finished college. For years, he toyed with freelancing. “I had always considered it, but literally just never had the guts to make the move,” he said. “I was scared I would lose sleep every night worrying about my next dollar.”

Early in the pandemic, Mr. Grimm, a married father of two grown children, was laid off. He logged onto Upwork, a website that connects freelance workers from a wide range of industries with potential clients. He fielded several assignments doing ad campaigns for big companies, charging a low hourly rate.

Business flowed in. He has steadily raised his rate, to $150 an hour. Mr. Grimm said he now earns more than in his old job, which paid $130,000 a year.

His favorite part is not having to deal with corporate politics or any bureaucracy. He can go kayaking in the middle of the day.

“I’m the one who finds the client, I’m the one who does the work, and I’m the one who deals with any of the problems that come up,” he said.

One client offered to hire him full-time, but he declined, Mr. Grimm said. “I told them, ‘I’ve seen the light.’”

Etsy Inc., an online marketplace for individuals to buy and sell items, says it had 7.5 million active sellers as of Sept. 30—up 2.6 million from that time in 2019. Eight in 10 are women. Its surveys indicate more than 4 in 10 of the new sellers started their businesses for reasons related to the pandemic, including for some the need to stay home to care for family members.

On a recent investor call, Upwork Inc. Chief Executive Hayden Brown, citing a September 2020 survey, said: “A new type of career path has emerged, with half of the Gen Z [age 18 to 22] talent pool actually choosing to start their careers in freelance rather than full-time employment.”

Based on a summer 2021 survey, Upwork concluded that 20% of people working remotely during the pandemic were considering leaving their jobs for freelance work.

At LinkedIn, the number of members who indicate they are self-employed by listing services from a field called “Open to Business” has quadrupled since the pandemic began, to 2.2 million, the company said. Nearly half of the new entrepreneurs have a college degree and nearly 4 in 10 a postgraduate degree.

Enterprises founded by women have grown by 27% and male-founded ones by 17% since the pandemic started, according to a LinkedIn analysis of user profiles. Meanwhile, Labor Department data show that in the two years through July, the number of self-employed female workers actively at work has grown 4.3%, while the number of self-employed male workers is down 1%, according to a Pew Research analysis.

Limited child-care or commuting options have helped spur some of the moves.

Matt Parrish of Raleigh, N.C., worked for a company that built retaining walls since graduating from the University of Florida roughly a decade ago. An engineer who managed projects, Mr. Parrish, 31, grew tired of dealing with the bureaucracy, such as when he wanted to hire someone.

“I enjoyed the work I was doing, but I definitely felt like I was getting more and more pigeonholed because it was such a large company,” he said.

He also wanted a schedule allowing more time with his newborn daughter. His employer provided just two weeks of paid parental leave, he said.

Mr. Parrish resigned in August and went into business as a consultant to homeowners and commercial-building owners on building retaining walls for construction projects. Being able to work from home and care for his daughter throughout the day was a primary reason, he said.

Instagram, YouTube and TikTok have provided new avenues to raise cash for aspiring entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, Robinhood Markets Inc. and cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin have spurred a new generation of traders, some so successful they have quit their jobs to trade.

Josh Dorgan, who is 32, started trading cryptocurrencies in 2017 with a straightforward goal: to pay off the mortgage on a house he and his wife had bought in Omaha, Neb., as fast as possible.

Mr. Dorgan continued working as a pediatric nurse while trading litecoin, ether and XRP. His trading, plus advisory roles he took on with crypto companies, started taking more time, hard to balance with his job managing the dialysis unit at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha.

When he told his wife, also a nurse, he wanted to quit and focus just on investing, she insisted they talk to a financial adviser first. With a professional’s signoff, he quit the hospital job in August 2020. He said his trading profits the following week equaled his previous full-year salary.

He tries to confine his work—including advising digital-currency firms and creating content for his nearly 200,000 Twitter followers—to between 8:30 a.m. and noon, leaving time to spend with his 10-month-old son, golfing and visiting a lake house he and his wife bought recently.

“You don’t just get into the markets and make money out of thin air,” said Mr. Dorgan. Yet even in volatile trading conditions, he said, he feels far less pressure than when he was juggling investing with a full-time job: “When I’m at a red light, I don’t feel like I’m rushed to get home anymore.”

Share Your Thoughts

Are you tempted to quit your job and start your own business? Join the conversation below.

Part of the current shift to self-employment might prove temporary. The boom in self-employed day traders during the dot-com hoopla of the late 1990s deflated along with the stock bubble.

A sharp rise in savings—boosted by a federal supplement to unemployment benefits, most recently $300 a week, that was paid for as long as 18 months of the pandemic—provides some individuals a financial cushion to pursue self-employment. As they run down those savings, some might again want a regular paycheck, economists say.

In addition, if labor shortages ease, freelancers could face stiffer competition from companies in landing clients. Finally, if the pandemic recedes, so might one piece of the impetus to leave regular work in favor of self-employment. Five percent of unvaccinated adults say they left a job because of a vaccine requirement they opposed, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey in October.

Robert Spencer, 55, repaired bridges for Washington state’s government for nearly a decade as a welder and fabricator. Mr. Spencer, who had a bout of Covid-19 early in the pandemic, left the job in October because he wasn’t willing to comply with a vaccine mandate for state employees.

As his end-date approached, Mr. Spencer, who had worked for himself before joining the state, began buying supplies to run his own fencing business and lining up residential projects.

His wife now handles billing and accounts payable and receivable. He says the two will need to make financial adjustments in anticipation of a winter slowdown in home improvement.

If the state should change its rules and let everybody come back, “then obviously I would, because of the benefits,” Mr. Spencer said. “But until then—I’m not counting on it—I plan on doing what I’m doing now. I enjoy it.”

By: Josh Mitchell & Kathryn Dill

Source: Workers Quit Jobs in Droves to Become Their Own Bosses – WSJ

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Teens Moms Say the Pandemic Has Made School a Huge Challenge

Like thousands of high schoolers around the country, 17-year-old Olivia Gehling graduated from high school after almost a year of remote learning. But she also finished her senior year while taking care of her now 18-month-old daughter, Lovelyn.

Olivia plans to attend real estate–license school in-person this fall to obtain her Realtor’s license, something she had been wanting to do even before her pregnancy. Going back to school in-person presents a different set of challenges for teen moms than what other students are facing. For Olivia, Lovelyn is a critical part of her decision-making process, specifically because of childcare. Once classes get started, she will be in school from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Her boyfriend and Lovelyn’s father, Cole Burge, will also be in Realtor school with her, meaning the teen parents will have to figure out their childcare plans for their daughter.

“To be honest, I don’t have a set plan. I know I won’t send her to day care because it’s just so expensive here in Ames, [Iowa], and the wait lists are insane. But I think my mom, my grandma, and maybe Cole’s mom—whoever can help will totally help us,” Olivia tells Teen Vogue.

In Queen Creek, Arizona, Angelise Torres, an 18-year-old mom, has the same concerns. Angelise graduated in her high school’s class of 2021 when her daughter Aria was five months old, and has since applied to college, hoping to study pediatric nursing or dermatology. Like Olivia, Angelise isn’t planning on sending Aria to day care. “Different family members will probably be watching her; maybe my little sister—I don’t know. When she’s old enough for preschool, she’ll be in preschool,” says Angelise.

According to Nicole Lynn Lewis, founder of Generation Hope, childcare is a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lewis founded Generation Hope in 2010 with the goal of helping more teen parents get a college education. She says that this past year, around 30% of teen parents in the Generation Hope program have been without childcare.

“Sometimes you make the assumption that, hey, online courses means you don’t need childcare. But it’s very hard to concentrate when you have a little one at home,” says Lewis. “They’ve had to be really creative in how [they can] still work and go to school when [they] don’t have childcare in place, whether it’s, ‘I’m bouncing my baby while I’m trying to engage in class’ or ‘I’m going to study all night long while my baby sleeps.’”

Lewis stresses that childcare isn’t the only factor in teen moms’ decisions about returning to in-person school. Many are providing for their family, despite being in school full-time.

While Olivia was pregnant, she worked as a lifeguard to make sure that she was able to financially provide for her future daughter. Currently she works four jobs, which she plans to continue into the fall. She runs a photography and videography business, cleans houses, manages her TikTok and Instagram accounts, and is starting a luxury picnic business. Despite her busy schedule, Olivia remains firm in her decision to go to school in-person next fall.

“I thought it would be difficult to kind of do it online with all these jobs, and then being a mom on top of it. It’s superhard to get anything done when she’s awake, because she just gets into everything. I think it would just be really hard to even focus,” says Olivia.

Angelise agrees. When the pandemic hit in her senior year, her high school went completely virtual, and she was taking four classes online. “It was really hard to study with Aria, because she plays with my paper—she’ll crumble it, she’ll cry when I’m not with her, just stuff like that. By the end of the year, I was doing extra work to catch up and make sure I was ready to graduate,” she says. Because of her experiences with online school, she plans on attending college in a hybrid model, going both in-person and online.

Maddie Lambert, an 18-year-old mom, has opted to get her General Educational Development (GED), or high school equivalency diploma, rather than trying to complete a traditional high school education. Maddie got pregnant with Evelyn in her freshman year and decided to get her GED to devote more time to her daughter. She planned to take the GED test last year, but because of the closure of most in-person test sites, her plans were temporarily pushed back. “The virtual testing just doesn’t really work for me, because since I am a mom, it’s really hard to find that time away to take the test,” says Maddie.

In the fall, Maddie hopes to get her GED and go to college, studying the sciences. But she’s concerned about staying away from her daughter for long periods of time.

“I definitely don’t want to start any in-person education for myself until my daughter is in school,” says Maddie. “When she turns four or five, I plan on putting her in a Montessori program. When she’s there, I’m hoping I’ll be able to do my school so that I don’t have to spend any more time away from her than I already would be.”Lewis says that, ultimately, change has to start from the core of school culture.

“If you are pregnant or if you have a child, you’re often made to feel that [school] is not a safe space for you. And it’s really, really hard to be successful in a space when you don’t feel welcome. We need a culture that’s really embracing of all students, no matter what their experiences are,” she says.

Source: Teens Moms Say the Pandemic Has Made School a Huge Challenge | Teen Vogue

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The Pandemic Led Many Women To Rethink Work. Here’s What They Want Most From Employers

No one had it easy during the pandemic, but the data shows that women may have had a harder time than men. At the end of 2020, women held 5.4 million fewer jobs than they had in February 2020, before the pandemic began. Meanwhile, men lost 4.4 million jobs over that same time period.

While working-age women overall have largely recovered since the depths of the pandemic, mothers have repaired their losses more slowly.  As of July 2021, nearly 1 million fewer mothers were actively working than in July 2020, according to Misty Heggeness, principal economist and senior adviser at the Census Bureau.

There are things employers can do to help. In a panel discussion on Tuesday hosted by the Independent Women’s Forum, a national organization dedicated to developing and advancing policies for women, experts discussed what employers can do to keep their female employees, especially those with children, on the payroll. Here are three things women say they want:

1. Accessible child care.

Many of the current struggles women face derive from finding adequate and affordable child care, said Angela Rachidi, senior fellow and Rowe Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that researches government, politics, economics, and social welfare.

She noted that many employer policies don’t completely meet a family’s needs, such as providing access to a convenient childcare provider. It’s also not particular to the pandemic, she noted that workplaces should be focusing on policies that offer more flexible, more affordable options, as opposed to just blanket childcare subsidies.

“I think that that’s where our focus should be,” said Rachidi. “It should be not only our government policies, but again, our workplace policies to make child care better, and meet the needs of families.”

2. Workplace flexibility.

Flexibility is vital to all working parents–not just mothers–but mothers are often quicker to express a desire to have the flexibility to work a reduced schedule, if need be, said Rachel Greszler, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington D.C. So if the goal is to keep working parents on the payroll–or get them back–allow them time off during the day if needed, or the ability to structure their own hours.

If you’ve offered more flexibility during the pandemic, think about maintaining those policies or asking employees their thoughts on new schedules. “The pandemic has allowed employers to see that they’re able to have these policies. And not only the paid family leave, but the remote work and the flexibility. And I think just will become a silver lining coming out of all of this,” said Greszler.

3. Paid-time off.

Paid-time off is useful for parents, who need the time to care for an infant or an ill loved one. President Biden’s American Families Plan includes $225 billion to create a paid medical and family leave program. The program would eventually guarantee 12 weeks of paid leave, and providing a federal subsidy for workers of up to $4,000 per month. The Department of Labor found that 95 percent of the lowest-wage workers, mostly women and workers of color, lack any access to paid family leave, so the program is needed.

But to keep women in the workforce long term, you should offer both paid leave and increased flexibility, said Greszler, because paid family leave, while necessary may have a lower utility for women on a day-to-day basis than, say, malleable hours.

“I don’t think [a lack of] paid family leave is is holding women back,” said Greszler. “Women increasingly value flexibility far more than family leave.”

Even so, both policies can be done and the balance of the two may also help employees be more productive. In 2019, for example the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation decided its generous 52-week paid parental leave policy was not working because too many workers would be out at the same time, creating more disruption that it was worth. Instead, the organization decided to offer half as much paid leave and a $20,000 stipend to new parents to help cover expenses and childcare.

Source: The Pandemic Led Many Women to Rethink Work. Here’s What They Want Most From Employers | Inc.com

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Women in informal employment as share of female employment

What percentage of the US public approves of working wives

Vocational and business training to improve women’s labour market outcomes

The Impact of Contraceptive Freedom on Women’s Life Cycle Labor Supply

Women and Men at Work

Finally, a book that talks about gender-neutral workplace

An Analysis of Unreported Family Workers

Do Women’s and Men’s Labor Market Outcomes Differentially Affect Real Wage Growth and Inflation

Women’s Safety and Health Issues at Work

 

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