Mommy Track: Origin of the Phrase.

Eighteen years ago, a self-described feminist and president of a non-profit group which advocated for women in corporate America, wrote a piece for the Harvard Business Review that would turn her world upside-down. In her article Felice N. Schwartz told elite business readers that if they wanted to stop losing talented and bright female employees in whom they'd invested time and money, they needed to start creating a more family-friendly workplace, one which provided mothers (and fathers) with options. She suggested that employees could be put themselves into two groups: One in which the focus is on career above all, and the second in which the focus is on combining career AND family.

Radical, huh? Proposing that employees deliberately make choices, seeking to strike either a work-life balance or a career-centric path? Urging employers to provide parents with the opportunity to temporarily scale back their work responsibilities when their children are small? In 1989, it was. And even though the phrase "mommy track" -- and, to a degree, the lesser-used "daddy track" - is used frequently now as more companies are expanding their flex-time and telecommuting options, the idea of a parent track is still controversial. Not much seems to have changed on that front.

But when Schwartz offered what she saw as pragmatic proposals to American business leaders, she unwittingly created a social maelstrom.

Weeks after Schwartz's article made its way through the business world, the New York Times not only ran an article about it, but coined a new phrase: The mommy track. (Schwartz herself didn't use the phrase in her piece.)  Critics -- jumping on the media's characterization of Schwartz's article -- labeled Schwartz an anti-feminist, attacked her for suggesting that women be put into categories and not men, suggested she was advocating sex discrimination in hiring, and chastised her for saying that it costs more money to hire women (when in fact Schwartz said the costs of hiring women were higher because of high turnover when mothers left because work conditions were inflexible).

Syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman described the ensuing controversy in a March 1989 column: "Depending on your point of view, the mommy track is either: (1) A dream job that allows women the flexibility to do work they enjoy while still having time for school plays and deep breathing. (2) A ghettoized second-class job that fits what the employment pages call Mother's Hours."

That same month, Schwartz tried to defend herself, telling the Boston Globe, "I don't believe in a mommy track or a daddy track. But I think there should be a serious alternative for men as well as women who want to take time out or to stay at lower levels."