WHO SHE IS: Kelly Phillips Erb, Tax Attorney and Tax Writer
LOCATION: Southeastern PA
SUCCESS STORY: Turned an obscure niche-y tax blog that I was fairly sure that only my father was reading into a popular, award-winning feature on Forbes.com
WORK SCHEDULE: The word schedule sounds so organized… I have organized chaos all day long. I get up early to check email and headlines and put out any fires. I generally head to the office after the kids are in school and I leave in time to be at home when the school bus arrives. The rest gets done when the kids are in bed –
KIDS: Kate (11), Amy (9) and Charlie (7)
SANITY VICE: Ridiculous amounts of coffee
BEST TIME-MANAGEMENT TIP: I do as much as I can at night – including organizing lunches and school notes for the next day. Once the kids are up, all bets are off –
GO-TO TECH: My smartphone
WORK-LIFE BALANCE? (1-10) 10 being perfect? Wait, there’s such a thing as perfect?
5 Questions for Kelly
1. Tell us how you became @TaxGirl with a big following on Forbes.
I started writing my tax blog as a way of explaining tax issues to prospective clients. I was pretty sure that when I started, I had one reader: my dad (he still reads to this day). As time passed, I started attracting more readers. It was particularly flattering to be singled out by the American Bar Association as one of the 100 best blogs written by lawyers.
I’ve never shied away from controversy and in 2010, I wrote a post highly critical of what I considered to be Pennsylvania’s overly aggressive push against “tax scofflaws.” Forbes editor Janet Novack saw the piece and asked if I would allow Forbes to post the article because it offered a different perspective on tax delinquency. Of course I said yes. I didn’t stop to think about what it meant or whether it would turn into something else.
In 2011, Janet asked if I wanted to come over to Forbes as a contributor. That time I did hesitate because I was writing pieces for WalletPop, AOL’s personal finance site (now Daily Finance with HuffPo); AOL was in transition and I thought it was only fair to them that I wait until things settled. I did and eventually moved over to Forbes. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to do a number of projects as a result of my affiliation with Forbes.com, including appearing in the magazine a few times (the 2013 investment guide has my name on the front – just two lines below Warren Buffett’s), doing film and radio, and the chance to write two books with Forbes. I’ve said it before: I can’t overstate the importance of saying “yes” to opportunities.
2. Last year you wrote a piece for Forbes questioning if the rise in the number of working moms was really a good thing. You were addressing this from an income and tax perspective, but isn’t it?
I certainly think so. There are real advantages to an increase in the number of working moms. In my Forbes piece, I cited a study from Pew that found that two-thirds of working moms say it has made it easier for families to live comfortably. So economically, it makes sense. I also said in that piece that I think being a working mom offers kids – especially girls – an opportunity to see how important it is to do what you love for a living: I won’t insist on a particular lifestyle for my kids but I do want them to understand the possibilities.
Working moms offer not only a different perspective but valuable skill sets, including the ability to organize, prioritize and multi-task. As an employer, you show me someone who can shuffle kids to sports practices and schools, handle emergency situations, run a household and still be “on” at work and I would argue that’s the exactly kind of employee you’d want to have.
3. I love the message you send in the piece about loving your job and wanting your children to see this, too. Why don’t we see more articles about this?!
It’s not sensational enough. As a writer, I know we love a good headline. We love to portray successful women as heartless and only driven by the promise of success – the whole “Lean In” controversy. And we love to assume that women who stay home are sell-outs who don’t support the rights of women. The notion of “Mommy Wars” and internal conflict draws more eyeballs than the notion that as women and mothers, we’re somehow doing okay and that we’re all in this together.
4. What did you think about the president talking about equal pay in his State of the Union address?
I like to see those kind of inequalities noted publicly because I think it’s important for society to acknowledge and understand those differences. But realistically, I don’t think that pay is the biggest issue for women in the workplace. It’s a lack of equal opportunity – and that can often directly be linked to motherhood. I was asked early on at job interviews if and when I was getting married and having kids (that’s not illegal contrary to popular opinion). My husband, who was interviewed at some of the same firms, was never asked those questions.
How does that translate in the workplace? In my field, for example, women make up more than 50% of all graduates from law schools yet represent only 4% of partnership at the 200 largest law firms in the country. They make up just under 25% of the federal judiciary and over 20% of counsel on Fortune 500 companies. Those statistics aren’t from 1963. They are from 2013.
You see similar numbers in other professions. Women are making strides in their professions but as a whole, we’re still not being offering the same opportunities as our male counterparts. If the opportunity issues were moot, I believe the pay issues would self-resolve.
5. What do you tell moms who are thinking of not working because the childcare costs virtually wipe out their income?
It’s a real concern. The cost of childcare can be overwhelming. In some metropolitan areas, the cost of full time daycare can hit nearly $2,000 per month per child. Nationwide, the average cost of full time daycare runs over $10,000 per year per child. When you start to look at those costs – plus how much the commute and other extras eats into your pay, it does give many parents pause.
I think that’s when you have to think about why you work. If you’re only working for the money, then it’s a purely financial decision. And maybe those numbers don’t add up.
If you’re working for other reasons, you have to weigh whether what you’re doing makes sense in terms of your goals and your dollars. It could be a matter of finding ways to cut costs (flex hours, co-ops, working from home) which allow you to stay on your anticipated career track and still pay the bills.
5+. What’s the media missing about working moms, in your opinion?
The kids. That’s the funny part, isn’t it? We spend so much time picking apart working moms that we lose sight of what it means for children. In the south, we joke that “When Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” There’s so much truth to that. It can be really healthy and inspiring to have success in your career – however you define success – and that can make for happier, healthier kids.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I don’t think that being a working mom is always terrific or easy. I missed my daughter’s dance recital when I was away at a conference. I saw a colleague get a job that I wanted because she was willing to put in extra time that I couldn’t spare. There are some terrible lows and some real crappy moments. And that’s what the media wants to focus on.
But most of the time, kids are blissfully unaware of all of the behind the scene stuff. They’re spending their time and energy turning into these wonderful little people. That’s pretty amazing, right? As working moms, we’re raising the next generation of lawyers, doctors, engineers, writers, dreamers and entrepreneurs. Why aren’t we talking about that?
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