Mary Noonan

“She made me feel like I was important and had something interesting to study.”
Mary Noonan
Mary Noonan

Mary Noonan always liked math, but she also cared deeply about issues of gender inequality. After graduating from Boston College with a BA in mathematics, she took some time away from school to work at a consulting firm in Boston. Through connections she made at work, Mary became interested in a career in public policy, and she applied to the University of Michigan for its Master of Public Policy program.

Mary’s advisor at the School of Public Policy, Mary Corcoran, introduced her to the Center for the Education of Women as a possible source of funding. Mary intended to study the effectiveness of work-family balancing methods in women’s lives. Soon after talking with Corcoran, Mary visited CEW and introduced herself to then-director Carol Hollenshead. “She made me feel like I was important and had something interesting to study.” Carol encouraged her to pursue her interest in quantitative research on women’s issues.

Mary values the intellectual support she received from CEW, as well as the financial support from her Helen Huff Scholarship. She has since gone on to explore a number of issues related to women and work. Mary notices a common gap between supposedly family-friendly work policies, such as telecommuting and flex-time, and the ability of women to use them and benefit from them. “Almost every research paper I read ends on some work-family conflict, ends with this paragraph saying, ‘We need more family-friendly policies.’ But it seems as though, when you actually take [these policies], you get hit for it in terms of promotions and earnings.” Telecommuting, for example, is touted as a flexible way for mothers of young children to work from home, but it is most often used as a supplement to work rather than a substitute, and workers use it during overtime hours rather than as an integral part of their work week. Mary hopes that her research will help organizations and employers bridge these gaps and train their managers and colleagues more effectively, ultimately allowing women to benefit from work-family policies in the way that they are intended to be used.