March 11, 2013 at 2:41 pm #177133
It is here! D-Day…or perhaps W-Day (Women’s Day). You may have heard the hype about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” that was released today. Sandberg’s book has both sides (feminist and non-feminist) buzzing.
I’ve got to admit, when I heard about the book, I was a bit of a skeptic. From what I had been hearing in the media, Sandberg was making an argument that the only barrier to women’s success was their own “internal barriers”. After an initial read, I can say that this is not the case, and many of the arguments that Sandberg makes are true. Sandberg does call out women’s own internal battles, but the ultimate argument that she makes is that if we had more women in positions of power, we would have more understanding in the workplace and opportunity for advancement. This is evidenced in the introduction of her book when she talks about walking into the office at Google one day and declaring the need for maternity parking. Sandberg, herself, admits that she had never thought about the need until she experienced the swollen feet of pregnancy for herself. She goes on to make several more very valid observations. As I read on, I thought about my own experiences, and I doubt that I’m alone.
My Own Experience
About a week ago when I heard that Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, was pulling back on telework I rolled my eyes, emitted a heavy sigh, and mumbled “oh here we go”. My fears were confirmed when I heard from a friend, a new mother, that the dreaded “Yahoo reference” was brought up in recent budgeting meetings at her workplace. The argument to eliminate telework, and even limit the workplace flexibility, was being made by gasp…a fellow woman. Strangely enough, my friend’s workplace was one that had positions mostly filled by women (though most were older and not in the prime child bearing years). Yet, I listened as my friend expressed her fears to me. What would she do with a new baby at home? Faced with having to commute five days a week, daycare, and the reality that flexibility was about to be taken away my friend began to weigh her options to stay or go.
I sympathized with my friend. As a single mother, this is something that I struggled with every day. As I thought about it, I admittedly have made career decisions over the past 7 years (since I’ve had my son), that were based primarily on…well…being a mother first.
I had a great job that I loved, but after a year of being away from my son in order to take the position, I chose to telework 100% of the time so that I could be at home with my son. This was as much a financial decision for me as it was a personal decision. It resulted in what Sandberg refers to as “the chicken and the egg problem”. I wanted more responsibility at work. This was the only way to make more money that I desperately needed to pay my student loans and support my family. However, I couldn’t afford a full time nanny on the salary I was being paid, and I didn’t have a husband at home to share the responsibility of raising a child or helping with the bills, so I chose to telework. Removing myself from the office full time, in order to raise my child and eliminate the cost of childcare, eventually resulted in me leaving the company. Not being present made the company reluctant to promote me and thus the vicious cycle of wanting responsibility for money, yet not being present to earn the trust of the company for such responsibility continued. Which brings me back to the point that Sandberg makes, “[i]ntegrating professional and personal aspirations proves to be far more challenging than we could have imagined. During the same years that our careers demand maximum time investment, our biology demands that we have children. Our partners do not share the housework and child rearing, so we find ourselves with two full-time jobs. The workplaces have not evolved to give us the flexibility we need to fulfill our responsibilities at home. We anticipated none of this. We are caught by surprise”.
When I left this aforementioned company, I chose to “lean in” again. I leaned in harder than I have ever leaned in before. I had tried teleworking and that didn’t work, so I believed that I needed to swing the pendulum in the other direction. Sure I had finished a Masters degree after having my son, I had traveled the world, I had launched a successful international project, but it didn’t seem to be enough. This time I took a job on the other side of the country where I managed $1.7 billion dollars of spend, progress, and health and safety data for a large EPC firm. I put on my hard hat and steel toed boots. I was one of only two women in the entire office and was working in a male dominated industry. I worked seventy plus hours a week and I left my son back on the other side of the country with his grandmother. Every day I came to work and sat in front of male executives who made it very clear to me that my education and past accomplishments meant nothing. I was automatically dubbed as “not capable” simply because I was a woman. I was there to fill a diversity statistic, not because anybody believed that I was fully capable of contributing to the work that was being done. These were not just my thoughts…these were stark realities that were communicated to me as soon as I was hired. I spent every day trying to not only do my job, but fighting against every senior executive who tried to make me their glorified administrative assistant. Numerous times I was asked to operate the copy machine, take meeting notes, or fetch water while I was in the midst of analyzing millions of dollars, meeting deadlines, and preparing numerous reports. Sure, the money was great, but I was miserable.
I was kept up at night wondering if I had made the right decision. My work felt meaningless and I missed my son. Fortunately and unfortunately, I wouldn’t have to make the decision to stay or go. A few weeks after joining the company, our entire division was laid off. I returned to the East Coast, a bit of a wounded warrior and reflected on the past few months. Now what?
Do I search for a job with more flexibility or more money? Does it have to be a choice? I believe in most situations today, it does. As Sandberg argues “the vast majority of women are struggling to make ends meet and take care of their families”. Sandberg also argues that if you’re lucky enough to marry, it is perhaps the biggest career decision of your life. If you chose to marry and you want both a career and a family, then it is best to choose a partner who will truly be a partner. However, if you’re not married, and happen to already have children, you may be faced with this same perplexing question.
Which brings me to the next interesting point that Sandberg makes, and one that I am very guilty of. Sandberg says of women, “we continue to compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet”. How many other women have done this or are doing this? I know I have. Being in my er uh…late 20’s… I have recently been making arguments in my head around this central idea. I was recently offered a one year contract in Korea. It is my dream job. It is exactly what I went to school for and it certainly provides enough compensation for me to take my son with me and afford the best international schools. But I started thinking…do I want to go now…if I go now will I ever get married…if I get married and I’m working in a job like this, how will I have time for another child…and on and on and on. When I read this statement by Sandberg, I was convinced that she does understand. She is a high paid executive who has worked hard, had a bit of luck, and who has become very successful; but this doesn’t mean that she is any different than other women who has had these thoughts every single day when making career/ family decisions.
The End Solution
The only clear solution to this issue is to attack the problem from both sides. Women need to “lean in”, but we must be met equally by our companies and our male counterparts. We not only need to remove our internal barriers, that produce that reluctance to take the job that requires more attention than our family; but companies need to understand the need for occasionally flexibility as well. If a woman needs a few weeks of maternity leave to physically recover or a day of telework to take care of a sick child, then she should be able to take it without fear of being viewed as weak. I can speak from experience and tell you that having worked in both extremes neither is ideal. There has to be a balance and an understanding from both sides. Sandberg gets it. She is the 21st century working woman and she has hit the nail on the head with this book.
March 11, 2013 at 4:20 pm #177175
Dale M. PosthumusParticipant
Although I will agree that this is a bigger problem for women, it may help to move toward solutions if we look at this as an issue for both women and men. First of all, we must accept that this is about compromises. Over my career, I have also been concerned about the time I was able to spend with our son as he grew. Do I work my dream job or spend more time with my family? Do I look for more money or more time? How many kids grew up with a father who worked so hard, he was barely home? These are the exact same questions as posed, apparently (I have not read the book), here. Maybe we should be partners in developing solutions.
March 11, 2013 at 7:18 pm #177173
Dale – I agree and I believe that is what Sandberg argues as well. This is not a you or I problem…this is an us problem. I’ve talked to many men who experience the same anguish over deciding between work and family. I imagine, to some extent it is just as difficult for men to choose family, as it is for women to chose work (in terms of how society perceives you).
I’ve met plenty of grown men who grew up in families where the father was barely there because of work. The long term affects vary, but are usually negative to some degree. We (both men and women) face the same problems. The one real difference that Sandberg calls out, is that women tend to be more willing to plan their future husbands, children, etc. around their career, than men are. When is the last time you met a mid-20 something male who talked about picking his next career move based on the fact that he wanted to have time to date and meet the love of his life, or have enough paid maternity time to recover after having a new baby? Probably not recently. This is definitely one of those “internal barriers” in women that Sandberg references. Unfortunately, these are real questions that have to be asked by someone. The real question is, why are we all (the company, the women, and the men) not asking these questions together? Obviously the outcomes will affect all of us in some way or another.
March 11, 2013 at 7:23 pm #177171
Part of Sandberg’s interview that really resonated with me from my family and work experience was that women are way less likely to ask for a raise / ask for that big assignment / feel they are ready for that promotion than equally qualified man in same situation. That humility has long-term consequences.
Also the quote about how as a child a young women who is a leader is often called “bossy” – my wife said while watching the interview on 60 minutes – I was always called bossy (vs a positive word like leader)
March 11, 2013 at 7:44 pm #177169
A lovely piece. Thank you.
In repayment, I will recommend taking a look at the work of the late Rhona Rapoport and Lotte Bailyn, such as this book – http://www.amazon.ca/Beyond-Work-Family-Balance-Advancing-Performance/dp/0787957305 – or this one – http://books.google.ca/books/about/Relinking_Life_and_Work.html?id=NFMrpZxoqFEC
One of the more interesting points they make might be described as a “semiotic” analysis. They argue (quite persuasively, in my view) for looking at work-family conflicts and gender equity in the workplace in terms of the signs and omens of “commitment” and “competence” within the culture of the organization. One of the arguments they make is that a great many of the tacit indicators of those two important employee qualities are couched within a post-war traditional male role, making it difficult for women to display the sorts of behaviours that lead them to become perceived as “a team player” and “dedicated star” in a great many cases.
One of the other points they make equally persuasively is that many of these signs and omens may actually be nothing of the sort, and that organizations would do themselves a big favour by re-examining and re-evaluating those behaviours felt/perceived to be signs of commitment and/or competence. I apologize for having mentioned it in past, and mentioning it again here, but the poster child for this is the episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza has to leave his car overnight at work, and becomes perceived as a hard worker because he was (presumably) the last person to leave, and the first person to arrive at work in the morning. Not quite the signifier of commitment that people thought it was.
Finally, as I always hasten to remind folks, “life” is not an imposition on the workplace. Rather, work is to be mapped onto a life, already in progress. Work and business and government can be fascinating and eminently useful things, but they serve people, not the other way around. I think many gender inequity issues emerge out of forgetting that aspect.
March 11, 2013 at 7:56 pm #177167
Dale M. PosthumusParticipant
I think part of the problem of moving towards solutions is the complexity, one size does not fit all. If you work in reatil service or on the manufacturing line or in construction, for example, you can not work remotely. If you work in international trade, you travel long distances and for long periods of time. Finding alternatives for these workers appears, to me, to be more complicated than many types of office-based work that are more condusive to at least some telecommuting.
One criticism I read about Sandeberg’s book is that she is high-placed, wealthy, with many alterntives to which few women have access. Again, not having read her book, I would contend that such criticism is misplaced. She can not have all of the answers. What she is saying will work for some, but not for all. It would be better to take her book as a jumping-off point, hopefully, to get us to talk more about life-work balances. But, we must also be prepared to accept that “you can’t have it all”. Compromise is required. You must choose what is more valuable to you.
March 12, 2013 at 12:47 pm #177165
Nice reflection, Candace.
Your situation is different, but I’d take issue with this statement:
“Our partners do not share the housework and child rearing, so we find ourselves with two full-time jobs.”
At least for my peer group, I know that every guy – to a man – pretty much splits the housework and spends a lot of time with the kids, often intentionally striving to relieve their wife.
That being said, it is true that the woman still take the lion’s share. If there were a set of scales, they’d definitely tip toward the woman doing more of the house and kid care than the guy – so I’ll grant that. I do think, however, that we need to be careful about painting guys as irresponsible, in general, and not contributing to the home unit.
March 12, 2013 at 12:49 pm #177163
“…“life” is not an imposition on the workplace. Rather, work is to be mapped onto a life, already in progress. Work and business and government can be fascinating and eminently useful things, but they serve people, not the other way around. I think many gender inequity issues emerge out of forgetting that aspect.”
March 12, 2013 at 2:00 pm #177161
The truth about being called bossy is very true. I actually just heard that from a man in the workplace about a woman on his team.
I believe it comes from both sides though for a woman. Men tend to view a woman in power as “bossy” etc….and perhaps out of jealousy or other reasons…women also judge other women in positions of leadership and may view them as bossy, mean, undeserving, scandalous…you name it. It is as much as how women think about themselves and view other women as it is how the opposite sex views women. This is why I think Sandberg hits it on the head.A word I’ve always heard is “selfish”. It is “selfish” for a woman to pursue her career and put the family on the back burner etc….but you more than likely wouldn’t hear the same said about a man who is pursuing his career first.
March 12, 2013 at 2:06 pm #177159
Andrew – That was not my statement. That was directly out of Sandbergs book. I don’t repeat it to paint all men in that light, but it does circle back to another point that Sandberg makes in her book….who a woman chooses to marry is the biggest career decision she will ever make. If you don’t have that partner, it makes chasing big career dreams much more difficult.
March 12, 2013 at 2:57 pm #177157
March 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm #177155
Phyllis Laura IsaacsParticipant
Actually, it’s the other “B Word” that I have most often heard unfairly applied to assertive women in the workplace.
March 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm #177153
I have a question about the logic of teleworking in order to spend more time with a new baby, avoid daycare or nanny costs, etc. I work (in an office at a state government agency) and am the mother of a 3-year old child (who is in daycare). If I were teleworking from home with my child at home, there is NO WAY I would be able to be productive unless there were another caregiver at home, and even then I think my child would be constantly interrupting me for attention. Plus, it doesn’t seem right for the child, as a young child needs frequent interaction even if he/she is better at playing independently. And when I was at home with my new baby until she was 4 months old, I would not have had time or energy for work; I was tired all the time from the unavoidably irregular sleep schedule, getting up during the night, and trying to keep up with housework, laundry etc. In fact, my agency’s telework policy stipulates that if an employee works from home with a child in the house, the employee cannot be the sole caregiver present – and I think this is a very sensible policy.
My other comment is about the notion that female bosses are more understanding and empathetic of the difficulties of balancing being a mother and being a professional. In my experience, female bosses with children are sometimes the least empathetic if you’re having difficulty making the balance work, and the solutions that worked for them and their children don’t work for you and your children.
March 13, 2013 at 4:17 pm #177151
Wonderful discussion. +1
I see that the people that rise in most organizations tend to be
- single or
- childless/empty-nesters or
- people with a spouse willing to have separate lives
The fact is that business/government rewards those who are willing to spend all their time for the organization, to the expense of everything else. Great for the organization, bad for the person.
It’s an interesting dynamic. In my agency, we regulation hunting and fishing, and claim to value employees with a strong interest in outdoor activities. Then we keep them so busy that they don’t have time to do those things anymore. So the agency is keeping the employee from doing the very thing that helps make them a valuable employee.
Perhaps this is the logical outgrowth of the change from “personnel” to “human resources”. How soon before we are simply “meatware”?
March 13, 2013 at 5:25 pm #177149
A former classmate, now a prof at Penn State, once conducted a study of dads of working moms and found that “sensitive new-age guys” contributed something like 15 additional minutes per week towards household labour, relative to more traditional types. I suppose that’s not nothing if it is 15 minutes of critical, rather than meaningless, work (such as responding “Yes” to “Can you just stay with the kids in front of the TV for a bit while I go scrub the toilets?”), and I’m glad to see that some of us have moved in a more equitable direction, but overall progress is not huge.
I would think, as well, that when it comes to allocation of household labour, one of the considerations is what the financial impact of shifting more to mom or dad (even where there are two moms or two dads) will be. To the extent that women may not be compensated as well as men for similar work, you can see where the typical reasoning might be that it “makes more sense” for the partner whose earning power is compromised less to assume more of the burden of household labour, which may or may not include child-rearing or tending to frail family members. Wage discrimination is partly what sustains gender-role in the workplace, and slow movement on family-friendly policies. I’m not saying I support that view, or that it does not emerge out of gender discrimination, merely that it happens.
Conceivably, employer policies may reflect that strategy, presuming that one category of employee does not require family-friendly policies because they forfeit very little by taking time for family responsibilities, and another category does not require them because they don’t have to tend to such things. Essentially, there are gender-role assumptions on the part of both employees and employers, which is probably why things don’t change very much.
Back when I used to teach gerontology, I know that one of the more intriguing findings was that men tended to experience less caregiver burden and stress with frail parents than women did (and bear in mind that “less” is not “none”). The basic reason was that adult sons had an ace in the pocket of feeling that they could always hire outside help if need be, where adult daughters felt that it was their responsibility and theirs alone. Sons had an escape hatch, where daughters were boxed in. Perhaps that has changed in the intervening 20 years, but I suspect not.
March 13, 2013 at 7:49 pm #177147
All great points and all quite true even today.
March 13, 2013 at 7:55 pm #177145
Both of these statements are pretty hard truths. I didn’t start telworking from home 100% of the time until my son was in first grade. I am the sole caregiver, but I built my work schedule around his school schedule. I too, would agree that it would be next to impossible to work from home with a toddler on the loose. My son was a toddler when I was finishing my M.A. online. Most of the time I had to wait until he was in bed and work into early hours of the next morning to get my work done.
I also have had the experience with female bosses with children who have no empathy for your current situation. Most of the time I have found it is because their situation was so much different than mine (e.g. they could afford hired help, they had a husband, they had family close etc.). I’ve had some great female bosses though as well who were very empathetic. I think it just depends on the personal relationship that you have built with that boss.
One thing I would add to this is that I have usually experienced more empathy from my male bosses when I’ve had to leave early, telework, or take vacation for family matters. However, as a woman….I am way way way more uncomfortable with approaching a male boss over these needs/ issues than I am a female boss.
March 13, 2013 at 7:59 pm #177143
Very true about those who tend to rise. I’m in my late 20’s and I’ve actually seen two other things happening:
- People my age delay marriage and children indefinitely while waiting on the illusive “next big career move”; and
- Those who chose to marry in their earlier 20’s are either living the separate lives from their spouse or are now divorced as a result of living separate lives for the sake of a career.
Sad if anything. I wonder if there is a study on the divorce rate of upper level executives? Just from the conversations that I’ve had…most upper level execs that I’ve met have been married and divorced 2-3 times over.
March 13, 2013 at 8:33 pm #177141
My first job out of college was working for a hotel. It didn’t take long to notice a couple of things:
1) Anyone successful at that career worked in a lot of places, moving every year or two
2) Most of the successful men were either gay or divorced several times over.
As I was engaged to be married at the time, and my fiancee and I had little inclination to move around the country, I found a new industry to try.
After my son was born, I made a conscious decision to stay off the advancement track so I would actually have time to spend with my wife and child. A career-limiting move? As far as employment goes, yes, but I’m still happily married and my kid seems to have grown up well.
I’ll take that as a win. Your mileage may vary.
March 13, 2013 at 8:36 pm #177139
How is having a rich fulfilling family life NOT a successful career?
March 13, 2013 at 10:15 pm #177137
I’d say it makes for a successful life, but I’ve yet to make a dime out of being a dad.
As a Boomer (with Gen-X rising), I would identify my career with how I choose to make a living. I could be a farmer, engineer, lawyer, professor, mechanic, tailor or homemaker. I choose to be a civil servant.
Maybe we’ll get to a point where being a parent/spouse is looked on as a vocation and worth rewarding, but we’re not there yet.
March 14, 2013 at 1:45 pm #177135
Candace, thanks for your reply. These are hard issues and I’m glad to see them aired. I will say (also in reference to some other comments on this thread) that I get fantastic support from my husband who does every bit as much of the housework as I do and sometimes more. I don’t know how I would manage otherwise, and I admire you for accomplishing so much as a single parent.
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