Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Daniel Rodriguez

I wanted to shift gears temporarily from the recent focus on women's roles. 

Our family lives in Arizona, and our church recently held a Rector's Forum on some of the hot button issues involving immigration.  The Forum began with a law professor summarizing the state of the law of S.B. 1070 after the recent Supreme Court opinion on its constitutionality.  Then a lawyer, who belongs to our church, gave a brief history of the controversial state statute. 

We then had two speakers share their personal experiences with the issue of illegal immigration.  One speaker was a local police officer who is a member of our parish.  He shared the chaos caused by the uncertain nature of the statute's viability, as well as the potential disruption to community policing of the "show us your papers" provision of the statute if it ever takes effect. 

The other speaker was a young man named Daniel Rodriguez.  Daniel was a very eloquent speaker.  As he told his story, many of our parishioners were moved to tears.

Daniel is a "dreamer."  He was born in Northern Mexico but brought here illegally as a child by his mother who was fleeing domestic violence.  Like many families, Daniel's mom had relatives on both sides of the border.  When she fled, she had a good job in Mexico, but eventually she couldn't tolerate the violence at home.  Daniel had enjoyed his life in Mexico and experienced a great deal of culture shock when he arrived in the United States.  It took time for him to adjust to his new life.

Daniel has always been very close to his mom and sister.  They stuck together as they made a new life in the United States.  Daniel was bright and worked hard in school.  His mother encouraged him to become a lawyer because he was always asking questions and frankly he had a penchant for arguing.  He didn't always get a lot of encouragement to pursue this dream from his school counselors, but his mom and sister believed in him and supported him.

Daniel did eventually go to college.  He graduated from prestigious Arizona State University in 2008.  He earned degrees in Political Science and English Literature.  He was named Most Outstanding Undergraduate Student at the Hispanic Convocation.

But his success in college almost got sidetracked.  Halfway through his undergraduate studies, most of his scholarships were taken away despite the fact that he had a 3.8 GPA.  His family helped him push through and make ends meet to finish his degree.

He then got even closer to his dream of becoming a lawyer when he was accepted to the highly ranked Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.  Because of his talent and hard work, Daniel finished his first year in the top 20% of his class, which is an amazing accomplishment.  But he had to put his legal studies on hold.  Because of his immigration status, he was no longer eligible for financial aid.

At this point, Daniel is at a critical crossroads.  If he does not go back to school, he will lose credit for the one year of studies he has already completed.  If he were to go back to law school at a later point, he would have to start all over again.

Daniel wants to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer and is in need of support.  If you are interested in contributing, the following link will help you do so:  http://eversinceiwas7.wordpress.com/help-me-get-there/.

Romans 12:13
Take care of God’s needy people and welcome strangers into your home.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter on “having it all” (Socioeconomic and Cultural Biases)

I’d like to address one final point in Dr. Slaughter’s article.  It is fascinating when she writes about hiring “the help that can be indispensible to your juggling act.”  This statement is quite telling.  It assumes two things: (1) significant disposable income at some point in one’s career and (2) no extended family to assist in the care of children.  As a result, this statement seems to envision a white Anglo mother in a high-prestige career.  That is a rather narrow socioeconomic and cultural perspective from which to advocate on behalf of women.

A mom who is a waitress at Denny’s or a Wal-Mart cashier, or a mom who is working in a meat packing plant or picking produce in the fields is not likely to ever earn enough to hire the nannies and other domestic help that Dr. Slaughter seems to be referencing.  So, in reality, her analysis and her prescriptions are about doctors, lawyers, business executives and certain other very privileged workers.  That is a pretty small slice of the total female population.

My husband and I are both white and Anglo.  I’m also a lawyer.  So, I probably fit well into Dr. Slaughter’s target audience.  Before my husband sacrificed his accounting career, we were spending our ample disposable income on hiring people to care for our children, to mow our yard and clean our bathrooms.  That “help” was indeed indispensible to our attempt at juggling professional and family responsibilities.  So the statement in question in the article does resonate with me personally.  But I’m cognizant that Dr. Slaughter is not describing everyone’s reality. 

Over the course of our careers, my husband and I have both had lots of friends who were women of color—women who have been raised with very different cultural attitudes about family than my husband and I.  When such female friends have had children, their parents or their in-laws frequently have made themselves available on an on-going basis to care for the new grandchildren.  Often these grandparents even took their grandkids to pediatrician appointments so the new moms can go back to work and focus on their professional responsibilities.  And I’m not just talking about grandmas in our friends’ families—plenty of grandpas also make great sacrifices to help the sandwich generation out.  I even had one Asian American friend whose in-laws sold their family home and relocated to another city in order to be full-time, live-in babysitters to their grandchildren. 

I’ve spoken about this type of amazing support with other Anglo moms and frankly we are envious!  In Anglo culture, there seems to be much more emphasis on individualism, less on family.  Anglo grandparents might occasionally be available for babysitting, but I don’t know any who do it full-time or would relocate specifically to help their adult kids with childcare.  Culturally, that is not common—at least in the other Anglo families my husband and I know.

I understand Dr. Slaughter to also be white and Anglo, so I assume she has the same cultural biases I do.  As a result, when she writes about having to hire “the help that can be indispensible to your juggling act,” that statement is consistent with my own experience before my husband resigned to be a stay-at-home dad.  But I’m surprised that a woman of Dr. Slaughter’s sophistication and education would apparently not realize the cultural biases of her phrasing.

I flag this language not to pick on Dr. Slaughter because I’m quite grateful that she has used her ample talents and her relative fame to focus on these issues that are so important to women and families.  Instead, I flag this language in her article to point out certain problematic implications of her baseline assumptions. 

First, her writing seems to envision readers who are in elite professions, not the bulk of working women.  Dr. Slaughter seems to focus on the professional “1%” and not everyone else.  Second, her writing also seems to envision a white, Anglo audience, and not recognize that in our multicultural society, that perspective is not shared by everyone.  Heck, if you pay attention to census data, it appears to be shared at most by a quickly shrinking segment of our population. 

As a result, this narrow audience may be a pretty weak paradigm from which to begin one’s advocacy.  If one’s focus is structural change to empower women professionally, then it doesn’t seem wise to target one’s arguments only to such a narrow socioeconomic and cultural minority.  To achieve the kind of change Dr. Slaughter advocates, a much bigger tent is necessary.

Indeed, it is this lack of a big tent that has alienated the women’s movement in recent decades and made feminism a four letter word to many.  A large segment of the population has viewed feminism as a movement of cultural and socioeconomic elites, which glosses over the challenges and needs of poor and middle-class women, as well as women of color.  Feminism is criticized by many as grounded in paradigms reflective only of upper-middle class white women.  Sadly, Dr. Slaughter’s article is vulnerable to the same criticisms.  If feminism or a women’s movement is ever to achieve traction, it must appeal to a much wider base.

Matthew 11:5

The blind are now able to see, and the lame can walk. People with leprosy are being healed, and the deaf can hear. The dead are raised to life, and the poor are hearing the good news.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter on “having it all” (Stair-Stepping and Priorities)

Another intriguing part of the article is where Dr. Slaughter encourages women to consider stair-stepping careers with peaks and plateaus, but acknowledges the courage that approach takes.  She cites approvingly Governor Chris Christie and Michelle Obama as examples of such stair-stepping to accommodate family and career.

In her article, Dr. Slaughter also notes her own surprise at “coming to grips with what I really wanted.”  She seems genuinely surprised about her own priorities:  “I realized that I didn’t just need to go home. Deep down, I wanted to go home.”  I found this to be a very bizarre part of the article.  She waxes nostalgic about the “simple pleasures of parenting” like it is an embarrassing shock that she would like these things.  Why would it be a shock or embarrassing to want to spend time with one’s family?  Good grief, I would hope that people would not marry and have children unless they enjoyed being in a family.  If you are a spouse and a parent, it would be tragic to not long to be with your partner and children.

In addition to being bizarre, I find this passage really telling.  And it is the primary reason I noted in an early post that I feel rather sorry for Dr. Slaughter. 

This passage from Dr. Slaughter’s article is consistent with the widespread societal attitude that intelligent, professional adults don’t enjoy their families.  The underlying belief appears to be that families are for wimps, religious zealots, the feeble-minded or some other disfavored, low-status group.  Only if you don’t have something better to do with your time would you enjoy family time.  God forbid intelligent, professional adults might actually like to spend time with their kids!  Clearly that would be a sign of sub-par intellect.  What’s next?  Watching the Three Stooges or following NASCAR?  Heaven forbid!  That would be too proletariat. 

Indeed, Dr. Slaughter tells an insightful story about her time as dean when several female assistant professors reprimanded her privately for talking about her children because it did not show the “gravitas that people expect from the dean.”  Dr. Slaughter refused to change and observed, “it is interesting that gravitas and parenthood don’t seem to go together.”  Hmmm.  “Interesting” is not exactly the word I would choose to describe such attitudes.  “Tragic” and “misguided” are more fitting per my world view. 

My Christian faith tells me that God made human beings in his image, and he loves them more than we can fathom.  In particular, God has a special concern for the vulnerable among us.  The Old and New Testaments cite children as an example of a particularly vulnerable, overlooked segment of the human family. 

I find many liberals (or as some call them “cultural elites”) to be a curious bunch.  They profess egalitarianism, but in my experience can be quite snotty if you are not from the Northeast and you don’t have an elite educational pedigree.  They also profess to be concerned about oppressed, marginalized and other unfortunate peoples.  However, many such cultural elites seem to have little regard for children.  I guess they get in the way of high-brow pursuits or something.  However, if one is truly “elite” and one has an educational pedigree, then there should be no threat to be on the same level as people who have not had the same advantages in life. 

Genesis 5:1-2

God created men and women to be like himself. He gave them his blessing and called them human beings.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter on “having it all” (The “Culture of ‘Time Macho’” v. Efficiency)

In her article, Dr. Slaughter advocates that we ultimately need to change the “culture of face time” if we are to empower more women into leadership positions.  She explains  the “culture of ‘time macho’—a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you” which “remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today.” 

Although Dr. Slaughter insists that being “willing to put the time in when the job simply has to get done is rightfully a hallmark of a successful professional,” she also urges that we begin to move away from in-person work and to emphasize more an increased efficiency in our work.  She also advocates moving away from leave and flexibility for women-only, but broader workplace rules available to all employees.   Dr. Slaughter also reprimands employers who undervalue caregivers who find ways to get their professional obligations done efficiently to also tend to their family responsibilities. 

These points definitely resonate with me, and I’m glad that Dr. Slaughter makes them. 

In my own experience and observations, and from what I’ve heard anecdotally from others, the “culture of face time” and “time macho” are still very prevalent in the American white collar workplace.  If you aren’t physically in the office long hours, then subtle negative judgments get made against you.  (Sometimes they are not so subtle!)  The continuing professional norm is that your butt is in your chair most of the day.  This norm is very deeply ingrained in most workplaces. 

And Dr. Slaughter raises a good point about the undervaluing of efficiency.  For years, as a professional and a mom, I’ve had to be extremely disciplined with my time to get my work done efficiently so that I could meet both my professional and familial responsibilities.  There are only so many hours in the day, so you have to be a good steward of the hours available.

In my professional life, I almost always have worked through lunch and rarely have taken time to check my personal e-mail or take other fun breaks while at the office.  Over the years, countless co-workers have commented on my apparently amazing level of organization and my ability to get things done ahead of schedule.  But I’ve noticed that such comments never come from other working moms.  They too have had to learn to be efficient and not waste time. 

Yet when managers are walking the halls at 6 p.m. to see who is still in their offices, we efficient moms don’t get any brownie points.  When I was in practice, I had a couple single male co-workers who would routinely goof off throughout the day, e.g., debating politics, going for periodic snack breaks or reading ESPN.com.   They were regularly still in the office at 6 p.m., which pleased managers.  But why should that have been?  In reality, these gentlemen were still there because they had wasted a lot of time earlier in the day.  That was overlooked apparently. 

Meanwhile, in managers’ minds, I’m sure it did not reflect well that the working moms had often already left the office by 6 p.m.  It didn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar that they had had their nose to the grindstone all day and rarely took breaks to get their work done quickly.  They weren’t rewarded for their time efficiency.  Instead, the underlying workplace value seemed to be the amount of one’s life one was devoting to work.  The more the better.  The “time macho” concept seems to be that tough folks don’t need a life; their job is their life.  Only an undedicated wimp has other things to do with his/her time.

Proverbs 28:19
Work hard, and you will have a lot of food; waste time, and you will have a lot of trouble.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter on “having it all” (Sequencing)

In her article, another “half-truth” that Dr. Slaughter rejected was that one can have “it” all if one just sequences “it” correctly. 

The article explains that the first wave of women in positions of power had their children in their 20s and 30s--as was the norm in prior generations.  But Dr. Slaughter notes this is no longer the norm for “many high-potential women” because they are marrying later and because having children earlier makes it difficult to get a graduate degree, get a good first job and advance in the “crucial early years of your career.”  Dr. Slaughter also points out that the lower incomes earlier in one’s careers make it harder to hire “the help that can be indispensible to your juggling act.” 

But Dr. Slaughter also opines that advising women to raise children first, then begin careers is not ideal.  She raises the concern that getting a late start will foreclose many career options.  Dr. Slaughter doesn’t state it explicitly, but her focus seems to clearly be on getting women to “the top.”  I think that what she is saying is that you aren’t going to be the CEO of a public company or appointed to the Supreme Court if you don’t start your career until your 40s.  Fair enough.

The reality is that women today are putting off having children until later, which creates all kinds of issues.  Dr. Slaughter describes her own struggles and franticness to conceive in her late 30s, as well as the reality that she will be fairly old when her kids finish school.  More troubling perhaps is that she notes that “in the prime” of a woman’s career, she will often be declining opportunities because her children or aging parents need her.  Nonetheless, Dr. Slaughter concludes: “Given the way our work culture is oriented today, I recommend establishing yourself in your career first but still trying to have kids before you are 35—or else freeze your eggs, whether you are married or not.” 

Yikes!  For some people, this idea of freezing one’s eggs is a non-starter.  Egg freezing is not a cheap endeavor, so for economic reasons it is simply not even an option for many women.  Additionally, many have religious or ethical concerns about the practice.  Freezing one’s eggs simply cannot be seen as a panacea to solve the structural issues women face in the professional world.

However, I do agree with Dr. Slaughter that this issue of sequencing is a big deal.  When I was in law school and beginning my practice, the general consensus among women was that you finish school and get established in your career first, then you take on motherhood.  I think most of us recognized that the workplace wouldn’t accommodate us if we tried things in the opposite order.  But a significant number of my female colleagues in law school got pregnant in their last year of law school, bucking that common wisdom.  It was controversial and even some of their closest female friends disapproved of their decision. 

Several years later when I was in practice, a newly graduated former law clerk reported to work full-time as she prepared for the bar exam.  Many in our office were stunned that she was quite visibly in her third trimester of pregnancy.  Again, she bucked the trend and it was quite controversial, though no one told her to her face. 

I didn’t (and don’t)  judge those women who bucked the common wisdom about sequencing.  I just know I couldn’t have taken their path and had the career I’ve had.  During the mini-baby boom in my 3L year, my husband and I talked about trying to get pregnant ahead of schedule, i.e., prior to my graduation.  Ultimately, we just didn’t think that would be wise and we opted to not begin a family until I had practiced several years.

I appreciate Dr. Slaughter’s concern about getting women to “the top.”  But, personally, I’ve just never been ambitious in that way.  In practice, I never wanted to be a partner at a big firm or a manager in-house.  I enjoyed lawyering and didn’t want to be taken from that to be a rainmaker or administrator.  As an academic, I’ve never had the faintest interest in becoming a dean or associate dean.  I like the process of teaching and doing scholarship. 

But even though I personally don’t want to get to “the top,” I appreciate Dr. Slaughter’s concern.   It is not healthy for organizations when there is such a structural imbalance in gender.  Something is out of whack when women are disproportionately the worker bees and rarely included in the decision-making.  That happens in almost every line of work, however. 

A large part of it is due to the issues Dr. Slaughter raises in her article, but a lot of it may also be that many women have attitudes similar to mine.  Making it to “the top” is not necessarily appealing to all of us, and in my opinion part of it has to do with desiring to have a life outside of work. 

I’m not just talking about having kids.  That is the prime focus of Dr. Slaughter’s article.  But I’ve known plenty of brilliant professional women who are not partnered and have no kids, but want some part of their day to devote to other things they enjoy.  I had a co-worker who jealously guarded her off-time because she was a marathon runner, volunteered every week to minister to the dying in a local cancer hospital, spent time with her siblings and their children, and practiced her religion.  There was no way she was working round the clock to sacrifice all that.  I’ve had other professional female friends who make time for community theater, caring for sick relatives, serving on the boards of nonprofits, singing in the church choir, doing pro bono, camping, spending time with beloved pets, and starting their own side businesses to explore a particular non-lucrative passion of theirs.  Paid work is important.  But so are other activities.

Ecclesiastes 3:3-8

Everything on earth
has its own time
and its own season.
There is a time
for birth and death,
planting and reaping,
for killing and healing,
destroying and building,
for crying and laughing,
weeping and dancing,
for throwing stones
and gathering stones,
embracing and parting.
There is a time
for finding and losing,
keeping and giving,
for tearing and sewing,
listening and speaking.
There is also a time
for love and hate,
for war and peace.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter on “having it all” (Career-Sacrificing Partners, Maternal Involvement)

Dr. Slaughter also challenges another “half-truth” contained in Ms. Sandberg’s famous speech: “The most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is.”  Ms. Sandberg has publicly attributed having a spouse who fairly shares household responsibilities as a key to her own success in the business world.

Along similar lines, Dr. Slaughter noted that Lisa Jackson (the current administrator of the EPA) has also publicly cited her husband as her own “work-life balance.”  Apparently, Ms. Jackson’s husband has spent much more time with their kids and tending to their needs than she has.  Ms. Jackson cites her husband’s assumption of parental duties as a critical factor in her career success.

Before Dr. Slaughter wrote her recent article, I had previously read Ms. Sandberg’s quote, but was unaware of Ms. Jackson’s.  Unfortunately, I do think there is truth in those statements.  I know that I would not have been able to have the career I’ve had without my husband’s support.  When we were both working full-time, he did at least half of the childcare and other household work.  We would trade off when our older daughter was sick and couldn’t go to day care.  My husband worked next door to the day care center, so he did drop off, pick up and he took our daughter to most pediatrician appointments.  And as I’ve mentioned before, when we determined a dual career situation would not work for our family, my husband ultimately sacrificed his accounting career, so I could focus on my legal career while our kids were little.

But even though there is truth in statements such as Ms. Sandberg’s, I don’t condone that truth.  There is something broken and dysfunctional when one spouse must completely give up his/her entire career so that the other spouse can have any career at all.  And because so few men would make the personal and professional sacrifices to stay home full-time with children, such a system is undermining the ability of women to succeed professionally.

To these comments by Ms. Sandberg and Ms. Jackson, Dr. Slaughter added an intriguing twist:

“Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case.

Here I step onto treacherous ground, mined with stereotypes. From years of conversations and observations, however, I’ve come to believe that men and women respond quite differently when problems at home force them to recognize that their absence is hurting a child, or at least that their presence would likely help. I do not believe fathers love their children any less than mothers do, but men do seem more likely to choose their job at a cost to their family, while women seem more likely to choose their family at a cost to their job.”

Dr. Slaughter’s words really resonate with me.  Maybe it is generational and this will not always be the case, but in my experience, professional women in general are less likely than professional men to miss out on their kids’ soccer games, be in tuned with how their kids are doing in school and take care of their kids when they are sick.  Like Dr. Slaughter, I’m hesitant to note this publicly because of the gendered stereotypes such observations might produce.  Indeed, it particularly feeds into assumptions in the workplace that women are less dedicated to their jobs and less dependable. 

In my observation, professional women are dedicated and dependable at work.  They work extremely hard.  But when push comes to shove, I’ve observed that it is working moms who are more likely to push back or draw lines to protect family time than working men. 

As I have noticed, what typically happens is that professional women work very hard to meet their job responsibilities, but they may make sacrifices in more negotiable areas of the workplace.  They might not linger at the water cooler or go out to lunch all the time with co-workers.  It is not that working moms aren’t sociable, but they need to get that report done or return client phone calls by the afternoon so that they can leave on time to help their kids with math homework. 

Technically, such women do what the job requires; they meet the responsibilities on their plate.  But cutting corners in such non-essential parts of the workplace does come back to hurt them at times.  They miss out on the networking and other benefits of the face time culture still prevalent in many workplaces.  The decision makers in their offices don’t have the same kind of friendly rapport with such women as these decision makers do with the men who seem to feel less time pressure at work.

In her article, Dr. Slaughter quotes Mary Matalin’s book Midlife Crisis at 30: I finally asked myself, ‘Who needs me more?’ And that’s when I realized, it’s somebody else’s turn to do this job. I’m indispensable to my kids, but I’m not close to indispensable to the White House.”  In essence, as Dr. Slaughter explains, Ms. Matalin felt it would be selfish to put her professional responsibilities ahead of her kids.  I agree with Dr. Slaughter that is not an uncommon sentiment for working women. 

But Dr. Slaughter notes that for men there is often a different perspective: To many men, however, the choice to spend more time with their children, instead of working long hours on issues that affect many lives, seems selfish. Male leaders are routinely praised for having sacrificed their personal life on the altar of public or corporate service. That sacrifice, of course, typically involves their family.”  I appreciated Dr. Slaughter’s response to this situation:  “It is not clear to me that this ethical framework makes sense for society. Why should we want leaders who fall short on personal responsibilities? Perhaps leaders who invested time in their own families would be more keenly aware of the toll their public choices—on issues from war to welfare—take on private lives.”  (I think I uttered an audible “Amen!” when I read those lines.) 

Nonetheless, Dr. Slaughter noted that is not the prevailing cultural attitude:  “Workers who put their careers first are typically rewarded; workers who choose their families are overlooked, disbelieved, or accused of unprofessionalism.”  That is such an accurate description.  Because I’m sandwiched between the older generation who seems to have sacrificed their families too much for their careers and the Gen Y folks who reject such role models, for years I’ve had younger women approaching me for guidance on work-life balance.  However, I have often heard such younger women worry aloud at not “being professional” if they took maternity leave or worked part-time for a while after becoming a parent.  It is a very warped culture when we believe taking care of ourselves or our families is “unprofessional.”  But it is the same attitude that keeps folks from staying home when they are sick.  Face time is still the unwritten rule in most workplaces.  And if you are not in the office long hours, you are viewed as a slacker.

Ecclesiastes 3:9-14
 What do we gain by all of our hard work? I have seen what difficult things God demands of us. God makes everything happen at the right time. Yet none of us can ever fully understand all he has done, and he puts questions in our minds about the past and the future. I know the best thing we can do is to always enjoy life,  because God’s gift to us is the happiness we get from our food and drink and from the work we do. Everything God has done will last forever; nothing he does can ever be changed. God has done all this, so that we will worship him.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter on “having it all” (“Top Women” and the “Ambition Gap”)

In the prior post, I wrote about Dr. Slaughter’s opinion that the professional culture that so dramatically devalues family over work “cannot change unless top women speak out.”  I noted that I tend to agree, but as Dr. Slaughter herself acknowledges such “top women” were in a generation where they were forced to make family sacrifices that few women in younger generations are willing to make.  As a result, in my observation, such “top women” rarely are willing to fight for changes to help the younger generations avoid such Hobson’s choices.

Moreover, regardless of gender, those who make it to the “top” of an organization, in my experience, typically live for their jobs.  They live and breathe work.  Frequently, they don’t have all that much of a private life.  As a result, it can be a challenge for such individuals to conceive that others might be professional and very dedicated, but might have a less consuming view of work.  Such individuals sometimes cannot understand why others might actually have interests outside of work.  Such persons at the “top” of organizations are also hyper-dedicated to the mission of the organization.  It can be difficult for them to see beyond that mission when they are so focused on achieving the organization’s goals. 

Additionally, when we use terms like “work-life balance,” the issue sounds soft and not terribly important to many in “top” positions.  It sounds like we’re talking about mere hobbies that can be easily marginalized to squeeze a bit more productivity out of employees.  To people at the top of an organization, “work-life balance” can be a difficult concept because it implies less than 100% focus on one’s job and many “top” people may not understand that lack of total focus.  Moreover, in my observation, they often look down upon it.  The unwritten rule is that “real professionals” don’t let anything divert their attention (even slightly) from their job.  Because of these realities, I think we need to be careful of our terminology. If we couched the issue in terms of gender equality in the workplace (which has legal and public relations implications) instead of amorphous, soft concepts of “work-life balance,” perhaps we’d get a little more attention to these issues.

Dr. Slaughter’s article goes into what she describes “half-truths we hold dear.”  One involves this issue of professional focus.  She writes about the “half-truth” that that women are “not committed enough” to make the trade-offs and sacrifices that the women ahead of them made.  Dr. Slaughter notes the very small numbers of women who make it to leadership positions in corporations or government—about 15-16% of all such positions are filled by women.  She then observes that most women occupying such positions are “genuine superwomen” who have been Rhodes Scholars, Pulitzer Prize winners or other similarly noteworthy individuals.  Dr. Slaughter laments that we can’t insist that all professional women be such “superwomen.”

Even more insightful, Dr. Slaughter notes that of the few high-ranking women, few have families.  She points out, “Every male Supreme Court justice has a family. Two of the three female justices are single with no children. And the third, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, began her career as a judge only when her younger child was almost grown. The pattern is the same at the National Security Council: Condoleezza Rice, the first and only woman national-security adviser, is also the only national-security adviser since the 1950s not to have a family.” 

I thought these examples were really revealing and with them Dr. Slaughter makes a critical point.  Not only do “top women” have to be super credentialed, they also apparently need to be celibate and childless.  That latter requirement is just not attractive to most women. 

Despite these depressing trends, things have improvements in some ways for women in the workplace.  My grandma was a grade school teacher at a time when women were forced to resign when they got married.  When my mom was a grade school teacher, things had improved to a degree.  My mom was allowed to be married, but was forced to leave without pay or any guarantee of future employment when her pregnancy became visible.  (Apparently, even in the late 1960s, the sight of a married woman with a pregnant belly would have been injurious to the students.) 

Obviously, in the twenty-first century, there are no longer written, explicit requirements that women must forego a partner and/or offspring to achieve professional success.  But clearly something is causing this trend.  It is imperative that we dig deeper to figure out what is going on structurally and culturally to weed out women with families from the professional world.  This trend is just not something acknowledged much in discussions of diversity.  It is also not something the leadership of the women’s movement has raised much as a real priority.

Dr. Slaughter notes that in the 1980s, the gender gap in graduate schools had evaporated such that there should not be such a gender divide in professional ranks today.  Dr. Slaughter observes that “[s]omething derailed that dream” of gender equality.  Dr. Slaughter rejects Sheryl Sandberg’s assessment of an “ambition gap,” and identifies as “’mundane’ issues” such as inflexible schedules, unrelenting travel, face-time pressures and incompatibility between professional and school schedules.  In essence, Dr. Slaughter pins the blame on the gender gap on structural insensitivity that disempowers women.  It comes down to logistics and finite time to attend to too many responsibilities.  Based on my own experiences and observations, I think Dr. Slaughter has hit the nail on the head.

Genesis 1:27
So God created humans to be like himself; he made men and women.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter on “having it all” (More on the Generational Divide)

In the prior post, I ended with a quote from Dr. Slaughter’s article.  She concluded that the professional culture valuing power and prestige over family had to be changed.  She opined: “But it cannot change unless top women speak out.”  I don’t disagree with her assessment of the solution, but in my experience that is much easier said than done. 

Again, I am not of the generation of such “top women.”  They entered the work force 10 or more years ahead of me.  As I’ve written previously, such women were not welcomed with open arms when they broke the workplace gender barrier.  Most “top women” had to make huge sacrifices to get to where they are now.  As I have observed in my career, they either forewent having children at all, or they had children but had to sacrifice much time and involvement with them.  Having made such sacrifices, such “top women” aren’t necessarily keen on helping others avoid the same sacrifices.  I suppose misery loves company.  And if we’ve lived our lives in conformance to certain ground rules, it can be difficult for us to muster a vision that others can experience something better, something more humane. 

Dr. Slaughter noted this resistance of “top women” in her article as she observed how “young professional women feel under assault” by older women.  She quoted Facebook COO Sheyl Sandberg who gave a famous commencement speech at Barnard College.  According to Dr. Slaughter, Ms. Sandberg lamented the “dismally small number of women at the top” and tried to encourage younger women to change that situation.  But Dr. Slaughter noted that Ms. Sandberg’s words contained “more than a note of reproach” and seemed equivalent to saying “We who have made it to the top, or are striving to get there, are essentially saying to the women in the generation behind us: ‘What’s the matter with you?’”

For purposes of this intergenerational strife, I’m sort of in an interesting spot.  I’m not exactly part of the younger generation any more.  My undergrad commencement was 20 years ago!  But I was also not on the front lines of workplace gender integration and consequently I am younger than the decision makers in most organizations.  Put another way, I’m not a Baby Boomer or a Millennial; I am a Gen Xer.  I suppose I have one foot in each of the warring generational camps, so I do have some thoughts about the answer to this “What’s the matter with you?” question that the Baby Boomers are essentially posing to younger women.  My thoughts are grounded in my own life experiences and observations.

My husband and I were both raised by parents in what society might describe as “dual career families.”  However, “dual career” sounds a little more glamorous than it actually was.  My husband and I both come from a long line of blue collar workers and grade school teachers.  Our families did not have a lot of money when we were growing up.  We did not starve or go homeless.  But finances were tight most of the time.  The term “dual career,” at least in my mind, conjures up an image of two adults pursuing exciting careers for personal fulfillment.  That was not our families’ experiences.  Basically, our moms worked for financial reasons.  Things would have been tighter financially in our respective households if our moms had not worked while we were growing up. 

My husband and I certainly never judged our parents for the decisions to have both parents work throughout our childhoods.  But in retrospect, as adults, we do believe that having both parents in demanding jobs and having no one at home full-time was not terribly conducive to family life.  When we were growing up, there was not much time left over at the end of the day for our respective families to share life and cultivate relationships.  My husband and I half-joke that we were raised by the TV, which is one of the (many) reasons we don’t have cable and don’t let our own kids watch TV very often. 

Because of our own life experiences, my husband and I have had a different vision for our own family.  We’ve very cognizant that our kids are not little forever.  We’ve got only a relatively short time to be with them and try to raise them as well as we can.  My husband and I were fortunate enough to both be the first non-teacher professionals in our respective families.  We worked hard, had some great opportunities, and were well-compensated so that we had choices our parents never had. 

I don’t think our story is unusual.  Adults who were “latch-key kids” or spent hours each week in day care centers don’t tend to aspire that their own children would repeat such experiences.  My sister has a master’s degree, but put her career on hold when her first child was young and she found child care options pretty dismal.  She has since devoted herself to raising her three kids full-time.  In opting that path in life, she was influenced in part by her own childhood and the lack of family time after both parents get home from demanding jobs.  I have a lot of female friends who have had similar experiences and opted to stay home.

My  husband and I have also known a number of folks who are around the same age as our parents, and in retirement have a bittersweet experience as grandparents.  These folks really relish grandparenting and absolutely adore their grandchildren.  That is great.  But the bitter in that sweetness is that we’ve often heard such folks describe regret that they never got to enjoy their own children while they were young.  We’ve heard such folks lament that when their kids were kids, they spent so much time at work and essentially missed out on raising them.  I think people of my generation learn from such regret.  We don’t want to experience it, and as a result we are often unwilling to make the same familiar sacrifices.

Dr. Slaughter described similar values in the younger professional women she encountered who lamented the inability to find any professional role models who successfully achieved “work-life balance.”  Such younger women describe the “tremendous sacrifices” of the professionally successful women at the “top.”  According to Dr. Slaughter, such younger women also noted that many of these older women didn’t “even seem to realize” the family sacrifices they had made relying on “round-the-clock nannies” and seeing their children “barely at all.”  Per Dr. Slaughter, these younger women were essentially saying that was not the life they wanted. 

Colossians 3:21
Parents, don’t be hard on your children. If you are, they might give up.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter on “having it all” (Cultural Undervaluing of Family)

Later in the article, Dr. Slaughter made a good point about our culture’s values: “Yet the decision to step down from a position of power—to value family over professional advancement, even for a time—is directly at odds with the prevailing social pressures on career professionals in the United States. One phrase says it all about current attitudes toward work and family, particularly among elites. In Washington, ‘leaving to spend time with your family’ is a euphemism for being fired.” 

Christians often talk about “the culture”’ being at odds with our values.  This euphemism that Dr. Slaughter references is a perfect example.  The Christian emphasis on people and family in particular is so foreign to most in our country’s dominant culture. 

I’ve noted before that my own family experienced this incredulity about valuing family over professional advancement.  Several years ago, when my husband resigned and left his successful corporate accounting career to stay home with our toddler and infant as a full-time caregiver, most people didn’t know what to say or how to react.  Apparently, it was unfathomable to most that someone would pass-up the rewards of a blue collar career with a Fortune 500 company for raising precious human beings. 

When my husband’s resignation was announced in his office, a few of the women congratulated him admiringly, but most seemed to think there was more to the story.  The men especially seemed suspicious and even appeared embarrassed for him.  One of his more junior co-workers followed him to his office after the announcement, closed the door and demanded to know where he was going to work next.  She also asked if he could get her a job with his new employer because she wanted to work for him and was willing to change employers to do that.  It took a lot of effort to convince this young woman he really was leaving to care for his kids. 

In retrospect, it is kind of a funny story that people did not believe my husband would quit to be a stay-at-home dad.  But if you dig a little deeper, such stories are actually heart-breaking. It is sad that in our culture the care of one’s children has so little value to most people that it is inconceivable someone would voluntarily take that on when a great professional career is available.  They must have been fired or otherwise forced out.

If they do believe someone voluntarily chooses to put his family above career, it is even sadder that many people then look down and even pity the person for making such a choice.  When I proudly told my then co-workers about my husband’s placing our family first, they too seemed unsure how to react.  At the time, I was so crushed they did not share my pride in my terrific guy.  Even some fellow moms in my office—women who were really struggling in dual career households--seemed embarrassed for me.  I didn’t understand such reactions and was stunned at the time.  But I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on why my co-workers reacted as they did and believe I figured it out.  I’ve come to the conclusion those co-workers either thought my husband must have been fired and/or they viewed him as being a loser to have not been more ambitious professionally.  Truly, I was shocked to have not had a more positive reaction, particularly from fellow working moms.  At the time, it really demoralized me, but now I understand it is simply a symptom of a pretty warped dominant culture.

Indeed, Dr. Slaughter wrote:

“Think about what this ‘standard Washington excuse’ implies: it is so unthinkable that an official would actually step down to spend time with his or her family that this must be a cover for something else. How could anyone voluntarily leave the circles of power for the responsibilities of parenthood? Depending on one’s vantage point, it is either ironic or maddening that this view abides in the nation’s capital, despite the ritual commitments to ‘family values’ that are part of every political campaign. Regardless, this sentiment makes true work-life balance exceptionally difficult. But it cannot change unless top women speak out.” 

So, per Dr. Slaughter, it comes down to a choice of valuing power or people.  I think she is on to something.  And as a Christian, I know which option my Savior valued.

Matthew 18:5
And when you welcome one of these children because of me, you welcome me.