Thursday, December 6, 2012

Supporting Women in the Workplace…from an Economic Perspective

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, in the United States, people are often not sympathetic to issues involving the challenges of parenting.  At least in the red states where I’ve lived, people reject the notion that “it takes a village” to raise a child.  Instead, the attitude is that if one brings a child into this world, one is on one’s own to raise that child.  When this attitude is expressed, there is usually a failure to account for the harm to the child when parents get no support.  Christian concerns about family values and the vulnerability of children often fall on deaf ears in this context.

And many people are also unsympathetic to the notion that the juggling of paid work and family responsibilities disproportionately fall on women in our society.  Many people of both genders simply want to ignore any inequality between men and women.  There is a tendency to want to view everyone as on equal footing: we’re all the same.  I disagree with that attitude.  It is equivalent to the tendency to want to be colorblind to the extent it permits glossing over racial injustices that continue in our society.  Perhaps it is easier to think we’re all getting the same opportunities and being judged equitably than to acknowledge difficult problems without simple solutions.

Last year I had an interesting experience with this tendency to want to gloss over issues impacting women’s advancement in the professional world.  I wrote an article touching upon this issue specifically in the legal profession.  Prior to publication, I asked a dear friend of mine to review it to give me feedback.  She is a talented lawyer who was a bit of a mentor of mine when I was in practice; she juggled a demanding career while raising her kids, who are now young adults.  I asked her to review the article because I thought she would have some unique insight since she had faced the issues described. 

Her reaction surprised and saddened me.  Though she agreed with the premise of the article, she urged me to re-write the article from a completely different perspective to ignore the gender impact of the issue.  She explained that as a working mom of nearly two decades, she knew first-hand that people didn’t want to hear about such gender issues. 

I was shocked to hear this advice from this particular friend.  She is a compassionate human being and a brilliant professional.  She is also a feminist.  But she was adamant that raising the concern in gendered terms would not be well-received.  She did not for a minute dispute the premise of the article that women disproportionately bear family responsibilities, which forces many to leave the legal profession if that is economically viable for them.  However, my friend knew the hornet’s nest that would be stirred to challenge the status quo.  She probably has a point.

For folks who aren’t inherently concerned about family values or gender equality, I have a third reason why you should care about the difficulty of women with families to participate in paid employment: the health of our nation’s economy. 

The health of our economy is dependent on productivity and growth.  Women make up more than half of the adults in our society.  Over 90% of women will be mothers at some point in their lives.  If the workplace is inhospitable to women with family responsibilities, then many women will either not work in paid employment or they will work just part-time.  That is a significant loss of productivity in our economy.  Making the workplace more hospitable to women can be a source of economic growth.

In support of this third rationale for policies that empower women to more successfully balance paid work and family responsibilities, I offer three articles of relevance.



1 Corinthians 12:12

We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink.

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