Friday, January 23, 2009

Work/Life Balance--Without the Kids

In my full day seminar session today, the topic at hand was Career Strategies. This five session, one credit course is headed by the incomparible Mary Shapiro and Cynthia Ingolls. Today's morning session covered assessments of our career aptitudes, interests, and the MBTI we'd taken earlier this week. We each presented an "artifact" of an accomplishment from our lives, and in pairs we listened to each other's histories to help make sense of where we'd come from, and where we wanted to go.

In the afternoon, we had a case discussion, from an Harvard Business Review case, entitled "Should Cheryl Stick It Out or Leave?" The case described Cheryl, a formidable Marketing director at a firm where she won many awards and was closely mentored and even in the attention span of the CEO. She seemed to have everything--career-wise. Outside the office, she felt she was neglecting her seven year old daughter, Emma. And the pressure from work to perform and the possibility of promotion was constantly getting in her way of spending quality time with Emma.

As is typical, we discussed the case and how Cheryl should have done things differently, and where she should go from her current situation. But I couldn't dismiss the nagging thought in my head: every time in my seminars, or organizational behavior courses, that the topic of work/life balance came up in the context of how women "can't have it all" the equation always includes children.

I have been involved in plenty of discussions about how child care and women's work rarely work out, and how to create opportunities for women to succeed without needing to sacrifice children. But really, at some point, I'd like to have a discussion about how to have a personal life outside of work that doesn't involve babies.

I'm not planning on having children, and there are plenty of women who feel the way I do. So after class, I spoke to the instructors and explained my situation. I asked for a discussion revolving around a woman's work/life balance issues that didn't include children. A friend of mine laughed when I told this to him: "In my office, women who are single just work their asses off until they have kids, and then comes the work/life balance question." Really? Single women--or in my case--childless women are just expected to work until they drop? What about time off for reading, yoga, traveling, volunteering, doing things that are personally fulfilling?

When I was planning my wedding, I noticed a subtle shift in treatment from those around me. As I had conversations about my professional future, I often felt as if others wanted me to just let them know my schedule for reproducing so that they could either replace me or work around me. And everyone, everyone, wanted to know when I was going to have kids.

It's sad that in the modern world, women are expected to have children, and then not work to raise them. It's such an ingrained part of society, it's hard to see, even with all the ballyhooing about flexible work arrangements and on-site daycare.

I propose that we all begin to ask younger professional men when they intend to settle down and have babies. Once we put the screws to them and they feel the humiliation of this kind of gender bias, maybe then we'll be able to have a real conversation about work/life balance for women--mothers or otherwise.

2 responses:

Vanessa said...

Hi Kate, I think you've blogged about acupuncture before so I thought you'd enjoy this poem:

Kelsey said...

I am a young woman (25) who does not intend to have kids (my boyfriend doesn't want them either), and I have had many similar discussions. The attitude seems to be that if you have no kids, married or not, you're expected to work yourself to death, because hey, without kids, what sort of life must you have outside work? I mean, what else is there in life other than raising kids? It's an attitude I really despise, especially as someone with a lot of time-intensive hobbies (I'm a historical reenactor, for one).

If you want to do some more reading on the non-childed woman in the workplace/world, I'd do some research on the "child-free" movement. There's some good stuff out there.

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