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2005.10.31

Comments

drunken monkey

You might find this of interest:

http://www.macleans.ca/switchboard/columnists/article.jsp?content=20051031_114377_114377

molly

Thanks for the article, DM! At the base of capitalism is competition. Competition in price, competition in wages, and sadly competition between co-workers. I must agree with the article the system that is failing is the family system. The fathers (if around) need to share more of the child care responsibilities if women are going to "break through the glass ceiling."

Business is organized to make money, not to mediate on social agendas that negatively affect their bottom line. In writing this I feel that the system is unfairly set up but it comes down to "she who works harder and longer goes higher." But on the bright side, it is easier to change the father's role than the corporate structure/culture.

If you look at it from a capitalistic view point, women are competing with their co-workers, just like their male colleagues. It is a cold cruel world out there.

(I work for one of the big consulting firms in the US. It is sink or swim. Maternity leave, while offered, would greatly stall a career because you are measured by your chargability. Basically, it would be very difficult to be promoted. Also 8 pm meetings are not unusual since you must be at client sites for 8 hours (chargability again) and proposal writing is done at night after work and on weekends, without added compensation. So there are no women in upper management here. Needless to say, as a woman I am not sure if I want to stay and try to climb the ladder.

drunken monkey

And I think that's part of the problem, molly -- as more senior women find it hard to climb up a company ladder, younger women in the organization see them either stall or leave. They're left to assume they must either rejig their lives, hopefully with a willing partner; accept that their career will only go so far at that company; leave the company and find one that's more family-friendly; or drop out of corporate life altogether. It sets up the company as a place where women don't expect to advance very far, because they don't see any other women doing so; consequentially, upper management doesn't have to fill any expectations of a family-friendly environment, and nothing changes.

Ideally, women would have both co-operative partners and supportive employers, but it seems that as you suggest, a lot have to settle for finding the former and hoping it leads to the latter over time.

Lisa

Needless to say, as a woman I am not sure if I want to stay and try to climb the ladder.

I left the dot-com I was working at -- and loved being at -- after we were bought by a Big Four firm and it became extremely clear that their idea of a "flexible" workplace meant "work any 80 hours you want." When I noticed that all the consultants were a) male and b) had stay-at-home spouses handling EVERYTHING in day-to-day life, I figured that this corporate culture was not one I'd be happy in, because no matter how well I worked prior to having kids, the minute I became a mother, it would be as if none of that had ever happened.

One of the most interesting and heartening phenoms of the last decade has been the incredible rise in women-as-small-business-owners. I sometimes wonder if maybe the optimal career path for someone who sees a rewarding job as only part of a rewarding life is to do time in a big corporate setting, then strike out on their own.

Lisa

ETA: And it's not like I have an unwilling partner who's all "Don't spend time in the office!" That could not be further from the truth.

The truth is, I don't like the corporate ethos where your sole value is based on how much you grind for the company. I also question exactly how effective these workaholic superstars are: at some point, your work ability is eclipsed by your inefficiency and mistakes borne of exhaustion.

Not that there aren't times when it's appropriate to put in long hours. I certainly spent a lot of my 20s pulling long weeks, and I did it voluntarily. I still have long weeks now.

*

DM, I read that piece and while there were some good points, I was kind of disturbed by one premise and one unexamined question.

The premise: because corporations aren't going to change, families have to. Because WHY should people yank their private lives in line with what a company demands? What is the justification? Where do you draw the line between private and professional lives?

The unexamined question: why aren't more men making the hard choices about balacing family and job? Why does this fall disproportionately on women? Is this a factor that can be redressed in the workplace?

Mind you, this is just my first reading.

molly

Lisa, I agree with your postings. Why aren't men making these hard choice? And I feel like that was what the article was trying to point out.

My point is I have little faith that companies are going to create a child-friendly environment until it proves to be highly profitable. Businesses/corporations care about money (shareholders too), not their employees. At the end of the day, there is someone willing to work more with less compensation (like outsourcing). It is all about competition. One must compete and cannot ask that the rules be changed to accommodate them. (BTW, I hate this argument but this is what I have been told.) Altough the argument to this is the quality/quantity debate (which you refer to above)but I am too jaded to believe that corporate America cares about quality.

The rise of small businesses owned by women, hopefully, will change the atmosphere.

Sorry, I have lost faith in American companies to create a child-friendly atmosphere where there is gender equity/equality.

(I feel I must clarify DM: I am not dropping out anytime soon since I invested so much in my graduate degree.) But Lisa, you dropped out of the consulting world... shouldn't you have stayed to pave the way for change? Who is going to be the first? Everyone (some men included) hates the constant focus on money but who is going to fight to the top to change it?

drunken monkey

I have those same problems with the article and what it's pointing out -- the expectation that families should change for corporations, and that women should bear the brunt of that adjustment. I've only read it once myself; at the very least, I appreciate that the question is being asked, for once.

I don't think there's going to be a mass corporate rush for change -- some companies do better than others, but as molly pointed out, money is the bottom line. Maybe the change needs to be top-level, at least to get things going; if companies in Canada didn't have to give a year of mat leave, I'm sure many of them wouldn't.

I also don't fully accept that long hours=good work. Long hours are often required, especially early in a career and in particular professions, simply to get the work done. But I've seen several examples of people who could work twice as long as someone else but not improve their output any. Efficiency is also key, or should be.

(I didn't mean to imply that you personally would be dropping out, molly; I apologize if I seemed to be pointing at you specifically. I was referring more generally to the choices women seem to be faced with. Of course, much of my observations in that area are anecdotal because my friends and I are just starting our careers and are years away from motherhood.)

Lisa

Lisa, you dropped out of the consulting world... shouldn't you have stayed to pave the way for change?

Hell, no.

I didn't love the work, nor did I have enough respect for either the profession or the company to want to change it for the better.

If I had been passionately committed to my career path and I loved what I did, it would have been a different story. But I was in that line of work purely for financial reasons, and when those reasons were met, I took a look at the workplace and my likely job path therein. And I thought, I don't really enjoy what I do anymore, I don't want to contribute to this corporate culture's success, and I don't see busting my ass ultimately changing anything in either the company or the industry.

I have serious doubts about whether committed underlings are able to change the culture at existing corporations. I think if you want to see new corporate culture, you have to found the kind of company you want to work at -- or go find it. The pie-eyed optimist in me thinks that a lot of companies in the 1980s-1990s, esp. on the West Coast, have begun doing that.

I recognize that my solution -- eschew traditional corporations for riskier organizations -- isn't for everyone. And I recognize that my approach doesn't solve the fundamentally family-unfriendly ethos that many giant, profitable companies impose on their workers.

However, I also think that painting the corporate situation as an either-or scenario -- either you accept workplace rules or you're screwed -- is not painting the whole picture. There are a lot of different types of workplaces out there now; if there's a burden on educated, middle-class-and-above workers, it's to decide which one you're endorsing simply by working there.

Lisa

ETA again: Yeah, money is the bottom line, but at the end of the day, who makes the money for the companies? The workers who are coming up with the products, powering the operations and providing the service.

Companies can be as focused on making money as they want, but if they can't get good people, they're going to lose money eventually. Happy workers = productive companies. And if what a company's offering workers doesn't match up to what other companies are offering in the marketplace... well, then, they lose.

What I'm saying is, I don't see it being solely a top-down, oh-thank-you-CEO-for-entertaining-the-idea-that-I-might-like-to-talk-to-this-small-stranger-who-has-50%-of-my-DNA thing. It goes both ways: if talented, innovative people are taking themselves elsewhere, it's going to be in a company's best interest to figure out why.

In the day job, I do a lot of work researching things like benefits, hiring and corporate social responsibility. The numbers are coming in, and what companies are beginning to face is that their corporate culture is gaining increasingly weight in employees' decisions to come aboard.

Marj

Two things:
Problems with family-unfriendly workplaces aren't exclusive to the for-profit, corporate world. In my graduate school, which was over half female, the people going for tenure-track academic positions were more often male. And it is notoriously challenging to be a two-person tenure-track couple; usually one person becomes a trailing spouse, partly for geographic reasons, but also in part because of the job challenges. I wonder whether the forces that are pressing on the corporate world will also press on academia, and vice versa.

Also -- and I'm not sure this will resonate with anyone else -- I'm reminded of the NYT article Lisa (and many others) critiqued several weeks ago, about women in the Ivy League who were planning to stay home with kids. I wonder whether for those young women, looking ahead at corporate America, the world of work seemed like an all-or-nothing proposition, rather than one in which it would be possible to have a job that was rewarding, challenging, and remunerative, but also be an involved parent. If that's what they look ahead and see (and I know there were times in my Ivy League days where that's what I saw ahead of me) then their plan for opting out makes a little more sense.

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