I’m a man with no children. So, working extra hours when the need arises isn’t really an issue. (It’s a mental health and work/life balance issue when it never ends, but when that happens I can choose to go do something else, and we’ve made some progress in recognizing this in many workplaces.) On the other hand, I know, pretty instinctively, that if I put a hard 40 hour limit, or a hard ending of my day at a certain time, no matter what, I’d probably be out of a job. Yet, for people with children, there needs to be a hard cap on the hours spent working. The pandemic creating this home/virtual school issue made this worse, and more obvious, but it’s always been an issue. Lots of workplaces talk a good game about balance and flexibility, but when push comes to shove, most of them will also demand that you figure out your childcare issues on your own time and be available to work in a pinch. So, you login from home all evening and work, and if you’re a single parent, the kids get ignored, or maybe you can find someone else to watch them for you. If there are two parents, you’d better hope you both don’t have those kinds of jobs, because one of you needs to be available for childcare, you can’t both be online working all night.
And, if you have to choose which one leaves that kind of work arrangement, well, in general, women get paid less and have less advancement opportunities, (partially because they are more likely to “opt-out”), so they are going to be the ones to opt out, perpetuating the impression that women make these choices, that are then used to justify not changing the workplace to accommodate working mothers. After all, they’re likely to leave anyway, right?
It’s really quite the little, vicious, circle we’ve made for women in the workplace.