There are a lot of conversations about the pay gap, and how much of that is gender bias, and how much of it is because of women’s choices. I think this article, and the study it is about, can help us understand the true culprit, long hours. In the end, until we get a handle on that, the problem will exist:
“Certain changes would lighten parents’ demands at home, like universal public preschool, longer school days, free afterschool care and shorter school breaks. But the ultimate solution, researchers say, is not to make it possible for mothers to work crazy hours, too. It’s to reorganize work so that nobody has to. “
There is a lot to unpack in the entire article, but I think this is the core of it. I’ve worked in law firms, and watched extremely smart, talented, women walk away from the partner track to do something else. I’m sure that if I were to ask them, they would all have their own reasons for it, but I know the hours would absolutely be part of it. You can’t raise children and have both parents working 60 hours+ and be reachable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It doesn’t work, but the profession kind of demands it of the top earners.
This study focused on highly educated couples, this demand for long hours and constant availability is only worse as you move into single-parent situations, or couples in a lower economic strata, where options are even more limited. How would women cope with family and jobs in those situations?
The workplace is not going to change until there isn’t anyone willing to do it any more.That’s the only thing that’ll get employers attention.
I suspect we’ll see more of that going forward though. If you hang around online much, and interact with younger professionals, you realize that some of the things they value, and which some of us older folks are starting to value more, have much more to do with flexibility around when and where work gets done. I overheard someone the other day talk about how their organization just “likes having people in the office, in the chair where they can see them”, and I immediately thought there’s a place that is probably going to struggle to attract talent in just a few years. For most of us, there’s simply no reason work has to be defined in such a limiting fashion, but as long as some qualified person is willing to show up at that office and do that work, they won’t see the problem. It’ll only come when enough people simply say “no, I’m not willing to do that. I have other options.” that we’ll see any real change. A lot of people,millennial and otherwise, see that, and that’s why you see so many of them working to keep other options open.
I firmly believe that if we want to do some serious work when it comes to the gender pay gap, diversity in the workplace, suicide and mental health, and providing better opportunities for disadvantaged youth, the first step is overturning this idea that our jobs require us to sacrifice the health of ourselves and our families to be successful.
That’s not how we as human beings are made, it’s not how successful societies are made, and it’s not making anyone happy. It is making a very few people rich, and until they can’t do it any more, it’s not going to stop. It’s up to us to make that change. (And yes, I’m looking at you lawyers, clients, and legal vendors.)
I’m reminded of something my late father tried to teach me once upon a time. He was fond of saying that anyone who could take a two week vacation from their job obviously wasn’t that important to start with, and could probably be fired. I’m sure many of you in my generation have heard something similar, passed down through the generations. It’s been the way we’ve looked at our jobs for years, and it’s also complete crap.
Let me fix it for you:
If you are too important to your employer to take a vacation where you are unreachable for two weeks, your employer has failed to organize their workforce well.
Think about it, what would they do if you got hit by a bus, or had to be hospitalized for some other reason tonight? Would they constantly be calling you to figure out what to do? That’s not a sign of how irreplaceable you are, it’s a sign that they haven’t done jack to plan for it and develop a successor. That’s their problem. Not yours.