Bad for the Game: Women, Work, and Hockey

Bad for the Game: Women, Work, and Hockey

If you hang around here much, you know that I geek out about the complex issues surrounding women and the workplace.

I read the studies, watch the trends, follow the stats. Like this one: the number of women age 20 and older who are not in the labor force has soared in recent years. Many of these women leave the workplace by choice.

For many years, I’ve believed that this choice was fine and good, highly individual, and nobody’s fault.

I’m changing my mind.

I’m starting to think these women are like Canadian youth hockey players.

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In his excellent book Outliers (seriously, read it), Malcolm Gladwell describes how the playing field isn’t level in Canadian hockey. The system–however inadvertently–is rigged to favor certain kids over others, and it has little to do with skills. Gladwell calls it the “iron law of Canadian hockey:”

“In any elite group of hockey players–the very best of the best–40 percent of the players will have been born between January and March, 30 percent between April and June, 20 percent between July and September, and 10 percent between October and December.”

It starts when they’re young: at the age of 9 or 10, the “best” players get filtered out for traveling teams. At this age, the “best” players are often the oldest players: they’re a little bigger, a little more coordinated, a little more mature. The eligibility cutoff is January 1, and the ranks of Canadian hockey are packed with first quarter birthdays. It’s not a coincidence.

For years, no one even realized it was happening. Canadian hockey was thought to be a strict meritocracy. But the lopsided rosters confirm that’s not the case.

To Gladwell, Canadian hockey is more than an interesting case study. It’s a warning against hidden advantages and unfair systems, because the effects of not recognizing them are serious:

“Take a look again at that roster for the Czech Republic soccer team. There are no players born in July, October, November, or December, and only one each in August and September. Those born in the last half of the year have all been discouraged, or overlooked, or pushed out of the sport. The talent of essentially half the Czech athletic population has been squandered.”

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In her TED talk (aptly titled “Why we have too few women leaders”), Sheryl Sandberg lays out the current figures on women in the workplace:

Women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world. The numbers tell the story quite clearly: 190 heads of state, 9 are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, 13% are women. In the corporate sector, women at the top….tops out at 15-16%.”

The issues are complicated, she explains. In many ways, women hold themselves back, but that’s not the whole story. No, in order to understand why women aren’t making it to the top in any profession–why they’re exiting the workforce in droves–we have to understand this: “The data shows one thing: success and likeability are positively correlated for men, and negatively correlated for women.

The system is broken.

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What’s the upshot? Why does this matter?

There is a problem with any group that squanders the talent of half its members, especially if it doesn’t even realize it’s doing it.

Canada continues to crank out elite hockey players, despite the league’s inefficiencies. Could Canadian hockey be even better if it drew from the whole age spectrum and not just the first quarter birthdays? Gladwell thinks so. The current system is not only unfair for fourth quarter birthdays; it’s bad for the game.

And so it goes in the workplace.

To quote my high school teacher, this is a generality and all generalities are false, but very generally speaking, women bring a whole host of gifts to the table that men don’t. The workplace–and the world–needs women to show up, to bring their female perspective to the table.

I agree with Sandberg when she says, “I think that a world that was run where 50% of our countries and 50% of our companies were run by women would be a better world.”

Or, put another way by Nicholas Kristof, Lehman Brothers might still be around today if it were Lehman Brothers & Sisters.”

What does this look like in real life? How do we repair our broken systems? I have no idea. But the process must begin with awareness, and move on to resolve.

Our system–our society–needs fixing. It won’t be easy. It will be complicated. But it’s worth doing.

I’m convinced of it.

I love you guys. Let me have your thoughts on this beast of an issue. Do you relate to my old belief, or my new one? Are you in process? Tell us all about it in comments. 

photo credit

Comments

  1. says

    I appreciate you digging in to this meaty and complicated question, but I have to respectfully disagree with your current conclusions.

    God made men and women different, and I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to measure “success” for women in male terms – i.e. corporate leadership positions – unless that is how an individual woman also measures success. Many women are better suited for and better rewarded by “power behind the throne” positions.

    People seriously underestimate the costs to women of “being successful” in the workplace. I used to be a manager for Panera Bread and offered my own cafe. But I saw my husband only a handful of exhausted minutes every day, and when a family medical crisis hit the restraints of my position made it impossible to be there for the people I loved in their hour of need – I would never wish that stress on anyone! (That was when I quit.)

    I now work on a contract basis in a completely different field; I have no subordinates and there is no management ladder to climb. But I am doing work that has real value, I have significant control over my schedule (which is real power), and I’m living a lifestyle aligned with my priorities. I have to say it feels a lot more like success than being a manager did.

    Sorry this got long… Just one more thing: have you read The Power of Femininity by Michelle McKinney Hammond? I haven’t reread it in years, but at the time I found it an interesting counterpoint perspective on female power and influence to what I was taught in business school.

    • says

      Jamie, I completely agree with what you’re saying: that many women are better suited for and better rewarded by “power behind the throne” positions. And yet I think this world would be a better place if more women held management positions. (I know that sounds a tad dramatic, but I really do.) I’m not sure where we go, as a society, with that tension. I think acknowledging it’s there is the first place to start.

      Thanks so much for sharing your story of how work became overwhelming, why you quit, and what you found that works better for you. I think all women (and men) benefit when we share the particulars of our situation: it helps others envision their own possibilities, and that’s a good thing.

      I haven’t read The Power of Femininity. Should I?

    • says

      Men can make great powers behind thrones, too. As Sandberg points out — the vast majority of the women who are at the top of the heap in corporate America are married. Their husbands probably weren’t undermining their careers! I’m not sure that’s inherent in men or women. It’s just that our society is much more comfortable seeing women as the power behind the throne, rather than men.

  2. says

    I think you’re on target – I’d really like to hear your thoughts on how to fix this issue! Clearly it revolves around childbearing and childcare… right?

    • says

      Sarah, I don’t know how to fix the culture! I do think acknowledging where we are as a culture–and that maybe it’s less than ideal–is the place to start.

      And of course childbearing and childcare are so important to this whole discussion, but I don’t think they’re at the very center. Just thinking out loud here, I could very well be wrong. :)

    • says

      It is true that women who have lots of children are much less likely to hold high-power jobs than women who have no children, and that women with just 1 or 2 children are in between. But if childbearing (and the fact that the parent who bears the children tends to be more likely to spend more time caring for them) was the only thing that made a difference, childless women would be just as likely to hold high-power jobs as are men. But they’re not. Maybe that’s really all because women are perceived as unable to be trusted with powerful positions because they MIGHT suddenly quit to have a baby, and this bias is affecting women who ultimately never have children as well as those who do–but I don’t think that’s the only thing going on.

  3. Annie says

    This is a great post, and I echo Sarah’s question about solutions. I’d love to see a series on this on your blog.

  4. says

    I guess I have to assume that the “problem” here is that many women have their priorities straight. They refuse to ignore their families to go help a corporation make more widgets.
    Yes, women can be phenomenal leaders, if that is the life direction they choose. However, there are 168 hours in the week, and if you’ve allotted the majority to your job, then you short-change your children. Period.

    • BG says

      Exactly! I can’t put my finger on it, but “Lean In” totally rubs me the wrong way. I feel like it’s all about statistics and getting women to hold 50% of the leadership positions, regardless that many women choose family over careers and there is nothing wrong with that! I think the editor of “Real Simple” put it the best where she said the whole premise sounds completely exhausting. If women want to be leaders, great! But, don’t push it just so that the statistics are even. Trust me, choosing to not work has nothing to do with my likability factor of success in the workplace and everything to do with prioritizing my family over my job.

      • says

        I read Kristin Van Ogtrop’s editor’s letter in Real Simple this month about Lean In–I wish I could find a link online! Please let me know if you have one. But I was surprised to see that perspective from Van Ogtrop, who has a high-powered job if there ever was one, and whose book is entitled Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom.

        Now I want to pull out my Real Simple to read her letter again. :)

    • says

      I’m gonna agree with Kate. And I think that goes for both men and women. If family is a priority, then career is going to have to give because it’s not the top priority. My husband could certainly advance his career more but it would be at the cost of our marriage and family.

      As the child of a workaholic — I NEVER saw my dad — I’m so thankful for this. He has his money now in his retirement but at the cost of his relationship with his five kids.

      I think strong families and healthy relationships would do more for our culture than battling to the top.

      I, personally, don’t want to be at the top of any field — not if it means losing out on relationships.

      • says

        Jessica, I’m confused. You’re in the workforce! You’re an excellent example of a woman who has created a new workplace culture–one that suits her and her family!!

        I didn’t know that about your dad. I’m so sorry, and I’m thankful that your own family life today is so dramatically different.

        • says

          Ha! I don’t think of it like that, I guess. I still feel like a sahm and have a heart for that even if I’m moonlighting on my day job. But, then maybe I’ve just blurred the lines between work and home so much because I’m doing the things that I love (mostly).

          I guess all of this boils down to how do we define work and success? I get very defensive when folks say that woman need to leave home “for a career” in order to be successes. That’s what I got out of your analysis and the reading I was doing yesterday on the New Domesticity. Am I misunderstanding it all?

          • says

            I haven’t read that book yet. I’m in the request queue, but your comment about it makes me nervous! We’ll see….

            I think it’s awesome that you still feel like a sahm. It just goes to show how blurry the lines between “work” and “home” can be for some people (in a very good way), because you are also a WRITER. And we need women writers!

          • says

            Jessica, I agree with you on that bit about how a woman “needs” to have a career outside the home. That gets my hackles up, just as it does if someone says that’s what a man needs to do. People, men and women, are individuals and what one person needs to do is not the same as another.

            One thing I got from Anne’s post today, though, is that society and the workplace need to be open to women taking rolls presently closed off (whether by design or mere cultural habit). And I totally agree with that too.

            Cheers,
            Tim

      • says

        I’m not sure what that has to do with anything. Men make choices. Women make choices. Women are, on average, more conscious of their responsibility to take care of their children. Taking care of children requires being present. There is no way to increase the number of hours available. Therefore, if you want to raise your own children, you have to choose between running the world and being present for your children.
        There’s a great piece in the Washington post by Elsa Walsh that really addresses this issue. She argues that there should be life in your life, not just work. It’s here:

        http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-18/opinions/38641168_1_feminism-sheryl-sandberg-gloria-steinem

        • says

          “Women are, on average, more conscious of their responsibility to take care of their children.”

          An average is a type of statistic, and I’m not sure that this is one based on real data, like a study or poll or something. So my question, Kate, is are women truly more conscious? Or perhaps that’s just how society perceives women as opposed to men in how conscious one is over the other. Perhaps men are just as conscious of their responsibility to take care of their children, but don’t express it in the same way women do.

          Of course, perhaps women truly do have a greater consciousness of the responsibility to care for children than men do. I just don’t see it as an inherent trait in women versus men. Perhaps it’s a cultural or societal trait?

          Cheers,
          Tim

          • says

            “Perhaps men are just as conscious of their responsibility to take care of their children, but don’t express it in the same way women do.”

            Yes! That was my point. If a man goes out to make more widgets with corporation X, does that make him a bad Dad?

            And before any commenter assumes otherwise, I’m a stay at home mom.

          • says

            And what a salient point it is, Carrie. Whetehr a Dad stays home or has a career outside the home, the Dad can embody the same conscisouness re kids as a Mom in those situations.

            Embodiment and expression, as I’ve painfully learned at times, can be very diffferent!

          • says

            Certainly, this could be partly societal, but penguins notwithstanding, the females of most species raise their children. Somehow I don’t think that’s cultural – I’m pretty sure lions aren’t that deep.
            While I’d like to think that humans are more evolved, there is some biology at play here as well.

          • says

            Glad you brought up lions. I’ve heard the men sleep most of the day while the women go hunt for food. Where do I sign up?

            Love my naptime!

            ;-)
            Tim

        • says

          For many isn’t the responsibility putting a roof over heads, food in mouths and clothes on bodies? All of these (in the US) generally require some amount of money. If everyone stays home, who pays the bills? Just a thought from a working gal without kids, yet.

          • says

            Two things:
            There’s a huge difference between a job that ends at 5 pm and does not start again until the next day and a “leadership role,” which requires nearly undivided attention. Many people (men and women) choose jobs that allow them to be present for their children.
            Everyone doesn’t have to stay home. But if you are financially sound, why does everyone in a family have to work outside the home? And by financially sound, I mean paying the bills, not having every luxury.

      • says

        My own marriage is probably somewhat of an anomaly, but we do ask this question in my house to both spouses. We had a situation in January where my husband was offered a dream job, while he was taking 2 years off to care for our kids. I was on mat leave at the time, scheduled to go back in March.

        We weighed all of the options – he stays home, I quit and stay home, we both try to find part time or contract work. We talked at length about what we wanted our family life to look like, and that included the discussion that it was not any more acceptable for mama to be home all day, and for daddy to see the kids for maybe an hour before bedtime.

        I ended up quitting because I couldn’t reduce my schedule to what I wanted, hubby took the dream job which is actually pretty nice in terms of balance, and i’ll likely find very part-time consulting work in a few months that I can do from home at night and thus won’t require regular child care.

        I do wholeheartedly agree that we’re leaving half on the table. But our current corporate work environment SUCKS if you’re not willing to put in 45+ hour weeks. And re: the 168 hour argument, most kids are in childcare longer than 40 hours a week because you have to count in commute time, so it was an extra 5+ hours for us per week for “total job time”.

        What we need: more openness to flexible work arrangements, on-site excellent but affordable childcare, less requirements for “face time”, the ability to dial up/dial down our careers as we pass through the stages of life. Corporate America is very “all or nothing”, at least in the tech industry.

  5. Allison says

    I totally agree with you – the world would be a better place with more women as leaders but it will never happen.

    This is a man’s world always has been and always will be. Why? Because the men do not want it to change. They like being the boss.

    But it is women who rule. Men are created by women. Men are raised and by women. In recent history women are “usually” the admin’s in the workplace. Why? Because the women admins take care of the men bosses; like mommies taking care of their babies.

    I’ve been in the workforce 25+ years. I’ve been paid less than a man doing a less responsible job in the same company. He was married, he had children (he was also the same religion as the bosses). I was married, I did client work (where my hours were billed to the clients) and i did office work (he only did office work) – he made more than i did. Why? One guess.

    I’ve also been paid less than a woman who did have a college degree (i do not) but did not do the level of work i did. Although she was a few years older than i, she was prettier, cuter, flirtier and more outgoing than i was. Why was she paid more? Because is was the men in charge who determined our salaries.

    I think i got off topic lol – sorry

    Yes, it is not fair. Yes it is not going to change.

    • says

      I wonder if this differs from state to state? In CA, lots of businesses and institutions are run by women. But, I still see workers being mistreated on several levels, regardless of sex. I’m not convinced that gender is the issue.

  6. Joani says

    Thanks for keeping tabs on the studies and stats for us. I don’t track them even though I probably should. I feel blessed to work in an environment where both men & women are able to prioritize their families. Sadly, though I do observe the negative competence & likeability factor for women, it seems completely independent of the complex impact of child bearing & childcare issues women experience in the workplace. I don’t know how to fix it and wish I did. Thankfully I only experience it on very rare occasions.

  7. says

    I think another factor is the type of work performed. I was a teacher (with a Masters degree) before we had children and while staying home was always in the back of my mind, it really did not become apparent until we started crunching numbers and found that close to my entire salary would be devoted to childcare (and that was with only 1 child.)

    I agree wholeheartedly that God has made men and women complementary and that the workforce is missing what the female complement can offer, however at the same time our current set-up does make it difficult for women to be parents and work (short of having “free” and reliable childcare) as, like it or not, the burden of childcare/child rearing tends to fall onto the shoulders of the mother.

    • says

      Does your husband earn a lot more money than you do? If so, then yes, it made sense to quit your job rather than spend your entire salary on childcare–unless you had some other reason to continue your job. (In my case, my entire salary went to childcare and health insurance premiums, but my partner’s job did not offer health insurance, so we were saving money compared to paying for non-employer-subsidized insurance, but the real reason I kept my job was that I LIKE MY JOB and feel it makes a positive difference in the world.)

      But if your husband’s salary was similar to yours, money wasn’t the only reason you were the one to quit your job. I have known many family’s who made these calculations based ONLY on the mother’s earning power, so that’s why I’m asking.

      I don’t think childcare being considered a mother’s responsibility is a “like it or not” situation at all. It’s not all that hard to breastfeed and work outside the home, and once the child is weaned the father is a 100% capable caregiver–if he and the mother are willing to believe it.

      • says

        Hi Becca,

        Yes, my husband earns more than what my teaching salary salary was. Don’t get me wrong, I loved teaching and I do feel a pull toward the classroom, especially in August/September, but at the same time the thought of having someone else watch the kids during the day was really hard for me to handle (couple that with the fact that we move every few years, and currently live in CA while our family is in WI, we basically start over making new friends and connections every few years.) I am sure that I will be in the classroom again, and honestly, the money factor made my decision to stay home that much easier!

        Thanks for asking, BTW!

  8. says

    As a physician, I rose to sucess in a traditionally male field–one which has really benefited from the gifts women now bring to it. But the reality is that right when a medical career begins to peak–late twenties, early thirties–is also when we women have a fertility clock we are well aware of ticking loudly. When I chose to leave my position to raise my kids–a very unual choice even in a southern, traditional area of the country, few understood. I was a “disapointment” to the female higher-ups who were interested in women’s progress in the medical hierarchy. The reality was, since my spouse is also a physician, there were two very divergent paths our family’s life could take, one in which our children would be shuttled between day cares or nannies and the rare times we spent as a family would be few and far between, or the life where I actually could invest in their future, be their mother. No part-time wasn’t really an option–in my field part time would have been 40 hour weeks plus call. So I walked away from medicine, and no, it wasn’t easy. I had a gift. I now am active as a volunteer physician doing valuable work in our community while free to adjust my schedule as needed to care for our kids, and I look back and see that what I laid down on the “altar” when called to was handed right back to me in a way I never imagined. But there is such value in what we do as mothers. There is a real truth to “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” and I wanted that hand on the cradle to be my own. This is such a complex issue with individual choices that look different at different times for different women. Supporting each other is important, but devaluing the stay-at-home-mom (which happened to me quite a bit) shouldn’t be part of the equation. (and i know you agree, just sayin)

    • says

      That must have been a difficult choice, Sarah, after all the time and effort you dedicated to your career. I appreciate hearing your perspective, and while I’m not a mother yet, my mom stayed home. I agree with you that this choice is often devalued in the name of “progress.”

  9. says

    Anne – thanks for this post. Someone pointed out above that there are 168 hours in a week. The good news about that is that it’s quite possible to work 40, sleep 8 hours a night (56) and thus have 72 hours left over for other things. That doesn’t count as ignoring your family.

    I completely agree that a system that discounts half its talent is leaving a lot on the table. Unfortunately, as long as some people try to claim that women are somehow less of mothers because they’re taking on the adult responsibility of supporting their children financially, it will be hard to make progress.

    • says

      There’s HUGE difference between supporting your family in a 40 hour per week job and running a company or a country. HUGE. “Leaders” spend 80 hours a week at work. Tell me that those people have anything left over for their children. Really.

      • says

        Barack Obama claims to eat dinner with his kids most nights when he’s in town. Sheryl Sandberg leaves the office at 5:30. And most people who claim to be working 80-hour weeks are mistaken. See June 2011 Monthly Labor Review, John Robinson et al on “The overestimated workweek revisited.” Chart 1 shows the gap between estimated workweeks of 75 hours plus and reality at 25 hours. (http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2011/06/art3full.pdf)

        • says

          Sheryl also talks about getting up before her children to work and working after they’ve gone to bed, clocking her workweek at far more than 40 hours. And I’m glad that President Obama sees his kids once a day, but that wouldn’t be enough for me, and I’m fairly certain that he goes back to work afterwards.
          Regarding the “adult responsibility” of providing financially for your family, it is also an “adult responsibility” to raise your children.
          Please don’t get me wrong – I am not a believer that women should have to stay home, but I despise the concept that running a company is somehow more valuable than raising human beings. And no, I do not believe that you can simultaneously do both with any degree of competency.

          • says

            “I despise the concept that running a company is somehow more valuable than raising human beings.”

            and I agree with you there ;)

          • says

            Kate, my father worked 40-hour weeks at minimum; when I was 6-7 he also had a consulting job that he did at home in the evenings; when I was 11-20 he came home for dinner every evening but went back to work for a few hours 2-3 nights a week and worked every Sunday afternoon. When I was 12 and my brother was 9, my mother took a job that involved traveling for a week or two at a stretch many times a year; she was away about 50% of school days. Prior to that she had been a SAHM.

            I believe that both my parents were strongly involved in “raising” me. Yes, my mom was physically with me more hours and did more housework than my dad when I was little, but it was my dad who was in charge of bedtime and spent hours with us every Saturday. When I was older, my dad worked many hours, but he was there to help me with homework, talk over dinner (don’t just blow off the value of table conversation!!), take care of me when I was sick, and attend every recital and parent-teacher conference.

            I agree that running a company isn’t more valuable than raising human beings. But I disagree that “raising” is a one-person job that takes a huge amount of time.

    • says

      “we see Moms relegated to the home by default.”

      When I sat and rocked my 6 week old son almost 15 years ago, crying my eyes out at the THOUGHT of going back to my full time job, it wasn’t society that was keeping me “down”.

      It was ME. It was my hormones, my brain, my body. I was (am) physically uncomfortable being away from my babies. I’ve read, studied, discussed, listened to, thought about, meditated, on both sides of the issue, and I sometimes get angry. Sometimes I get sad, sometimes I just feel confused.

      But I do know this: my decisions were MINE. It wasn’t an evil man, or the culture, or society making my decisions. I don’t have any desire to have success in the corporate arena. That doesn’t mean I lack intelligence, or ambition, or that I get excited and fulfilled by scrubbing the shower.

      It also doesn’t mean that I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to take care of my children financially, as Laura seems to intimate here. I’ve been a married stay at home mom, and I’ve been a single mom of 4 kids who managed to take care of those kids while running an online business (without welfare OR child support I might add). I see both sides of the equation. I’m not naive enough to think that a woman should rely on a man financially.

      Equality doesn’t mean everyone is the same. If more women desired to be CEOs, I guess they’re competent enough to put themselves there!

      • says

        Good points, Carrie. Trying to take a broad population based statistic and apply it to the individual never works.

        • says

          There’s a statistic – someone did a study – that 100% of pregnant people are FEMALE! And 100% of breastfeeders – also female. Why aren’t things more equal!?

          Would the world be a better place if men could give birth and breastfeed? These things are related in my mind because when I hear an argument about how women “should” be in the military or there “should” be more female CEOs, I think – have we made the argument that men “should” be able to do these other feminine things? Are men lining up to take those roles?

          • says

            Is that I haven’t gotten pregnant yet? And here I thought it was me. Oh wait … it is me.

            Sure men and women are made differently. I don’t think the biological roles alone account for the percentage of women in corporate and political leadership topping out in the teens, though.

            Cheers,
            Tim

          • says

            “I don’t think the biological roles alone account for the percentage of women in corporate and political leadership topping out in the teens, though.”

            I wasn’t saying that. I don’t think that society is forcing women out of political leadership and corporate America. I think more men *want* those roles. And it’s not a problem in my opinion.

          • says

            The biological realities of reproduction are different from “feminine roles”. These are some “feminine roles” which our society strongly discourages men from taking:
            *caring for their own children in lieu of a paying job
            *providing childcare
            *teaching prepubescent children
            *caring for sick people as a nurse (Men can be doctors, but nurse is uncool.)
            *caring for the elderly.

            I think we are way overdue for opening up those roles to men. Although most of the traditionally male-dominated professions are now open to women in theory, we see a lot of women choosing not to pursue those careers, and in addition to individual choice, this is connected to the widespread idea voiced by Karianna above: “like it or not, the burden of childcare/child rearing tends to fall onto the shoulders of the mother.” Because people assume that mothers not fathers need to adjust their careers when children arrive, because men have grown up being nudged away from learning to care for children, because fathers who quit their jobs to stay home with children face significant questioning and shaming from the public, because someone has to care for children with employed parents and men applying for such jobs are viewed with suspicion and hostility, men “can’t” care for children so women “have to” and THAT INFLUENCES THEIR CHOICES.

            It’s still probably true that if we got rid of all rules and social pressures keeping men out of caring professions, more women than men would choose those professions. But I don’t think it would be as skewed as it is now. Opening up the sciences and engineering to women hasn’t led to a 50/50 gender ratio in those professions, but there are a lot more women in them than before.

          • says

            It’s a bit hard to follow the comment threads and reply to the right comment, but I just want to say a big YEAH to ‘Becca’s comment: she perfectly expressed my perspective. I agree that a distinction must be made between female biological abilities like breastfeeding (which it makes no sense for men to “line up” for) and societal roles which have taken on a distinctly “feminine” flavour (many of which ‘Becca lists).

            In that connection, I just want to mention that my husband is a hospital nurse. He also supervises 2nd-year nursing students when they do their practicum. He’s been doing this job for 10 years, and in that time the percentage of male students has been pretty consistent: usually fewer than 5 in a class of 100. And in my son’s school of 400+ students, there are only 3 male staff (2 educational assistants and the grade 7-8 classroom teacher). Very interesting trends which (unfortunately) I don’t see strong signs of changing — but I’d love to be proved wrong on that!!

  10. says

    This is a tough one, Anne. I’m like you, slowly evolving my opinion. It’s hard when my own personal preference is to stay home and absolutely never ever ever work for someone ever again, please. Both because I do think it’s important for me to be with my kids and because, frankly, I have hated every job I’ve ever had and I really enjoy setting my own schedule and taking care of my house. Maybe I should have been a housecleaner?

    Anyway. Though I imagine childcare availability has something to do with it, I doubt it’s everything. In France, for instance, most women (more than in the US, I think) work outside the home; childcare is free/cheap and high quality. But I don’t think women have much greater representation in government or industry (I don’t have statistics; just my impression). And apparently household chores and child-rearing tasks fall more disproportionately on the women than the men, even though both work full-time (that was in Bringing Up Bebe, I think).

    Some of it might be age? Women have only really had access to a lot of jobs for forty years or so; CEOs tend to be older (fifties and sixties), so perhaps in ten or twenty years that will change naturally? That’s what one would expect, at least.

    Aaaaand as I pointed out in our discussions around your Work Shift book, a lot of men are redefining success, too. My husband has had interesting conversations with older lawyers who think the younger generation isn’t worth a darn because they’re not willing to sacrifice everything for the job; my husband and his contemporaries just see it as taking a more holistic, healthy approach to their lives that allows time with family and for non-work-related personal pursuits. But clearly it’s going to be the young men with the old-school mentalities who are going to be in charge of things in thirty years, not people like the DDH, who keeps actively trying to avoid a promotion because it will mean a lot more hours (and because he feels like he’s doing important work where he is–juvenile law work is considered less prestigious than criminal law).

    I DON’T KNOW. Everything is so complicated.

    • says

      Tell your husband to stick to his guns on the career decisions, Katie. If I hadn’t become a judge, my law practice would have seen a meaningful change in the way I put in the time, perhaps trading my partnership for a different track or a different job altogether.

    • says

      So here’s something. I actually have less formal education than my mother. She has a Master’s degree in Linguistics; I only have a Bachelor’s. But though I love learning and would happily go back to school and get more degrees for funsies, I can’t justify spending a whole lot of money on something I don’t intend to use to get a job.

      My mom gave up her job teaching English as a Second Language to rear us (well, first to follow my Dad around because he was in the Navy). But that meant that she was able to volunteer her time to teach ESL to our immigrant schoolmates, when neither the parents nor the school district could afford tutors or dedicated classes for them. So even though she never had a career (she does work now at something completely unrelated), she was able to use the education she received to help people who needed it, which she never could have done if she were working full time.

      I say that, but my dad (who has several Master’s degrees in different fields as well as a doctorate in physics) spends a lot of his time volunteering, too–on textbook review committees, judging science fairs and debate competitions, that sort of thing. So certainly it’s possible to some degree.

      Anyway. Now I just feel guilty because my little brother is graduating this month with his Master’s and moving across the country to get his doctorate and he doesn’t even like school, but here I am, letting him skew the statistics in favor of men. Blargh.

  11. Dawn says

    Anne, I think your post is fantastic.

    I am a full time working mama. My husband stays at home with the kids, does all the meal planning, prep, and cooking, all the outside work on the yard, all the shopping, driving, bill paying, and takes on side jobs that use his various talents. There are lots of times when I wish the roles were reversed–things I would do differently or events I would attend at their school. It really hits me at night–my kids don’t cry for me at night when they are scared–they ask for daddy.

    I see people in managerial positions and I don’t envy the hours they put in, the issues they deal with, they way they balance whiny upper-management with one hand and whiny hourly workers with the other, but I’ve come to simplify my whole philosophy in the workplace as this:

    As long as I’m here I may as well kick some ass and put my name in the hat with the boys. If I don’t earn the promotion I’ll never have the choice to take it or leave it.

  12. says

    Hi Anne,
    I value your interest and bravery in bringing up this issue, especially on your forum where so many Christian women read. I have found that there is a dichotomy of opinion: women who think that women should NOT work outside of the home at all and women who are using all of their energy defending the right to work. It IS a complicated issue. One that I have thought a lot about since I just graduated from college last Saturday. What are my goals? Do I want to work full-time? For over twenty years, I have been a stay-at-home, homeschooling Mother. My youngest will be 11. It was right-for me-to go to college (I was not “going back” to college, but “going” to college). I found that I love the academic world so much I want to continue pursuing a Ph.D., Lord willing.

    BTW-Women’s Studies, along with English and History, make up my major. I think that I may have been the only conservative woman in my classes. Still-and this brings up another issue you may want to tackle-I consider myself a feminist. Now having said that, it is important to DEFINE “feminist,” as the common connotation denotes radical, bra-burning (which never happened) women who hate men. On the contrary, feminist in its basic-stripped down-form simply ports that women are equal to men and, therefore, should have the same equal rights and opportunities as men. (I think many women, by that definition, would indeed, consider themselves feminists.)
    I am thinking that you must have had some Women’s Studies classes yourself, the manner in which you raise and present these issues. Thank you for the time you invest in them.

    • says

      You graduated?!? Congratulations!!! You’ve been in process since we first “met” online and I’m thrilled for you and your milestone.

  13. Kelsey says

    This a topic that I definitely struggle with. As a young single woman working on her masters degree I feel pressure to be one of these woman who takes a leadership role in things. However, I also feel that a work-life balance is key to a happy life, and as I look at all of my supervisors who skip lunch and send emails at all hours of the night, I’m not sure that this balance is achievable is a management position. So while I think I would do a good job in these positions, I’m not so sure that I want them (even though I don’t plan of staying home with my children should I ever have any). It’s a difficult topic for sure!

    • says

      Kelsey, I completely understand looking at someone else’s job and thinking, “That’s not what I want for my life!” But please don’t assume your life would have to look like that if you took a similar position. The cultures of individual workplaces vary wildly, as do the people who work in them, and their work habits. Just because their life looks crazy (is crazy?) in a management position doesn’t mean yours would have to be.

      Yep, it’s a difficult topic. Can’t argue with that!

  14. Sarah A says

    Long time reader, first time commenter. In fact, while your life tends to run totally opposite of mine, I like this blog. It calms me.

    Anyway, topic at hand…..

    I worked a 70-80 hour a week job in my mid 20s, earning near 6 figures. I was miserable. I traveled a lot for pleasure, not work, but I was still miserable. I had an SO who was supportive and took care of home chores, yet I was still miserable. Pouring your heart and soul and passion into something that isn’t fulfilling or rewarding just wasn’t for me. I took it as a sign of failure initially until I realized how much happier I was.

    I agree with so many aspects of the above comments: women are fundamentally different, we would be better off if women ran more businesses, women do tend to have different priorities…..

    I think he problem isn’t that women aren’t in leadership positions because it equates with nlikeability, I believe itsbecausewe have better things to do with our time than generate monetary income. Stop measuring women’s involvement in a system that is broken, and start measuring it in their efforts to find new systems.

    • says

      “Stop measuring women’s involvement in a system that is broken, and start measuring it in their efforts to find new systems.”

      Oh, I like that last part.

      I would like to point out (gently, and with a smile on my face) that I have a job that generates monetary income that I enjoy, and I think is a very good use of my time. There is such a thing. :)

  15. says

    I’m in the thick of this right now. Here are a few scattered thoughts:
    1) We need to get rid of the idea that many hours worked=a job well done
    2) Leadership can take on many forms, and doesn’t have to come with a C level position. I try to look for little ways to lead every day — an encouraging word to a new research assistant, making a banana bread when the staff seems run down, motivating co-workers to join the wellness program, these are all things I can do now even though I have two little kids. I figure it keeps me in the game, I’m not “leaving before I leave”, but I’m not trying to kill myself or letting my family play second fiddle while working 24/7. I’m “taking a seat at the table” and keeping it warm for when I am able to work all those hours.

  16. says

    I’ve worked in the monoculture of education, food service, and health care. Hated them all. I love being at home where I get a wide variety of tasks and can spend my time and energy on the people and things I love. Today I’ve enjoyed stints as a swim coach, author, baker, Bible study teacher, and chauffer (ok, not a favorite, but at least it was 10 minutes instead of 8 hours). If you get your joy from a paycheck and a pat on the head, go for it. I prefer hugs and dandelions.

  17. says

    Great thoughts, Anne. If enough of us are thinking deeply about this, maybe we’ll get it all figured out.

    Aside from the fact that many women don’t want to be in the corporate world, or define success differently from men, there are women that want to succeed in the traditional workforce and are consistently held back. I think your hypothesis on the “likeability” aspect is dead on. I jokingly told a guy friend recently that my job needed to be to analyze other people’s endeavors and point out their weak places and how to improve. He, also jokingly, said there as a not-nice word for that. If I were a man, though, the word is actually “consultant.”

    Still, the most interesting thing I see is that INDIVIDUALLY many men respect INDIVIDUAL women as fully as they do other men. This same guy is actually my biggest cheerleader and mentor. (Really, that conversation was all in good fun, even if it showed an unintended stereotype.) He would never, ever think I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something because I am a woman.

    The whole thing is more subversive than the obvious, “Women can’t do this.” Which makes it harder to fight against. I liked Sandberg’s book, though even she admitted it was a little one-sided in only addressing what women could do and not what companies could do to improve conditions.

    Thanks for continuing the conversation here.

  18. says

    I’m still young, but from what I’ve observed, it seems that in order for women to take a seat at the table, they need to be invited. There are definite advantages to being a man that allow for more doors to be open. I don’t feel like people think I’m not capable of a job, but more that they are afraid to give me the chance. It could be because I’m young, but it feels a lot more like it’s because I’m female.

    • Dawn says

      Women do not NEED to be invited to the table, but they can be much more EFFECTIVE when they are invited.

      I don’t know your situation, but I have been in the workforce in male-dominated markets for about ten years. I have only recently stopped categorizing myself as “young,” because now there are younger workers here than me.

      There were definately challenges to being young in the workplace–older workers may feel intimidated by someone who will take a lower salary and less vacation and to a similar job, or they may feel less valued because of whatever education you bring with you that they lack, etc.

      I found I had the most success when I balanced my femininity with firmness, politeness, and truthfulness, as well as being willing to talk to anyone in the orginization in the spirit of trying to learn something from everyone.

      It is much easier for a man to have a teaching role with a woman counterpart, especially right away before you know each other and what to expect from each other. In return for whatever he teaches you, show him something about how your role affects his work life. It will start to build the trust between you and your coworkers and help you understand one another. I use this most with people outside of my immediate department.

      There are definate advantages to being female in the workplace too. Men like gaining respect from women; it’s different than gaining respect from other men. Women can speak softly and still get a point across. Women can gain the attention in a meeting just by wearing a bright color (akin to the “power tie”).

      I guess my point is that a) everyone has to earn their seat at the table, male or female, young or older. b) use your femininity as a weapon, a defense, and in any other (appropriate) means to do a first-rate job. Prove you can play with the boys and then you’ll get your invite.

      Good luck.

  19. Chrissy says

    I have a bit of a different perspective on this topic. My family and I moved to Norway a year ago. A country that many in the US hold up as the standard of a country doing it right by maternity and equal rights standards. And in many ways they are. Families get a year of maternity leave, three months of which must be taken by the father or it’s lost. Most women in our area work a full time job as do their husbands. The childcare system is affordable, and great quality. The workday standards are held tightly, meaning that when you have worked your eight hour day (actually less with mandated breaks) you are expected to leave. People value their family time and their holidays.

    BUT, I have found that within all of this, there is very little choice. Women are expected by society to work full time and are socially looked down upon if they choose to stay home with their children. Homeschooling is basically non-existent. (When I brought up the idea of homeschooling my own children, my new friends and neighbors thought I was crazy.) Children are placed in full time childcare starting at age 1 and, once again, it is a societal expectation that you put your child there. Politicians have stated in the press that child-rearing is too important of a job to be left to parents.

    So my position here is conflicted. I want women to be able to succeed. In many Norwegian families, the system is working well. Husbands and wives are both equal participants in their children’s upbringing and day to day care. But in many other cases, families are stressed, and children are stressed as well. The key to this is that women (and men) need to be able to make choices to best fit the needs of their families. And my concern about Sandberg’s position is that she is attempting to evoke societal pressure or guilt to further the goals of equal rights, the exact place where I believe Norway has gotten it wrong. When women make choices because they feel they have to support or continue the movement for equal rights, rather than do what they feel is best overall for their family, we have fallen into the exact same trap as being forced to stay at home because of societal pressure. There has got to be a middle ground.

  20. Elizabeth Kane says

    This topic is absolutely fascinating to me. For the last year or so, this topic has been HUGE (I’ve really wanted to know what you thought about “Lean In” since it was on your to-read list!)
    There are so many parts to this enormous and complicated puzzle – we could spend years talking about it. This conversation will continue for a while.

    I think one thing going on here is how we’re seeing a shift in gender roles. We still have gender stereotypes to overcome, but our roles as men and women are less rigid than they’ve been in previous generations. These days it’s a little easier for us to shift into the role that needs to be filled at the moment (think see-saw marriage, share care, and soooo much about what you talk about in “Work Shift”). I think many of us are starting to see blending as the new normal.

  21. Pamela says

    I love that you posted this!

    My opinion is that the world won’t change until we change it. If 80+ hour workweeks exist (and I know there’s debate on that topic!) I would argue that they’re unhealthy for men as well as for women. Seems to me, men need to (and should want to!) “lean in” at home and women need to “lean in” at work. Providing food on the table and a roof over one’s children’s heads is pretty essential to caring for them. Sure, each couple can work this out in the way that best suits them, but to assume that all women everywhere must assume the primary child rearing role, while men assume the primary wage-earning role seems to diminish the abilities both.

    In my own experience, I feel much closer to my father (who worked outside the home) than I do to my mother (who was a homeschooling SAHM). While I feel guilty for this, I think it’s because I never had the opportunity to miss my mom or to want her around. She just always *was* around. i guess in some ways absence does make the heart grow fonder?

    I do see parent roles changing and that makes me happy. I see lots of Dads in my neighborhood/community wearing the baby carriers or taking their kids to Starbucks or on a walk or to the grocery store without Mom. It looks like more men are taking on a more involved Dad role, and that’s a good thing!! Being a good Dad is way more than just bringing home a fat paycheck.

    Also, one last thought – I would argue that working in order to save for one’s own retirement *is* caring for one’s children. I could very well be in a situation in a few years where my in laws will not have enough to live on in retirement, and that’s terrifying for my husband and I (especially as we contemplate starting our own family in the next couple of years).

  22. says

    For some reason there is no reply link on the comments I want to reply to…..

    The reason I bring up biological differences (obviously men are not lining up to breastfeed or give birth even if medical science got that far) is because whether we want to admit it or not, those differences impact our choices. The book The Female Brain cites many studies that point this out. We may not want to admit that we are influenced to the extent that we are by hormones and biology, but that does not make it less true. Do fewer men want to be nurses because people will make fun of them, or do fewer men want to be nurses because their oxytocin levels are lower and testosterone higher? Maybe fewer women are interested in doing the work it takes to get to the top of the corporate ladder because we tend to think more wholistically and are less compartmentalized.

    I find the idea that “society”is keeping people down tiring.

    • says

      Really interesting thoughts, Carrie; you got me thinking for sure! The suggestion that men don’t choose to be nurses because they have less oxytocin begs the question of why, then, men choose to be doctors. Does high testosterone and low oxytocin produce a better doctor, while the opposite produces a better nurse? Surely not — and doesn’t such a suggestion just play to the stereotype that nurses are gentle hand-holders and forehead-patters (i.e. “it’s a woman’s job”) while doctors do the hard brain work? In fact these are two different but complementary professions, both of which are technically demanding, fast-paced, and often highly specialized — AND both of which can be done with high effectiveness and competence by either sex. Misunderstanding the actual nature of the job is one of the main reasons I think young men don’t choose nursing. The idea (as I mentioned) that it’s a stereotypical “woman’s job” is another. Just my thoughts — I’m finding this a pretty fascinating discussion.

      • says

        “why, then, men choose to be doctors – Does high testosterone and low oxytocin produce a better doctor, while the opposite produces a better nurse?”

        I didn’t say that one gender was better at a particular job – I said men and women are attracted to and choose different professions. :) My sister is a nurse so I know a bit about what her job is like. And I believe there is a reason for the stereotype of the egotistical, testosterone-driven male doctor/surgeon and the more submissive (but equally competent) nurse that’s played out in the media.

        Fascinating discussion, definitely!

    • says

      I find the idea that these differences are ENTIRELY hormonally driven pretty tiring, too! People respond differently to the same hormones. I did natural childbirth, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, everything that would allow me to experience the full natural hormonal reactions, yet I did not feel anything like the reaction you (Carrie) described earlier, “crying my eyes out at the THOUGHT of going back to my full time job.” I went back part-time, actually–as planned before the birth. I felt a little nervous about making sure my baby was okay with the sitter, and I felt a little strange walking around without my baby, but I was nowhere near despondent. Although I had appreciated having time off to get to know my baby and recover from the birth, I also had missed my work and thought about it at times, and I was glad to come back.

      Oxytocin levels are variable within individuals and are affected by their experiences. Men who do more nurturing and/or experience more nurturing have an increase in oxytocin. Women who push themselves to be really tough and independent and/or experience a lot of stress have a decrease in oxytocin.

      I agree that biological differences have SOME impact on our choices. My point is only that societal expectations ALSO have an impact. If that weren’t true, then decreasing medical schools’ discrimination against women would have resulted in a much smaller increase in female doctors than what we’ve seen in the past 40 years.

      • says

        ‘Becca, I should have known I could count on you to contribute to an interesting dialogue on this topic. Thanks for sharing your perspective here and above.

      • says

        Thanks for that link, I have always been interested in the way different women experience this. I don’t think anyone is a slave to their hormones, but I don’t think we should be leaving biology out of a discussion of men and women and career choices. Anne you have some awesome readers!

  23. says

    Wow – I think I read this about five minutes after it was posted, before all these fascinating comment threads had unfolded! I loved this post, and am not surprised it received a big response.

    I haven’t read Lean In yet but I really appreciated the review Fidelia’s Sisters ran of it: http://youngclergywomen.org/a-review-of-sheryl-sandbergs-lean-in-women-work-and-the-will-to-lead/
    Many clergywomen have been interested in this book because while we aren’t CEOs of businesses, we are in leadership positions in traditionally male-dominated spheres. There’s especially a lot of talk about the preponderance of women in associate ministry positions – there is a “stained-glass ceiling” preventing many women from being called to senior pastorates in large congregations. The General Minister and President of my own denomination is female, though, and I think her amazing leadership has cleared the way for other women. That said, there is a sort of leaning-out that happens among many clergy women. Serving as an associate pastor is, for me, a far more livable role now that I have children.

    Thanks, as always, for the thoughtful post.

    • says

      Katherine, I just read the review over at Fidelia’s Sisters for the first time. What an interesting perspective!

      And the “stained-glass ceiling” is a brilliant phrase, if a sad phenomenon.

      Thanks for contributing something really interesting to the conversation. I’d never considered how a pastor and CEO are so similar, but it sure makes sense to me.

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