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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Still feasting on an endless pig

Larry Summers did women a favor by being such a blatant pig.

His verbal blunder made the media start examining women and the workplace and discrimination and change, or the lack there of. Sadly, most media focused on the biology crap, which was a giant load of crap, for sure. But fortunately, even if it is months later, the other issues that Summers' touched on are getting attention.

Along with biological differences, Summers also smacked two other walls blocking women from advancing in a variety of jobs: discrimination and "the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks," as reported by the Boston Globe.

That 80-hour BS still agitates me. And I'm still perplexed as to why there are so many people who think that reasonable work hours and success can't and shouldn't co-exist, or that achieving a more hospitable workplace is a feminist issue.

Matt Miller, who is filling in for Maureen Dowd over at the New York Times, most recently volleyed Summers' gristly comments into the spotlight. Even though Miller didn't mention Summers by name, it's hard to read about excessive work hours and not be reminded of his infamous comments.

"Today talented people live in fear of sounding anything less than 24/7. Tell your boss you have to deal with a drinking problem and you'll be fine; say you want more time with your family and you're on the endangered species list," wrote Miller in a column for the New York Times last week called, "Listen to My Wife."

Why are people so against change? Why are people so against society adapting to allow people to work without foregoing everything in their lives? It's sort of like some sick fraternity hazing. Perhaps the mentality is: "I worked 80 hours a week to get where I am today, so why shouldn't everyone else? If they don't, they don't deserve success."

Here are some of the best parts from Miller's piece:
It's hardly news that the issue vexing talented people is the struggle to balance their professional lives with time for fulfilling lives outside of work. The shock is that after decades of wrestling with these tradeoffs, the obvious answer is the one everyone has been too skeptical or afraid to explore: changing the way top jobs are structured.

In a world where most people are struggling, the search for "balance" in high-powered jobs has to be counted a luxury. Still, there is something telling (if not downright dysfunctional) when a society's most talented people feel they have to sacrifice the meaningful relationships every human craves as the price of exercising their talent.

Nowhere is there a greater gulf between the frustration people feel over a dilemma central to their lives and their equally powerful sense that there's nothing to be done. As a result, talented people throw up their hands. Women are "opting out" after deciding that professional success isn't worth the price. Ambitious folks of both sexes "do what they have to," sure there is no other way. That's just life.

My unreasonable wife rejects this choice. If the most interesting and powerful jobs are too consuming, Jody says, then why don't we re-engineer these jobs - and the firms and the culture that sustain them - to make possible the blend of love and work that everyone knows is the true gauge of "success"?...

...Here's the deal: this isn't a "women's" problem; it's a human problem. Yet for 30 years women have tried to crack this largely on their own, and one thing is clear: if the fight isn't joined by men (like me) who want a life, too, any solutions become "women's" solutions. A broader drive to redesign work will take a union-style consciousness that makes it safe for men who secretly want balance to say so....

...Some call this "whining." Others like working 24/7. Still others assert that you can never change the nature of work near the top. But our corporate experience persuades us that change is inevitable. In a globalizing world, many senior jobs are already impossibly big. If they need to be restructured anyway (we're working on how), why not do so in ways that give folks the option to have a life?...
Exactly.

4 comments:

  1. It's sort of like some sick fraternity hazing. Perhaps the mentality is: "I worked 80 hours a week to get where I am today, so why shouldn't everyone else? If they don't, they don't deserve success."

    I think you're right, and that accounts for some of it--but it doesn't account for all of it. Specifically, I know that the older folks who are partners in law firms generally didn't have to work the 80-hour weeks. Billable hours were much lower. In fact, "the billable hour" standard wasn't in common practice a half-century ago. Instead, just a few years ago, a NY law firm decided to raise first-year associate salaries to $125K. Other firms felt like they had to follow suit. And to afford all of this nonsense (and yes, it's nonsense to pay a first-year associate $125K), firms needed to get their money's worth by upping billable hour requirements.

    It's all silly. Or, as you put it (better), BS.

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  2. I'm so glad you posted this -- I have the article (along with another NYTimes one from May 24 entitled "What Women Want") hanging in my office, but I've been too preoccupied to write about it on my blog.

    I really feel that for the first time in my life there is an issue I care so deeply about that I am willing to risk my job for it. I am more fortunate than so many others, however, because I work in a career and at a level where I know if it's not this frying pan, I can jump into another!

    Let's keep the pressure on and make this a revolution.

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  3. Mother in Chief, I am so tickled to have found your blog and to be linked to no less!

    And to your ruminating I say BRAVO! I have some thoughts posted on this on my blog as well. The Rat Race I am glad other peopel are taking it seriously as well.

    My boyfriend and I are having a difficult time figuring out what life choices to make so that we can live our lives, have children, and be civilized people without bowing the pressure of well everybody works these hours so you should too. Perhaps that means we will have less but in the end the appeal of having more is often simply that you feel you earned your money in your 80 hour weeks thus you must spend it. I would rather have cultural capital and life capital than physical capital.

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