You know how you tell children not to do something? And then they do. Adults are not much different…
I found a really interesting article in the HBR online the other day, resuming a few things I’ve mentioned earlier on this blog. The good thing is that what the HBR wrote is supported by a study carried out with Harvard MBA students. The study shows that more women than men expect their careers to be at the same level of importance as their other half (after an MBA). Men on the other hand, as a majority, expect to have a more important career than their other halves, and to manage the home less (even among “younger” generations).
What often happens, is that women are “mummy tracked”. The mummy track is the assumption that women’s priorities change with children, and they are therefore, in essence, given the option to work part time, to have more flexibility to mind their family etc. In an article in the Financial Times, there is a specific focus on female lawyers requiring flexibility. On paper, this looks great, and many women say that “This is exactly what we need!”. (In Sweden there has been parental insurance for partners for quite some time.) You could now, as a woman, get some relief from the pressure of juggling work and family. And, as a free gift, the option to lose out on promotions and interesting work. Great.
But what about the other person in the couple? (I wrote about this in a previous post.) Shouldn’t men 1/have the right to the same flexibility, 2/be encouraged to use the same flexibility, if women are to get a larger part of the corporate cake? (Just as a side track: there are rumours that a major French company not only does not actively encourage the legally entitled “daddy leave”, but even withholds the entire annual bonus, for the fathers who “dare” use their leave. We are not talking six months here, only two weeks.) Even women lawyers are doubtful about flexibility, claiming that the industry is too competitive and conservative. If this remains a “truth” in people’s minds, then things aren’t likely to change anytime soon.
In parallel to this, the New York times has published an article explaining how the effect of repeating something that we don’t like, but that exists, somehow makes the thing we don’t like more acceptable. The example given is one of a national park trying to stop people from removing stones, by setting up a sign lamenting the fact that many people do. It ends up with more stone picking by the public. This works for discrimination as well (and racism etc, but that’s another story). So, theoretically, the more we say things are being biased, or negative, the worse it gets because people adopt the thought as being semi acceptable. (So stop writing, you might say…)
The HBR also talks about meaning (also mentioned in a previous post), and the fact that women still want challenging and interesting jobs, and jobs with more responsibility, regardless of family and children. Obviously, women with optimistic expectations at the beginning of their career become disillusioned and lose their grit when the dire reality strikes, and the traditional patterns of promotions and family roles are replicated.
It concludes that women do not want to work less (overall) just because they have children, they do not want less challenging work. They want to be counted on, and appreciated, just as anyone else (men, or women without children). Women don’t lean out, they really do lean in. Therefore, the importance of companies actually “leaning in” is now a second step needed to make this reality. I totally agree.
There is one important thing to remember. The more we rant about what not to do, the more it is done. The more we talk discrimination, the more it becomes “acceptable”. So maybe it’s time to stop talking about the difficulties related to gender and career, and start talking about what can actually be done to share the corporate cake, and the family cake, more evenly.