Sometimes, it's not just a matter or where or when you do your work. If you want to have a family-friendly career, sometimes you've got to consider how you do your work.
Let's say you've got a big project due. It seems overwhelming to you, not necessarily because it's hard, but because you've got a deadline looming. So instead of digging in, you procrastinate. You check your email sixteen times or you kill time chatting up your co-workers, when really, the whole project would have seemed more manageable if you'd started working on it before you got to the point where thinking about it makes you want to curl up in a ball in your pajamas.
The same thing can happen in a more subtle way if you have multiple things to do. All of them might be productive and might be good uses of your time. The question is, what's the best use of your time? If you're an entrepreneur, does it make more sense to spend hours agonizing over the word placement in a direct mail ad, or to spend those same hours strategizing your online marketing campaign?
It's easy to waste time at work, even if it's unintentional. And sometimes, the waste isn't your fault--it's imposed by a manager who doesn't realize your time could be better spent or that if you streamlined a few things, it would save the company time and money.
So why not take a few hours to think about how you're spending your time? Is there a way you could work more efficiently or effectively? Do you have any ideas for how to be better organized? What would help you and your company grow the most?
While I agree with Sheryl Sandberg that you shouldn't "leave before you leave" (don't be afraid to commit to things just because of children you might someday have), when I first heard her say so in a TED talk
, her advice grated against me for one reason: some careers are not family-friendly at all.I don't think that the possibility of having a future family should necessarily be limiting, especially when that family hasn't even arrived on the scene yet. I agree with her that assuming a happily-ever-after is not a great career plan, especially since there are no guarantees that your dreams will materialize. On the other hand, some careers are so punishing that trying to have any kind of life outside them is nearly impossible.
Take game development. This article shows how the game industry isn't a great career choice unless you plan to remain childless and anti-social forever. Investment trading is another notoriously intense job--I read once in Opting Out about an investment trader who couldn't even spare the time to get to the bathroom during her period when things got really busy. You can guess how long she lasted there once she had children.
If these industries want to diversify their workforce and increase their profits, they would be smart to change their M.O.. How is the game industry going to attract female forty-something players if all their games are created from the brains of the white twenty-something men they typically employ? How is the financial industry going to retain female workers if even going to the bathroom is a luxury its employees can't afford?
So while I'm all for being an active participant for as long as you can, I also think it's smart to think long-term. There are some careers that don't allow you to have much of a personal life, children or not. Just because you love something now doesn't mean it will be the best choice for you down the road. I don't think this means that things have to stay the same in these fields--traditions can change. But if you're going to be the one to change them, you might have a rough road ahead. And you don't always know what a job will really be like until you're buried sky-high in paperwork.
What industries or jobs do you think are most unfriendly to people with families? Can this be changed?
On the days I volunteer or have commitments before 10, non-essentials go out the window.
Exercise--who needs it? Read a book--when's the test?
The problem is, all the things I tell myself I'm too busy to do are the things I need to do most to maintain my sanity. I'm much nicer to myself and to my kids when I exercise, for example. If I neglect myself, let's just say things aren't pretty.
How do you make time for those little things, like showering, that keep you sane?
"It's time that we put the clock at the heart of this debate," says Jody Greenstone Miller in this article
, and I agree.One of my biggest struggles as a parent looking for work
has been finding a part-time job. There are plenty out there, of course. Cashier, cook, babysitter...
I may be exaggerating, but the truth of it is that the corporate world is built on the 60 to 80 hour a week model. This makes it hard for people who would like to build their careers while they build their families. Even 40 hours a week, the standard full-time schedule, is too much for many.
Some have leadership ambitions, but don't care for the fast-paced environment. Some want to earn some money, but can't find a part-time job paying much more than the cost of child care. Or maybe they want to find intellectual stimulation outside their homes, but the only available part-time jobs are low-skill ones.I do know some exceptions, of course. Most people I've met with part-time positions have negotiated a schedule with fewer hours after working for their companies for several years. It's much easier to get flexibility of any kind when you've already proven your dependability and trustworthiness.But what about the rest of us? The ones who have been out of the work force for a few years or the ones who want to change careers? Or those whose bosses can't conceptualize a less-than-full-time position?Miller presents her tips for reconfiguring work as a solution for "
making...firms magnets for the huge swath of American talent now sitting on the sidelines". She's right. This study of Harvard MBAs suggests that many women are opting out of the workforce to take care of their children. I'm not saying that SAHM-hood is a bad thing, but
many careers in the business world require such long hours that they are often incompatible with parenthood, so that many parents end up at home when they might have chosen otherwise if they had more options.There are plenty of parents who would work and who could make valuable contributions to their workplaces if they didn't have to sacrifice so much family time in order to do so. Miller says we need to
think of work in terms of quality, rather than quantity.
I agree. I would love to see more jobs advertised as a "possible job share" or "hours negotiable" or even "20-30 hour position" instead of the standard full-time offerings. I would love to see job descriptions get detailed enough so they could easily be split. I would love to see employers reevaluate their numbers of part-time workers and see what they could do to boost those numbers. I don't think it would be too hard to compare wages of full-time vs. part-time workers to see if part-time workers are getting shortchanged. Benefits can be prorated and part-time workers can be given equal consideration in the promotion pool.
It's not that hard to be inclusive of people who have families. Parenthood doesn't have to make people less committed to their jobs, even if it does mean they have less time to give to work. If more employers sought out part-time workers, I think they'd find lots of smart men and women lining up to apply.
Not your grandma’s flexible career
Is your idea of family-friendly work too narrow?
Some people assume that if you want flexibility, you should choose a field where your work schedule matches your children’s school schedule, or a field with lots of other women who understand your priorities. It wasn’t so long ago that a woman’s career choices consisted of teacher or nurse. And those are still popular career choices today, partially because those fields can make it easier to choose your hours or cut back on them when family responsibilities are demanding.
But the workplace is changing. Employers are more willing to accommodate your needs than ever before. Today’s family-friendly jobs look different than what you might expect. Here are some characteristics of jobs that could make your work life more flexible.
They’re highly paid
. Here’s some math for you. If you’re a cashier earning $9 per hour, how many hours will you have to work in order to make the $1,000 per month shortfall you’re dealing with right now? If you’re a lawyer earning $200 an hour, how many hours will get you the same amount of money? Less hours at work=more time at home. Here’s a list
of the ten highest-paying jobs to get you started. They’re highly skilled
. Many employers say they have a difficult time finding qualified workers
to meet demand. If you have years of experience behind you and some highly developed skills, people will want to hire you. And if you’ve been working for a company for a few years, and you tell them you need to cut back your hours, they’ll want to keep you. They don’t want your position to be vacant for months while they search for your replacement. But if you’ve got a low-skill job, it doesn’t cost your employer much at all to find and train someone new. They’re tech-heavy
. Women are more likely than men to choose the so-called helping professions: health care, education, reception, dental assisting, etc. But many of them require your physical presence. You have to go to the hospital or the office or the classroom to get your work done. If you have a job that relies heavily on technology, it’s easier to work from home, and it’s easier to pick your own hours. You can still help people—how many non-profit organization need web developers? Plus you can cut down on commuting time. For example, coders
earn a lot of money, and many of them work from home.They’re in demand
. Forecasters have already done the work. They can predict what jobs
are most likely to grow over the next several years. So, if the market needs lots of people doing your job, and there aren’t enough people qualified to do it, employers will roll out every recruitment tool available. It isn’t a stretch to imagine that family-friendly schedules will be on the table.They don’t necessarily require a W-2 form
. Contract work
is growing in popularity, both for workers and employers. Many people start their own businesses. Being your own boss is its own kind of stress, but you may want to consider creating your own venture, either as a freelancer or as a business, especially if you're not getting what you need from your employer. Everyone gets flexibility
. For flexibility to work well, it has to be part of the culture, not just an HR program, and not just a privilege reserved for higher management or new mothers. If managers sometimes work from home, if part-time workers get sick pay and parental leave, if hourly workers have some say over their work hours and if staff members take sabbaticals, those are good signs that your company (or prospective company) is committed to flexibility.The leadership and workforce are diverse
. If you're looking at a company that has women and minorities in leadership, you know it doesn’t require pin-striped suits and a bald spot in order to climb the ranks, and that’s great news. In other words, not every worker has to be the same. And, if women are in charge, they’re more likely to grant flexibility requests
If you’re looking for a less-than-typical schedule, it helps to know your employer doesn’t expect all the employees to match a certain model.
Not every job will fit all of these criteria, and flexibility varies widely from company to company, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll find the perfect job. But if you’re willing to think outside of traditional career paths when you’re contemplating a flexible job, you’ll find more options than you’d ever considered before.
I've got Sheryl Sandberg on the brain. After I wrote about her, I decided to review Sandberg's TED talk
.Sandberg says women shouldn't leave before they leave. In other words, when women are planning their families, they start taking a backseat at work well before the little bundle of joy arrives on the scene. They sometimes do this years in advance, thinking, "Well, I'm going to have a child someday. I'd better cut back now so that I can more easily fit that child into my life."She's right that women pay a hefty professional price when they curtail their ambitions. No group of women is at bigger risk of poverty than mothers. The workplace isn't set up very well to accommodate women (or men) who leave to have babies. That needs to change, of course. But in the meantime, it makes sense to position yourself to make a quick return later.Men rarely plan work around their families. There are some exceptions, but in general, men go for the opportunities they want and figure out how to fit work with family life later. Most men in leadership positions have wives at home who care for their children. That's the only way men can put in the long hours that leadership usually requires. And that's great for many couples, if that's what they want to do.But here's the pervading problem: women are expected to make those professional sacrifices, just because they're female.
Men--not so much.
Workplaces are built around the assumption that workers are available pretty much whenever, especially if those workers have leadership ambitions. Even though more women work than ever before, the average work week is actually getting longer in the United States, taking people away from their families for longer periods of time. If a man has to work 60-80 hours, something's got to give. It's usually the wife's career. And, of course, family time. Men experience even more work/life conflict than women do.There are three areas people typically target when they're seeking changes in the workplace: (1) helping women improve their chances of getting to the top
(2) helping workplaces see the value of becoming more family-friendly. (3) promoting legislation that encourages better balance for working parents.
All of these are important, and I hope people will take the initiative to create change. But, more specifically, I'm calling on one group of people to join the family-friendly work cause.Each of these routes to change will be more likely to succeed if men get on board. I'm not talking about indirect power here. I'm talking about cooperation between the sexes. This issue is important for everyone.How would our culture and workplace change if men asked themselves questions like these:
Work/life balance is not just a women's issue. That's how it's often seen, unfortunately, because women traditionally put their own needs and desires aside for others, while the same is rarely expected of men. Women usually do the compromising. But men have families, too, and they don't always want to be the absent breadwinner.
- Does my wife bear the brunt of family responsibilities (even if she's working)? Is she happy with this arrangement? If not, what can I do to help even things out?
- Do I feel threatened if a woman's professional achievements parallel or surpass mine? Do I put women into "mom" or "career woman" boxes? Do I send messages, whether deliberately or not, that high-achieving women are not suited for family life or vice-versa?
- Am I happy with the hours I'm working or do I wish to spend more time with family or other personal pursuits?
- Is my wife happy with the career sacrifices she's made? Does she make a disproportionately large share of sacrifices for our family and is that what she wants to do? What are her goals and ambitions?
- What does it take to achieve leadership in my organization? Do these requirements make sense or are they based on face time rather than productivity or leadership qualities?
- Does the status quo make sense (for example, are long residency hours for prospective doctors helpful or just how things have always been done)?
- Are there women in my organization who would like to get ahead but who are being overlooked because of their gender?
- Are there other men in my organization who are unhappy with their work/life balance? How can we work together to change things?
Family-friendly workplaces are family issues, and the sooner men recognize that, the faster change will happen.
We're excited to announce our new guide and template. If you want to request a flexible schedule from your current employer, this guide will help you figure out what schedule you need (and can realistically get!), how to convince your boss it's a good idea, and how to negotiate. There's also a fill-in-the-blank template at the end so you can hand your boss a written proposal.
It's available for free! Just click here
. Happy flexibility!
I've read enough studies on the subject to feel quite certain that in most families, the husband's career takes priority over the wife's. There are various reasons for this, of course, and some of them make sense to me while others don't.
But whether the reasons are practical, religious, or personal, I worry about what message this sends. In my case, I have three children. Will my sons grow up to expect their wives to give up everything when the kids come along? What if it doesn't happen that way? Will my daughter assume that anything outside the traditional model I've embraced is wrong?
My children will form their own opinions, I'm sure, and make their own choices, many of them in spite of what I say or do. But I know that I do want to understand this: they have choices. They need to make their own decisions based on what works for them and not necessarily what other people tell them.
So how will I do this? Other than tying them up and forcing them to listen to my lectures, here's what might help:
show them that my interests and goals are important. I once listened to Wendy Tolliver (a Utah author) talk about when her book was published. She used some of the money from her advance to take a family trip to Disneyland. Why? She wanted her kids to understand that mommy's work matters, too, and that they could celebrate her accomplishments together. As another example, my kids know that I told my friends I was going to finish my book by Valentine's Day, and they cheered me on.
allow them to pursue their own interests. This means that even though my inner feminist chafes at my children's stereotypical interests (my daughter loves dancing and My Little Pony), I have to consider that a valid option and encourage it. And I also have to deal with it if the opposite happens and one of my sons wants to join the ballet.
help them learn to set goals. Just because I'm an overachiever doesn't mean goal-setting comes naturally to my children. I'm hoping that they can learn the value of working toward something that's important to them. And one of those goals is going to college, even if they're kicking and screaming all the way there.
How are you helping your kids to appreciate your personhood outside the mommy persona?
Note: This post originally appeared at Doves and Serpents
.I am ambitious. I don’t have the Ph.D. to match, but I’ve always been an achievement addict for whom simply existing never seemed to be enough. As a twelve-year-old child, I was already making to-do lists during my summer vacations. I used to have a Dr. Seuss All About Me book where I could circle what job I wanted. I circled about half of the hundred or so
One of the occupations I circled was mother. It didn’t occur to me then that motherhood would get in the way of any of the other fifty or so careers that were destined to be mine.
But when I became a teenager, conference talks, seminary videos, and Young Women’s lessons were all about the virtue of staying home. Nothing, they told me, would be more important than my family. Writing books or typing memos would never compare to the sweet joy of holding a newborn baby.
I agreed. It was family over career, not both. Once I had kids, I would stay home, because that was my role. The idea that I’d have to figure out a way to get back into the working world, ever, never occurred to me. I knew so much about what motherhood was like before I had kids, before the real world introduced itself to me.
After BYU graduation, I worked full-time, putting my husband through his last few months of classes and his internship, right up until my first baby came. Then I quit everything. I even abandoned my hobbies.
I’d always assumed that I’d be able to channel my ambitions into my children. I wouldn’t need fulfillment, because the cute adorable babies would fulfill me. Except it didn’t work that way. I was stuck in my tiny little apartment with no transportation, very little money, and nobody to talk to. At first I thought something was seriously wrong with me. It took me years to understand that babies wouldn’t remove my ambition like a frontal lobotomy. I was still me.
There was no check-off list. With no tangible rewards for my work, I focused on keeping the house clean, since that was my only visual measure of success. I knew housework didn’t matter much in the grand scheme, yet it did in a miserable, white-knuckle way, because that was all I could cling to. The house became the tyrant I could never please, no matter how hard I tried. When my child’s behavior didn’t match the parenting books, I began to wonder if I knew how to make good decisions at all. So not only was I stressed out and depressed, I developed a real lack of self-confidence. The assurance school had always given me was gone and it felt like I couldn’t do anything
My previous job wasn’t conducive to working at home, ever, and didn’t pay much more than the cost of transportation and babysitting. I’d come up short in the practicality department because my degree was in music and French, and I wasn’t qualified for much of anything.
I took up some hobbies again and started seriously thinking about what I could do to earn some money. I tried a variety of money-making ventures—some were mildly successful, and others were complete disasters.
I didn’t want to work full-time. There were broken arms and psychiatrist visits and the croup and bouts of diarrhea that seemed to last forever. There were fits of rage and driveways full of snow and leaking faucets and worn-out tires. Some dual-earner families made it work, but I couldn’t see how we could, especially considering that we’d started out on the premise that DH would be working full-time and that I would be taking care of the kids.
No one ever tells you that these decisions, though they’re not set in stone, are difficult to change once you’ve already made them. And that once you have kids, everything changes, making personal goals much harder than before.
I plan to teach my kids differently. I will tell them: Plan for providing for yourself and your family. Don’t depend on some happily ever after to fulfill your dreams for you. Choose something you love, but infuse those dreams with a good dose of money-making practicality. If you want to study art history, go for it, but take some business classes so that you’ll be able to get some income from what you love, whether that’s at home, in a business, or in an actual job. Don’t assume that if you “get an education”, a degree will guarantee financial
security. If you’re going to graduate school, do it as early as you possibly
can. Get some experience working so you have some proven, marketable skills.
Keep your resume and your networks as updated as possible. Keep learning and developing new skills, whether you’re employed full-time or not. Be open to change, because there’s a real possibility that you might not want to continue in the field you started in.
Things are better for me now for several reasons. My youngest is four years old, so we’re past diapers and sleepless nights and baby food carpet mashing and running into traffic. I’ve been writing (and occasionally been paid for it). I’ve joined some business networks and I volunteer weekly. I’ve made some new friends who share my interests. I started a website for people like me who are searching for a combination of work and family that works for them (www.familyfriendlywork.org).
I’m still at home, and I’m still wishing I could pull in some more money, but I enjoy what I do and I have big plans for the future. I don’t have a great answer for when people ask me what I do. I’m a work-mostly-at-home-mostly-for-free mom? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m a lot happier when I feel like I’m making a difference in the world, when my world is not confined to four walls, and when something is getting done.
On Friday, it will be one year since this website launched.I'm proud of what it's done so far. It started with solutions for working parents, ideas for implementation, and highlighted some women's issues at work. Then I added a blog and a Facebook group. After some more research, I
added sections about women and business
and moms and education
. I recruited people to write guest posts, and the response from many of those has been huge (some of the most popular
have been about the necessity for women to get an education and to prepare for the future, and about the discrepancy between Utah and other states in women's education). I've heard from business owners, women who work from home, women going back to school, and a few men trying to balance work and family, too. I've solicited guest posts from family (thanks, Mom and sisters and cousins!) and business women in the community to talk about these issues. I've harassed the press. I've written a letter to the editor
and written an article for a national magazine
.It's been hard work.Some things haven't gone as planned, of course. I've had to abandon some ideas and I've put others on the back burner. There have been a few times when I wanted to quit. And even more times when I was impatient for things to happen--I want this site to save the world NOW!But, between the moments I wanted to pull my hair out, there were quiet indications that I was doing something right. A comment saying a certain blog post was exactly what someone was looking for. A request for ways a person could help. A conversation with inspiring ideas. A message thanking me for inspiring someone to make a positive change.I think the workplace really is moving toward positive changes. Work/life questions will be even more relevant in the future, if current trends are any indication. And that's good news for those of us for whom both family and work are priorities.So, over the next year, I will continue to promote the realitization (my made-up word for today) of the workplace. The reality is, people work, but they have lives, too. And if workplaces can recognize that, everyone will be better off.I hope you will do what you can, as well. Please continue to share your stories, and if you have any suggestion for this site, for the blog, or anything we can do to encourage family-friendly workplaces, I'd love to hear from you.