To me, it seems like much of the working world is asking women this question. Why can't a woman work 50 hours like a man? Why can't a woman take whatever the boss dishes out without turning into a crying mess? Why can't a woman just get a nanny to stay later when overtime is required?
Often, though, this puts women in a double bind. They are often seen as less masculine or as not fulfilling their gender roles if they behave more like a man. So they can't win, no matter what they do.
Many women don't have any problem with living up to male standards in the workplace. Maybe they don't have children or other obligations.
Now, more and more men are saying they want to be more like women. They want to spend more time with their families. They are experiencing work-life conflict. They have aging parents, too. I read recently that more men than women are taking advantage of flexibility. They are leaving the office early so they can make dinner. They are taking a couple hours off at lunch to watch the school play.
I think this is great, but it's not enough. The reason that many of these men can do so (sometimes even more so than women) is because they've earned enough credibility in their organizations that this kind of flexibility is no big deal. They're in charge, or at least high enough up that they can do what they want.
Studies show over and over again that lower-income workers and hourly workers are far less likely to be entitled to flexibility than their exempt counterparts. It's as if we're saying flexibility has to be earned. And if you're lower on the totem pole, we don't trust you.
Unfortunately, whether it's due to their personal choices, societal pressure, or discrimination, women are much more likely to be in those lower-paying positions, especially if they have children, and they're less likely to have the same experience level as men. Mothers with children are consistently seen by employers as less committed to their jobs, and generally have to work harder to prove their trustworthiness, even when they've done nothing to show their work doesn't matter to them. So the ones who need it most are least likely to be able to use it.
I wish we wouldn't put people in boxes at the workplace. We don't have to condemn men or women, whether they have children or not, for not conforming to certain ideas about how men or women should behave. I wish we were grown up enough to offer flexibility to everyone without penalizing them for whether or not they choose to use it.