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New Attitudes About Gender, Work, and Family — Kathleen Gerson and Jerry Jacobs

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).


Jerry Jacobs is Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and Founding President of the Work and Family Researchers Network, an interdisciplinary and international scholarly association that focuses on work and family issues. His research with Kathleen Gerson was honored with the Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research in 2002, and led to the publication of The Time Divide: Work, Family and Gender Inequality, published by Harvard University Press in 2004.

Kathleen Gerson is Collegiate Professor of Sociology at NYU, where she studies gender, work, and family change. Her most recent book, The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family, is an award-winning study of how new generations have responded to the gender revolution of the last several decades. She is now conducting a study about the challenges facing today’s adults, who must build their work and family lives amid the increasingly insecure economic climate of the new economy.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation. Full podcast.


Kathleen Gerson: kathleen gersonOur findings seem to provide one more piece of the puzzle of how dramatic change has been. Jerry [Jacobs] and I continue to be baffled that so many people are skeptical that these changes have occurred. I think in some ways our private lives have moved forward in a way that public discussions about them simply haven’t caught up.

Stewart Friedman: Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?

KG: There’s a bad news orientation in the media and, to some extent, in our political discourse, in which people tend to be quite skeptical about social change. If I were to sum that up, I would say two opposite arguments are being made. First, nothing is really changed, we’re going back to the old ways, women are still facing these huge barriers and men continue to be resistant to these changes. The other side of the story, which ironically or paradoxically presents the opposite picture, is women have changed so quickly that men are being left behind and this is not good for society and men and women are unhappy about this reversal. What Jerry and I have found is that neither of those stories is true. In fact, what’s happening is men and women are converging in terms of not only how they want to live their lives and what they want to get done in their lives, but also in terms of their views about what other people’s choices should be, and how we as a society should allow people to make those choices. Even though the political discourse is very contentious, what Jerry and I have found is that ordinary Americans, across a very broad spectrum of demographic and social categories, support the idea that gender, in fact, should not be the primary driver of who does what, at work or in the home. These decisions should be driven by what people want, what people prefer, and what’s best for their families, and how they can do the best in a very increasingly uncertain and difficult situation.  What we really need is to relieve the difficulties that families are facing to allow them to develop the strategy they prefer.

SF: To produce greater human freedom, after all, right?

KG: I would underline the world human.  It would be nice if we could move beyond these categories of women and men, and talk about human beings, parents, workers.

SF: Creating options and choices for people, then produces the kinds of roles they want to create with the support that they need.  But there’s so much here to unpack.

Jerry Jacobs: Jerry JacobsBut before you unpack, let me explain a little more specifically what we did. There’s a body of research that talks about gender role ideology, and it shows that a lot of people are much more flexible in terms of their views on what women’s and men’s role should be. It also shows there’s a substantial minority stuck in the old ways, committed to traditional, standard gender ideology.

SF: That is, of course, the model of the single-earner dad with a mom at home taking care of kids;  caregiving and breadwinning split by men and women doing one or the other roles.

JJ: Our concern about this research is it doesn’t really say very much about situations and specifics. One of the motivating factors behind what we did is we asked ourselves, if we give the average person, respondents chosen at random, a national random sample, if we give them specific stories, specific situations regarding men’s and women’s choices, what will turn out to be more important: the situations or commitment to gender ideology? The question is are people stuck in a set of blinders that basically say women belong in the home no matter what, or does it depend? Does it depend on if she likes her job? The other thing we specifically looked at was whether her family depended on her income. We have remarkably powerful evidence to suggest that situations are more important than anything else, than whether you’re a man or a woman, whether you’re single or married, it’s not that the patterns are identical for fathers and mothers, but the situations were more important than gender.

SF: Why is that so important, as an observation about our society? I think most of our listeners are less interested in sociological literature, but of course those two are related, what’s the so what there in terms of what people in business as well as public policy makers ought to be thinking about as a result of what you observed?

KG: it’s important because what it tells us is is that ordinary Americans, women and men across ages, races, and situations, are far more sympathetic to the particular situations that individuals families are facing and are far more flexible in their views about what women and men should do than either our political discourse or our public policy or our workplace policies, even for private workplaces, recognize. If both our government policies and employers would pay more attention to this, then I think that would not just improve the way we talk about these issues but could make a real difference in the lives of men and women, mothers and fathers, and children.

JJ: If we could make childcare more affordable and higher quality, our data suggests that more people would support women working, or more people would support mothers of young children being in a labor force.

SF: How does that equation work? Why is the advent of a greater daycare support going to lead to greater support of women in the workplace?

JJ: One of our key findings was that when mothers are satisfied with the childcare that they’re getting, people are more supportive of her working. They’re much more skeptical of mothers’ employment if there’s a feeling that the childcare that they have access to is inadequate or unsatisfactory.

KG: Another finding is that if women can earn enough to support their families, there’s enough support for fathers staying home with their children, especially if those fathers are dissatisfied and unhappy with their jobs and their families don’t feel they have adequate childcare. In a sense, the implications for public policy are both about the childrearing and family side but we need more support, both for employment of mothers and fathers, and also for gender equity at work.  If mothers and fathers have access to well-paying and secure jobs, it gives them more options about who can do what in the home.

SF: It’s clear that the more men lean in at home, the more women can lean in at work and enjoy the fruits of their productive output in the labor market contributing to society through their work.  But it does mean that men need to be not only supportive but really given legitimacy in the role of caregiver. It sounds like your evidence suggests that the legitimacy is out there.

KG: I think that was one of the more uplifting and surprising findings. It’s not really surprising to find out that people support single mothers working, for example, and it’s even less surprising that they would support married mothers with good jobs and good childcare working.  But I think it is definitely worth noting that they also support fathers who don’t have good childcare and aren’t happy with their jobs and aren’t providing necessary income, that they support those fathers being more involved at home and being the primary caretaker.

SF: I, too, find it uplifting Kathleen that men be seen as legitimate in the role of caregiver, that is something that we found in our study comparing the Gen Xers with the millennials here at Wharton and that men’s and women’s roles are converging and how they think about what’s valid and true. I also got an email yesterday from someone who attended one of my workshops on leadership from the point of the whole person, where people look at what’s important to them, who is important to them, and they make creative changes based on those diagnostic analyses and here’s what she wrote to me:

While doing the exercises in the book and discussing with my coaches we discovered a great way to improve my whole self and my life has dramatically changed. Prior to this change, I was working 26 hours and my husband was working 40 hours in a job he disliked that was too far from home. We discovered a solution that led me to coming back to work full-time with a flexible schedule and location and my husband now doesn’t have a paying job; he takes care of the house. If nothing else, I’d like to thank you for putting this information out there and let you know that you helped me change my life for the better.

Of course, I hear this type of thing all the time from students, but they don’t necessarily thank me, but I hear these issues a lot. You’re finding research evidence that this is common, that people are making choices on the basis of economics, the need for childcare, and not whether it’s the man or woman doing the caregiving at home.

KG: I think one thing that is important for us to point out is that this study was really asking people what their opinions and beliefs and attitudes were, but we shouldn’t gloss over the fact that implementing those beliefs may be a lot harder than having them. That’s where I think we’re lagging behind and not giving people real options to implement those beliefs, rather than having them but not feeling they’re socially legitimate or even logistically possible.

SF: It’s something that’s at issue in the presidential campaign. Some of the people who are wanting to be our president are talking quite strenuously about this issue and I think it’s going to be one of the platform issues that’s going to draw a lot of attention, because it will be a stark contrast between the Democrats and Republicans, right?

KG: It’s certainly something that Obama has put on the agenda in the last several years of his presidency as well.

SF: What you two have done here is to advance the knowledge about what is fundamental to any kind of real change and that is the legitimacy of this shift and simply acknowledging that people’s attitudes really have changed, and that’s very powerful. What’s been the reaction to this work?

JJ: There’s been a lot of interest, and we got some very interesting feedback in our New York Times piece. Among our colleagues, there’s a lot of engagement in these issues and trying to see how we can probe further into the aspects of work that are most essential and the aspects of family life that are most important. In a sense, this is a first step in that area, but the feedback we’ve been getting is very positive.

SF: What are people saying?

KG: One of the more important reactions has been not simply about the findings themselves but also about the way we went about asking the question, because part of the problem, as Jerry pointed out earlier, is I think we’ve been asking the wrong questions up to this point. We’ve been asking questions like is it alright for a mother to work and will their children suffer and those questions already start to presuppose an answer, you almost have to disagree with the assumption of the question, which is hard for people to do to give a more accurate answer, but they also focus only on women and mothers. If we have any larger effect on even the way that these questions are phrased, I think that will be important, not only because we’ve included fathers as well as mothers.   And we’ve also taken account of the fact that not everyone is married and there are all sorts of family forms and patterns these days that were not prevalent 30 or 40 years ago.  We’re asking people not just a global question, but rather given this particular situation where these parents are facing these constraints and these opportunities, what do you believe is the appropriate action. That’s very different from just saying this blanket statement about whether or not it’s good for mothers to work.

SF: It seems so obvious that we should have been doing that all along, so how did you come up with this better method?

JJ: It’s an experiment. We had an opportunity to do a controlled experiment in a survey setting, which is kind of unusual.  A number researchers around the country and around the world are thinking about how they can replicate what we’ve done, extend what we’ve done, and that’s always exciting.

KG: We had this opportunity to use this method where you’re actually setting the stage before you ask people questions and then seeing how people might respond differently depending on how that stage is set differently. We’re able to add all these different situations, which is very hard to do if you’re asking everyone the same questions. Part of what happened is we began to realize from our own research how misleading some of these surveys that were asking questions formulated 30 years ago were. Because we know 40 years ago most people lived in a particular kind of family and a certain set of beliefs were prevalent.   But we’ve gone through a revolution since then and we began to ask ourselves how we can begin to formulate questions for the 21st century that don’t make the assumptions that might have been reasonable to make in the 1950s. For example, if someone is faced with bad childcare, and this is something else we looked at, they have a set of choices. They might stop working, but they also might decide to get better childcare. Same with a job. If you were unhappy with your job, one option might be to pull back from work but another option is to look for a different job. We wanted to give people realistic options rather than forcing them to give answers that really didn’t fit with the realities Americans face today.

SF: Randy is calling from Texas. Randy, welcome to Work and Life. What’s on your mind?

Randy: I was thrilled when I heard this topic. In my family, my husband and I had a very heated discussion about this exact same topic over the weekend. It seems like the research is focusing on do we think it’s okay, is there a societal shift in the belief that it’s okay for men and women to do something that’s not sticking with a gender stereotype. My question is was there any look at a non-binary question so is there an impact if you choose a non-gender-specific role, do you face consequences in the workforce, specifically thinking about men who choose to make family a larger priority than work, are they then experiencing negative consequences in the workforce because we aren’t willing to accept it in practice?

JJ: We work with companies all the time and talk to corporate leaders and try to encourage them to promote workplace flexibility and to give working parents the option to work less to pursue lots of different creative choices. You’re absolutely right that there’s a reluctance with many people because they’re concerned that there are real consequences. There is often some income loss in the short term, but I think people worry even more about the long-term consequences for their careers, and that’s both men and women. I think you may be right that there’s still more of a sales job that’s needed for men to convince everybody that this is a legitimate choice.  Kathleen and I are arguing that we’re moving toward convergence. Neither of us feel that we’re there yet. I think there’s an understanding that there are costs for both male and female employees, and that’s one of the reasons we want to move toward more explicit, systematic policies like paid leave so that it’s more institutionalized and accepted.

SF: And available for both men and women. It’s clearly not just a women’s issue anymore. Your research really helps to move us past that debate of is work and family a women’s issue. It’s a human issue, as we said earlier.

KG: There is research by others that does show that there is a stigma attached to taking advantage of the family leave policies that companies offer, and ironically I think to some extent, is greater for men than for women, because we still have a ways to go in terms of thinking about these as issues that men and women both care about and face.

SF: The data from that research is probably five years old now.

KG: Let’s hope that current and future research shows that’s declining. The more we talk about it, I think the greater chances are that it will. In the past, I think we’ve talked too much about the clash between women and men and perhaps the way we need to start talking about this now is the clash between workers’ needs and workplace policy. That will help us begin to reduce the stigma and actual career and long-term economic consequences.

JJ: Randy, what kind of choices were you considering —  cutting back or opting out of the labor force for a spell?

Randy: For the longest time, we were both equals and we had a nanny, which was wonderful. Through changes in the economy and one of our companies closing, we had the opportunity for one of us to stay home. It was me, and that’s what we decided to do. There’s a whole host of issues with that for me, but for my husband, career continues to go up and mine doesn’t go anywhere. Part of that was it’s socially acceptable for me to opt out for period. It would be harder for him to opt out even when we were both equals.   But if there was push-comes-to-shove with a family requirement, I was always the one that figured out a way to make things work because it’s okay if I leave to take someone to the doctor and not okay if he leaves to take someone to the doctor.

JJ: I do think the world is changing. Mark Zuckerberg was very public about taking paternity leave. I think there are lots of men who get points for going to their kids’ soccer games and taking off for their kids’ softball practice.  I think as more and more examples become known, I think we’re chipping away with this. The other thing I want to add is we are also very interested in re-entry ramps, trying to make it easier for people to come back into the labor force.  Stay-at-home dad is not a perfect situation. It’s not as though dads are staying home for 16 years or 18 years, they’re often doing it for six months or a year, or a lot of times they’re just cutting back to part-time. It’s not that different for women. A lot of women opt out of the labor market at some point. A lot of times it’s not their choice, things happen at work, the company closes, the office moves to a different location or whatever, and one of things that we need to do is to facilitate the re-entry of people who developed tremendous skills and abilities and are able to contribute significantly to our economy. We have to create an economy for settings where it’s easier to get back in.

SF: To off-ramp and on-ramp and to use the assets that you obtain in the parental role. There are things that you learn as a parent or by managing a household that make you more effective in the workplace; it’s not that it’s down time. Jerry, you just mentioned Zuckerberg’s very visible paternity leave.  One of the things I didn’t like about his announcement on Facebook was that he talked only about benefits for his child, which is lovely of course, citing the importance of fathers in child development, but what he didn’t speak to were the business benefits of his doing this, and I’m sure he’s thinking about them. How do you see the argument unfolding in terms of these high-profile examples but also the shift in attitudes in America about the need for support for parental leave, whether paternity or maternity?

KG: It makes a great difference, especially when the leaders at the top set the example, because that sends a signal to the people below them that they’re not going to be penalized, and if they are, it would be completely illegitimate. I think the best example I can provide is from Norway. There, they develop a use-it-or-lose-it policy, which means all parents have the right to paid parental leave for six months, but it cannot be given to the other parent. If a father doesn’t use it, then he relinquishes it and the family loses that option. Surprisingly, what that’s done is up the percentage of fathers who take it to the point where that’s the predominant pattern. What’s interesting to me is the cultural spillover effect of that change. Now, the norm has generally shifted so if a father doesn’t take leave, that’s considered strange and that requires an explanation, as opposed to the situation here where if a father does take leave, that’s considered strange and has to be justified.

SF: And that’s all as a result of social policy change.

KG: It’s not just that cultural change can lead to policy change, policy change can cause cultural change as well and we need to keep that in mind when we talk about things like Zuckerberg providing a good example for his company. If he provides an example, it also means that it changes the signals that other men and fathers and mothers receive and it gives them rights they may not have thought they had before.

SF: It might also spur people to try to push for changes in policy.   We’ll probably not see a policy like Norway’s in our lifetime. Aside from knowing that attitudes are changing and there are these outcroppings of real progress in the corporate world and a push for changes in social policy that we’ve talked a lot about on this show and that we’ve been active in, what can an individual do based on your findings in this study? Are there any implications for fathers and mothers out there listening?

JJ: Kathleen and I had the great privilege of attending the White House Summit on Working Families. Not only were the president and Michelle Obama and the vice president and Jill Biden there, they were all speaking very frankly and from the heart about their own work/family challenges including Vice President Biden commuting back and forth everyday from Washington to Delaware on Amtrak when his kids were very young. Those were incredibly powerful stories, and talk about taking leadership from the top, their commitment to these issues I thought was very powerful.

SF: I was there, too, and it was truly moving to hear all four of them and so many others speak about this issue from the heart and from real experience just like the rest of us.

JJ: Getting back to individual choices, in job interviews, this is information to be asked about. What are your work/life policies? That’s something that people need to find out about. Many corporations are increasingly flexible, and technology is making some of that more possible like working from home one day a week or part of a day. Having flexibility, again that doesn’t work for every job, but it works for a lot of jobs. Having technological opportunities, they’re increasingly common workplace practices and this might sound optimistic, but there is some beginning evidence that we’re going to be facing a tighter labor market as unemployment declines and specifically for certain occupations that are increasingly in demand. Employers are going to be seeking out employees.

SF: This is what’s happening out in Silicon Valley. Kathleen, I know you were researching that. Jerry, as the Founding President of the Work and Family Researchers Network, what are these researchers doing?

JJ: The Work and Family Researchers Network brings academics and policy-makers and corporate HR practitioners together to discuss a very wide range of issues. We don’t only talk about sick leave policy and family leave policy but also about stress, eldercare, childcare, sleep, workplace productivity, and workplace flexibility. We have over 1,000 members from 40 countries around the world and we’re going to be convening again in June in Washington, D.C. Anyone who’s interested in learning more about our organization, we’re at workfamily.sas.upenn.edu. We have a website and we’d love to see some of your listeners join us at the conference.

SF: Kathleen, I understand you’re doing some work on changes in the technology world. What is it that you’re discovering or pursuing in that work?

KG: Let me follow up to the question about what you can do in your lives. I’ve been doing research in the Silicon Valley area and the New York metropolitan area, especially among people who are in technology and new economy jobs. The first thing I would say to everyone out there is you are not alone. The momentum is growing and I think we’re almost at a tipping point where the majority of people are wanting and pushing for the same thing, and don’t be fearful to speak up because you’re part of a much larger movement of people and the more we express these needs, the more they will be acceptable and legitimate. The second thing is we’re also in the midst of an enormous change in our economic fortunes and the nature of work. Increasingly, work for everyone, men and women alike, especially in these growing sectors of the labor market, is not so much about joining a labor organization and moving up the ladder and proving your loyalty, it’s really about managing your own career and integrating that with your other values and family life and private life. Therefore, it’s on employers to pay attention to that and it means that while uncertainty or change is always scary, it also provides enormous opportunities to build the kinds of lives we want to build. To think about it, but be willing to take the risks that matter to you to build the life you want, I think the more that happens the more that we will not only have support for the social policies we need but also for the workplace changes that employers are going to have to make in order to keep up with this new labor force.

SF: And to be competitive in the labor market. We’ve been saying this for years in the world of organizational psychology and sociology, but it really is happening now. If you come to the Wharton campus and you listen to the recruiting pitches, students are asking these questions and very much upfront, and companies are saying come to work at our company, have a whole life, have meaningful work, have a positive social impact, all the things that new entrants are claiming as rights. The companies that are going to be able to attract and retain those people are going to have to be able to adjust, and they are or at least saying that they’re trying to. Whether they are actually is really the rub, but it’s a long, slow process.

KG: Assuming we’re able to make these changes, let’s try to make them for everyone, not just those people that have the skills that are so desirable, but for people up and down the economic ladder who have less control over their work. We can institutionalize these changes, and everyone will have the power to create the lives they want for themselves.

Men and the Gender Revolution at Work and Home

Contributor: Jacob Adler

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

Richard Reeves, a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, co-director of the Center on Children and Families, and editor of the Social Mobility Memos blog. Prior to Brookings, he was director of strategy to the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister.   Some of his other previous roles include director of Demos, the London-based political think-tank; director of futures at the Work Foundation; and principal policy advisor to the Minister for Welfare Reform. He spoke with Stew Friedman about his New York Times piece Men’s Lib! about how men need to catch up with women in the gender revolution.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stewart Friedman: What inspired you to write, with your co-author Isabel Sawhill, Men’s Lib!

Richard Reeves: ReevesIt came out of a conversation that Sawhill and I had been having for many weeks and months, and something we had both been working on for years. It’s really about the integration of some of those social and economic issues that you talk about so much on this show. Very often we’ll see this social side of life – families, gender, men’s and women’s roles, and so on – as one half of the coin. And then we look at what’s happening in the labor market with unemployment and the economy. But, of course that’s not how we all live. In practice, the lines between those things blur, and the implications of the connection between work and life, for both men and women, have become much more important. What inspired us to write this particular piece was partly a positive feeling and partly a negative feeling. The positive feeling was that there’s an important message here about how men can do better if they adapt to the world as it’s changing.  At the same time there is a real men need to step up problem.  There are opportunities for men in the new post-feminine, post-industrial world. The fear is that unless that adaptation happens, we’ll fall back into a pining for a world that’s gone. Even in some of these policy debates now you get a sense that people are kind of wishing things could go back a bit. You hear discussions about marriage and breadwinner men. You can sense there are those who fell that if we can go back to the way things were, we’ll be okay. We need to think really hard now about what it means to be a man and a working father as well as what it means to be a working mother.

SF: Those definitions are in flux now, aren’t they?

RR: Right, and it’s been true for women for quite some time. Part of the thesis of our article is that there have been really quite profound changes in women’s lives and in the range of options that have been available to women, but we are very careful not to say that the work of feminism is done. It may be that there are more women graduating colleges now than men in the US, but it’s still true that women earn less than men and that there are few women in boardrooms. But there hasn’t been an equivalent change in men’s lives in the last 40 years; we have seen an unbalanced gender revolution, a half of a gender revolution. For us to proceed now, most of the action is going to be on the side of men changing their roles and as we say in the piece, to become more like women in the way that women have become more like men.  They’re educated, they’re in the role of breadwinners, now we need men to do more on the home front, to think of themselves as working fathers as well as just fathers, and not to define a man and a father in that narrow breadwinning way, which is outdated anyway. It doesn’t work economically, even if we wanted it to.

SF: It’s just no longer the norm.  At Wharton we’ve studied the changes in attitudes and values of men and women with respect to work and family over the past 25 years.  I published a book a couple of years ago called Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family, and one of the main observations from that study comparing the Class of 1992 with the Class of 2012, is how very different both men and women feel about their roles, particularly in the domestic sphere, where there’s much more convergence now around the idea of there being a true 50-50 life that’s possible, an egalitarian world.  You write about that in your article about the move to greater egalitarianism.  Shared responsibility is necessary at home, if women are going to advance in the workplace.

RR: It’s a hard truth, but you can only have equality at work if you have equality at home. Otherwise you can only get one half of the workforce, where the other is at a disadvantage if they’re still expected to do most of the work on the home front.

SF: Which is how it’s been.

RR: I think you raise a good point that it’s a necessary part of completing the long journey towards gender equality. I guess the other thing we try to add to it is an economic agenda and analysis, too.   The economy that made the market that supported the old model just isn’t there anymore either. In effect, two things have happened. One, is there’s been the rise of women’s rights and feminism and a long and slow recognition of the need for gender equality.  Two, what’s happened is the economy has changed in such a way that particularly relatively modestly educated men can no longer earn a breadwinner wage in a manufacturing sector.  So you’ve seen both these social and economic changes that have hit men.  I think it’s important that we are sensitive to the fact that that’s a difficult change for a lot of men. It’s easy for men with high levels of education, like us and many of your listeners, to make those kinds of transitions. It’s maybe harder for men with less power in the labor market and less education. The evolution of more egalitarian attitudes towards what Michael Young called the symmetrical family has actually been the greatest among those with more education, and those with much more modest education have more traditional views.

SF: And that’s holding those men back from taking the initiative to transform their economic agency, their capacity to contribute in the labor market by moving into more of the H.E.A.L. jobs, the acronym that you use to describe health, education, administration and literacy.  They are remaining in the model of traditional breadwinner type of role.

RR: We look at which areas of the economy are growing and producing jobs, and we deliberately contrast the emphasis on STEM jobs and STEM skills, which is pretty well-known –science, technology, engineering, and math.  There’s been a big push to get girls involved and to get women into those, which is great and actually successful in some places. But what we call HEAL jobs, as a kind of contrast, in health, education, administration and literacy…

SF: Did you make up that acronym?

RR: Yeah.

SF: It’s excellent, because it not only stands for the major categories that you need to represent, which is about providing human service, the symbolic connotation – healing, caring – is also wonderful. Well done, Richard.

RR: It’s interesting the way you have seen more women moving into legal professions, dentists, even civil engineering has gone to 16% women when it was 3%, pharmacists now 48% women. You haven’t seen the same movement for men. Men are 22% of kindergarten and pre-kindergarten teachers, and that’s the same as it was in 1980. There’s been very little increase in the number of men in education. Pre-K is a growth area; early-years education is a growth area. 2% of those working in that area are men and it was 2% 35 years ago.

SF: Why is that? Is that because of the low wage rate or the stigma associated with doing work that’s traditionally associated with women?

RR: That’s a great question, and I don’t honestly know the answer. I suspect that they are wrapped up with each other because of the historic sexism in the labor market.  Women-dominated jobs did tend to be lower-paid in part because they were women-dominated. Their wages were seen as less-important, so the history of the gendered nature of some of these jobs is still visible in some of the wages. But even for elementary school teachers and nursing, there are fewer than one-in-ten male nurses. That has increased a little, but my point is that in some areas of education and health, the caring professions, from relatively low-paying jobs to middle-paying jobs, these are in the middle class, those jobs are being created in this service sector. But they are female-dominated. What you’re seeing, for whatever reason, is that men’s reluctance or inability to reorient themselves towards those jobs puts them at a disadvantage.  These sort of outdated views about what constitutes a men’s job, the person that that is hurting is men.

SF: So there are a couple different paths to progress here and I’d like you to try to address both, and you do in your article, to some degree. One is social policy and the other is what individual men and women can do to try and transcend, in order to move past traditional signals as to what is “appropriate” for one or the other gender.

RR: In terms of policy, using policy pretty broadly here, from public policy at national, state, local level through to corporate policy, the policies of different institutions ought to start with the do no harm principle. By that I mean don’t build in assumptions about gender and about men’s and women’s roles into your policies. Don’t have an asymmetric assumption about time off to care for kids.

SF: Let’s just define that for our listeners. Asymmetric being…

RR: If you can take more time off if you’re a mom than if you’re a dad upon becoming a parent or if the default is to call mom rather than dad.

SF: So that’s why we prefer the term parental leave to maternity leave or maternity and paternity, refer to parents.

RR: As a slight aside, it’s interesting t how often even when it’s formally called parental leave it very often immediately gets relabeled maternity leave by people who almost can’t stop themselves.  If there are going to be things like parental leave and family leave, just make sure that they’re going to be instituted in such a way that they’re equally available to mothers and fathers. Let’s not presume at the outset that this is going to be something that is for women, because that both adds to the inequality that you referred to a moment ago but also hampers men’s ability to reform. But there’s also stuff to do on the cultural and individual side.

SF: On the policy side, if we could just stay on that for one moment longer, part of your article gives a brief comparison a cross-national comparison of policies that really do create significant social and cultural change, especially the examples of Sweden and Germany. Tell our listeners, briefly, about that.

RR: In countries that have a national scheme of parental leave, which the US does not at the moment (it’s at the state level in certain states), sometimes the design of those actually makes part of a leave available only to men. So in a sense it’s use it or lose it, they’re actually not transferrable from the father to the mother.

SF: What’s been the impact of that kind of imperative from the government?

RR: Quite significant. People do respond to incentives. What you see is a significant increase in number of fathers who take that leave who then continue to be more involved in their kids’ lives. We know pretty well that fathers who are involved early in their kids’ lives were more involved later. In fact, some of the studies, the one in Quebec that I mentioned found a more egalitarian division of labor that lasted as far as the study went, which was three years after the taking of the leave. It did seem to recalibrate the family model.

SF: So people don’t revert to the traditional model of splitting caregiving and breadwinning along gender lines.  Mark Zuckerberg’s example: Now that his daughter’s arrived, he’s taking two months off. That sends a strong signal, doesn’t it?

RR: It does, and there is evidence as well from human resources literature that even in divisions of companies where the boss or senior figure takes paternity leave, the men who then subsequently become fathers are much more likely to as well. That is really a quite important cultural issue. I used to work in the UK on the Liberal Democrat side of the coalition government, but I was very proud that David Cameron, when he became Prime Minister, took paternity leave. These things do send strong signals.  When you’re running a company or a business, to send that signal is pretty important. People believe their eyes, not their ears.

SF: It does send the message that it’s not only okay, but that it’s a good thing to do.  That was a part of Zuckerberg’s announcement with which I was a little disappointed. He said that he’d be taking two months off because it’s good for his kid and for his family. He ought to have included that it’s good for his business as well.

RR: That’s right. He came across as a big policy wonk in that statement, as much as I admire him for doing what he did. What will happen is businesses will worry about some of these changes but the truth is, as Zuckerberg established, businesses worry about family leave, but businesses and capitalism are infinitely flexible and adaptable. They absolutely will adapt to men doing the same thing, too, and that will bring greater equality in terms of wages and promotion opportunities.

SF: Which makes it a more egalitarian world for us all. We’re seeing more and more examples everyday. Could you address briefly what you would advise people, men especially, to help them overcome the cultural and psychological barriers that might hold them back from entering sectors of the economy where they could really gain, create value, and start to be a part of this social movement to change the roles of men in society?

RR: I’d start with a three-word admonition — just do it.  I think that taking the step is always the most difficult. Talk to the women in your life about what they want from you, what they hope for and expect. I think that men will be pleasantly surprised to find that it will be good for them and good for their relationships to move into those places. I’m proud to say that I’m a working father.  And use the power that you have as a man, as a father, and as a worker, use that power not only for your own benefit by taking opportunities but also to create a world in which some of our daughters grow up to see both men and women as broad and flexible in the things that they can do. Take the idea of what it is to be a man and turn it on its head. There’s a way to do that that’s actually hugely empowering for men. This is not a loss. It doesn’t have to be a loss. Let’s just see this as something we can be proud of and feel like more rounded as individuals and as men, be better partners and fathers, better workers, if we’re able to take those leaps. You have just got to do it.

About the Author

Jacob Adler , W’18,  is a sophomore at Wharton and a contributor at The Daily Pennsylvanian, numberFire, and Fake Teams.

The Power of Encouragement in Women’s Advancement — Julie Coffman

Contributor: Ali Ahmed

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XMs Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the worlds leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Julie Coffman, a partner at Bain and Company for over 25 years and also a chair for Bain’s Global Women’s Leadership Council, which aims to increase the number of women in Bain’s leadership ranks. Her primary focus in management consulting is to address the most pressing strategic issues in healthcare practice. Coffman has co-authored three whitepapers on gender parity: The Great Disappearing Act: Gender Parity Up the Corporate Ladder, Flexible Work Models: How To Create Sustainability In a 24/7 World, and Everyday Moments of Truth: Frontline Managers are Key to Women’s Career Aspirations. She spoke to Friedman about building a support system for women to diminish the gender gap in senior leadership positions.

Stewart Friedman: Julie you have been at Bain for over 25 years as a very successful management consultant. Healthcare has been your primary focus. How did you get into issues of gender parity in the workplace?

Julie Coffman: Julie CoffmanIt’s interesting, Stew, because I would say early in my career it was not something I spent time on or focused on. Bain is a meritocracy. You do a great job, you get recognized. About 10 years into my career, I was noticing as I got more senior, there were fewer and fewer women in meetings with me, externally with my clients, but also internally. It all dawned upon me as I got married and had children; I have three wonderful kids and my husband. And as all those things came together – I love your Work/Life integration by the way, it’s such an important way to describe it all –that led me to start thinking a lot more about what it was that was enabling me to pursue my career, and build the family life I wanted. What was different for other people? And what were we doing at Bain to try and figure this out more coherently.

The other part I’ll mention is it became more and more important to our clients; diversity more broadly, gender, of course, but also ethnicity, race, background, education were a variety of things that we believe could solve tough problems.  Bringing multiple mindsets, multiple perspectives and styles to the table actually increases your effectiveness. And so it was not just a nice thing to do or the politically correct thing to do, but actually something we believed that for our continued growth of the firm, we had to try and get out in front of.

SF: Because the marketplace was demanding it?

JC: Exactly right, the marketplace – we were seeing more and more that in buying positions both inside and outside with our clients. If you think about who controls purchase decisions at a consumer level and increasingly at a B-to-B level, there’s a new female dominance or at least real strong influence in healthcare, in particular, but also hospitality, retail, consumer goods. And so bringing more women perspective into the boardroom into the executive suite and also into the multiple functional areas that we’re getting, more and more populated by the women became increasingly important to our clients.

SF: What did you have to do to start to be more systematic to really change the makeup of the top management team?

JC: First saying that we are at the middle of the journey as opposed to the end of the beginning – I’m not sure which. – It is a long path for any organization to truly try and tackle this issue. I would say that Bain, what we’ve done in this journey in the last five or six years is, first and foremost, to establish the fact base. To sort of dimensionalize the challenge.  Our internal challenge for numbers – male vs. female – at all levels of the firm. Where we were seeing the leaky bucket? We were doing pretty well bringing people in from top university campuses, from MBA programs.  But then we needed to think about where we losing people. Where geographically we were having “hot spots,” if you will, was in the 10-year ladder, losing people. And then what were the issues being raised by folks when they made career decisions?

SF: So, what did you discover when you began to look systematically at the issue?

JC: There were three broad themes that started to emerge. Number one was that we clearly needed to focus on women feeling like there was someone out there truly investing in them to succeed. We’ve always been a big apprenticeship firm – lots of coaching, lots of mentoring. But we started to get enamored by this concept of sponsorship versus pure mentorship and I’m guessing you’ve probably discussed that maybe in past shows. But this idea that someone will truly advocate on your behalf. And I don’t mean to change the promotion process. But I do mean a senior leader that leads projects or works with clients and knows your work, and is looking out for ways to help you grow and be successful and taking you on their teams and getting you opportunities that may not just come along.

SF: So, that’s the sponsorship role? Different than mentorship, which is more – or how would you describe it?

JC: If you show up at my office and say, “I’d love some coaching or advice or learning on how I can get better,” I think I could probably provide that to someone whether or not I had personal knowledge of their own capabilities or would co-brand my own reputation with theirs.

SF: Co-brand you reputation? So that’s really linking your future with theirs? Is that what you mean?

JC: That’s right. That’s what differentiates sponsorship from pure mentorship. I think that mentorship is coaching that you could provide but you may not want to hitch your star to theirs. Sponsorship is another level of saying we’ve done things together, we’ve accomplished great outcomes together, and I want to help you grow in the business. I will go out of my way to help you do some things that will help you get your next opportunity, etc.

SF: So is that the essential part of your strategy, to develop more successful sponsorship relationship because those are hard to engineer, aren’t they?

JC: They’re really hard. So that was the first thing. It’s sort of an elaborate matchmaking process. They are not assignable. Well, first of all I was going to make the point of saying it’s mostly our senior men that were reaching out and sponsoring our up-and-coming women. We had many more male partners than females so if you’re thinking about the junior partners, or the managers, the people who have been with us for 5+ years from business school – that was our target group to start with. Women weren’t making the push for partner in the numbers we thought they had the capacity and capability to do so. And we thought that one of the missing pieces was the belief that there were existing partners that wanted them as part of the partnership. So we needed our men, who I think were more naturally were sponsoring even without label, but sponsoring other men, to sponsor women. They were either just naturally hanging out together more socially or having more common interests, or just felt more comfortable. We needed to create a little bit more of an ‘ask’ for our senior men who had worked with these women. And think about ways to deepening that relationship that transcended just the transactional business –into more of a personal relationship.

SF: So, how did you do that? How did you overcome what must have been that natural discomfort? Perhaps getting too close with women who were younger. What was your approach to easing those connections and making them more natural?

JC:  We knew that there were organic stories that were happening already without there being a big push. We needed to get those more publicized. We needed to get more of our senior men who have already gotten women under their wings – people who have been quite successful in a two-way street relationship to be more outward about it. Tell the story, describe it, talk about what was useful and start to distill some best practices. So we interviewed a bunch of people and said “How did it work? How did it naturally coalesce? What other things could we do that could instigate it a bit more, to nurture it a bit more?” Then we got together with a bunch of our leaders who run our various offices and practices and said “We want you to work with the leaders of our client accounts.” Make this a specific request. Who are the up and comers? And who can naturally sponsor the women there? And at the same time ask the women, “Who do you see out there that you would love to have as your sponsor, whether you’ve asked them or not?” And then let’s figure out by announcing this that you want to give them permission to ask. But behind the scenes we made sure the people who would be the ask-ees would be willing to do it. So we’ve engineered like a dating game, if you will. No dates involved, but…

SF: Right, wrong metaphor.

JC: Wrong metaphor, right. In other words, the relationships were already there. You needed to have that common experience in order to activate them. You have to create the language and the opportunity for people to try to build those relationships and to make them a bit more formal in the way in which they talked about the next steps in helping each other.

SF: So, it was really about changing the culture. And we know that one of the most powerful means of doing that, and it does take time, which you said at the top of this conversation; this is a long slow process. One of the most effective ways to changing culture, of course, is to tell stories of the kinds of episodes that illustrate what you are trying to make normal, which might not otherwise have been in the past.

That seems to have been an important part of your approach, but also, as you said, to change the language and to authorize or give permission for people to develop these relationships. So, how did you find a path for success? Or what are you finding is most effective as you proceed down this journey?

JC: That’s exactly what we believe. That storytelling in the right venues with the right language and the right follow-on steps is the critical enabler here. So, one of the things that we have been spending a lot of time on as a firm is looking very critically at our bigger events. So when we have leadership team meeting at a regional level, the Americas, or Europe, Middle East, or Africa who are we showcasing in those meetings? Who is the MC? Who are the speakers? How are we bringing to life the success of our firm? What are we intentionally signaling in terms of what our goals are and our desires? And are we comfortable with that? Are we creating the right message? Are we creating room for those stories and those spotlights to be shined on enough diverse stories? Again, when I say diverse I don’t just mean race and gender, but I also mean stylistically. What we need to break down at Bain is the belief that there is only one model that can make it. There has to be an understanding if we are as diverse a group of leaders in term s of how we do this job, what drives our success. So, therefore if you are looking up at a partner you see something, some element you can relate to, that you can be a part of. So we started doing those kinds of meetings.  And then on a more micro-level, thinking office-by-office, and practice-by-practice. Who are the leaders? And are we giving them the opportunities to share their stories and messages of success in a way that works. You mentioned earlier that global Women’s Forum, which is a big event every other year. And we just had our 2015 version in Atlanta at the end of June. It was a huge success. One hundred and eighty women from around the globe gathered. And we invited 40 of our male leaders to join. And the entire two and half days was effectively story telling, best practice sharing, brainstorming in workshops, and a lot of opportunities for people to hear from one another what works, and how to make it work.

SF: As your coming away from that, what was the big take away?

JC: I think what we set out as a goal was that we want to thrive in a client-facing career. We don’t want to survive. We don’t want to just get through the day. Our aspiration is thriving. We asked: “what does that mean to you?” and asked for 30 to 60 second testimonials throughout the two and a half days. When do you feel like you’re thriving? Tell us what that looks and feels like. And what we realized is that for the majority of us, it’s that moment of inspiration when you realize you’ve nailed it with a client. Or you and a team have worked your tails and come up with the big insight that you know is going to create real value. But it’s also those moments when you know you are able to work on high-impact stuff with a group of people that you really like, but still make you kids soccer game. Or get there for the school play. Or be able to take guitar lessons, or fit in the yoga class, or volunteer at your church.

SF: So, it’s not just about kids of course?

JC: Right, it’s not just about the parents at Bain, it’s got to be about the whole person. And what you said at the top of your show, people feel like they’re thriving when they are not overly indexed on one aspect of life. It’s when all aspects are – not everyday, which I tell people all the time. If you ask me if I’m working in harmony on a daily basis, I could rarely give you a yes. But if every few weeks I take stock, and I’m not in harmony then I know I have a problem and I know I have to adjust.

SF: Yes, indeed. That is a main theme of a book I published  few months ago called Leading the Life You Want, which profiles six great leaders in America, two from business, two from public sector service, and two from sports and entertainment. One of the two is Tom Tierney, who is a former CEO of Bain.

JC: A good friend of mine.

SF: I’m sure. And of mine too and a terrific role model. One of the important take -aways from looking at the stories of these and so many other people was just exactly what you said: It’s not about balance on any given day. Balance is a word that I personally think is the wrong metaphor. It’s misguided. It gets us thinking in terms of trade-off all the time.  Harmony over the long haul, really over the course of a life is a much more fruitful way to think about. So, it’s not surprising that you see it the same way.

JC: Yeah, exactly. I totally agree, by the way. I started reading your book and I’m looking forward to finishing it. It’s a great read. The thing I wanted to mention, the other things we were hearing loud and clear at the forum, which also built on the research we recently published was all about the role of confidence and aspiration in going after your ability to thrive at work, but also across you whole life.

I mean obviously men and women both need to have the aspirations to succeed and get to top roles and the confidence that they can get there. But what we’ve been learning through our external research and then doing it internally at Bain as well is that there is a bit of a confidence gap in our women, as they get more senior.

That women really do experience certain setbacks or turbulence in the job in a different way than some of our male colleagues. But in particular, their own confidence needs to buttressed and supported more overtly than it has been by their supervisor or by their day-to-day managers. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate being encouraged or being thanked or having gratitude shown toward them. But our research would indicate that for women, in particular, that it is more needed as a way to maintain confidence, and to build up resilience. And I will be honest, I don’t like painting all women or all men with the same brush. Of course, there’s variation in all of us. But on average, it does seem that we see a confidence gap for women.  There are opportunities out there for more ways for direct encouragement, support, and recognition to help women build that confidence and continue to strive forward the next role.

SF: This is the impetus for my inviting you to speak on the show. It’s about that finding that you saw with women just starting out. There ambition was as high as their male colleagues, but as they move further along their career they had reduced aspirations and decreased confidence. And this is independent of motherhood or marriage. It was across gender. So how did you explain that?

JC: It was disturbing and unsettling to see it that starkly. And it was exactly as you said. We did a survey that looked at folks earlier in their careers, mid-level, and more senior. And in the mid-level you could see that the confidence and aspirations dropped by over half percentage point-wise for women vs. their male colleagues.  And we tried to unpack that a bit and understand the root causes. We saw three core trends emerging that seemed to indicate why this might be happening more with women than for men.

The first thing was this belief that there was an ideal worker out there. Meaning there was a stereotype of what success looked like in their particular organization. And those who no longer had high aspirations said, “I no longer feel that I resemble that stereotype.”  “I don’t feel like I will fit in with what’s going to get valued here.” And when we went further on that, a lot of that stereotype had to do with high-visibility projects, and networking a lot, but also hours, being always on, and those sorts of things.  It’s not that women don’t want to work hard, but they would say to themselves, “I’m not sure I can always be that person. And if that’s what it takes to be successful here, I don’t want to go there.”

And then the second thing was this idea of supervisor support. Do you believe there is someone out there who has your back, who is rooting for you. That’s going to work hard to get you to the next role. So, it’s not just looking for recognition but it’s looking for believing that someone is out there that’s going to be a co-conspirator almost, someone who’s going to help you get ahead to think about how you work through your areas of development and strengthen yourself to be a great candidate for that next role. And again, those with more confidence felt like they had much more supervisor support than those with less confidence.

SF: And what was the third piece?

JC: The third piece was role models. And in some ways, people think that it is similar to my ideal worker comment, but it is a little bit different, meaning that did you believe there was someone out there in management that looked like you, talked like you, acted like you that you felt like you could pattern yourself after, and be able to learn from and grow with and feel comfortable joining that person, and that their styles were similar to yours.

SF: So that gets us back to where we started, the importance of having a variety of different kinds of people speaking in high-visibility places, and being seen as the face of the executive core. But I imagine that changing the mindset about what the ideal worker really is, that must be a tough nut to crack. So, how are you going after that?

JC: Yeah, that is the hardest one probably because that’s where you get at the heart of cultural change, and biases, and all sorts of things like that. So, part of it is what you just mentioned, which is trying to make sure we’re profiling, showcasing, rewarding, and celebrating enough different models so you can point to it explicitly. Part of it is also being more explicit about valuing other attributes in a different way. For example, at Bain like at many professional services firms, typically the big heroes out there are the client leaders, the folks that are selling the biggest accounts, and travelling a lot of hours and miles to get that done.  And that’s terrific. But we also wanted to make sure that we showcased people that were developing great teams. So, we have upward feedback scores, for example. And we give a special award to anyone that gets a 100% net supporter ratio, meaning every single person that works for them in that year said they would either gladly work with them again or actively seek them out. And so that means you are a 100% effective in net supporter ratio, and we call them our rock stars and there is a special award and recognition for those folks, independent of whether they were on the biggest accounts or on the shiniest new piece of business.

SF: So, that’s taken seriously? It’s not taken as the good sportsmanship award at sports tournaments where the guy doesn’t win gets the ‘well he’s a nice person’?

JC: You know what, I think it is taken seriously. We have our managing director and three regional managing directors that take the time announce those folks, to showcase at least three of them in terms of special stories, standing ovations, and a special plaque that goes out. We’re a competitive bunch.

One way we did it was made it a real metric that we could measure and say look, “There’s a whole bunch of them that’re not getting it, which means you’re not quite living up to that.” And that’s an important part of what it means to be a Bain partner or Bain manager.

SF: So, it something that people do indeed aspire to?

JC: That’s right. And the people that are up there are often some of the very best in the business on a commercial generation side just as much. It’s not just a bunch of people that are maybe good at time, but not good at clients. It’s actually typically a whole bunch of people that excel at both. And we’re trying to showcase that you actually can have people really enjoy the ride, want to work with you, be inspired by you. And we’ve really been pushing our whole inspirational leadership curriculum through training and development, but also frankly into our compensation and promotion processes. So, you got to make it real in terms of people believing it’s part of the curriculum to get ahead. It’s how your measured, and it’s a very tangible part of all our talent development processes.

SF: What’s the most important thing you want our listeners to know about you’ve learned in your work in trying to really change the culture of leadership for men and women at Bain?

JC: You know, one of the simplest things that we’ve learned that I think anyone can go and do is say “thank you” more often. Think about all of the people that you’re managing that are on your team that are doing great things and working their tails off. Take the moment to actually genuinely thank them and give them positive feedback. And encourage them, saying that you believe in them. Don’t couple that with the constructive criticism in the same dialogue. Literally have that moment where you are just being positive, expressing gratitude, or giving someone some feedback that’s positive. The next day you can go back and sort of give the constructive things to continue to work on. But the power of encouragement I think is a very under-utilized aspect, and all of us can build our confidence and resilience by using of that tool.


Ali Ahmed Ali Ahmedis an undergraduate senior majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Cinema Studies


Empowering girls: If You Can See It, You Can Be It — Katlyn Grasso

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life Stew spoke with Katlyn Grasso, a senior at Wharton pursuing a B.S. in Economics with concentrations in finance and strategic globalization. In addition to the many leadership roles Katlyn holds at Wharton, she is also a Community Leader for the United Nation’s Girl Up initiative and C-E-O and Founder of GenHERation, a female empowerment network for high school girls.  Katlyn and GenHERation have been featured in numerous national media outlets, including Forbes, The Huffington Post Live, and Seventeen Magazine where Katlyn was included on their list of “Real Girls Doing Amazing Things. She just won the University of Pennsylvania President’s Engagement Prize, and she’ll be using the funds to host conferences nationwide for 15,000 girls.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman:  Katlyn,  what is genHERation?

Katlyn GrassoKatlyn GrassoGreat question. Gen-HER-ation is a female empowerment network for high school girls.  We’re an online platform that connects girls with national corporations and nonprofits to launch advocacy campaigns on a monthly basis. For example, this month we are working with an international branding house, Brandberry; they are challenging the girls to create a socially conscious brand. The girls have the whole month to submit their ideas. At the end of the month we will put all the ideas into a poll and the girls vote on them.  The winner of this challenge will get to work on their product idea with Brandberry, the branding house for wild Disney and the Wiggles and they do really incredible work.

SF: What’s the Wiggles?

KG: You don’t know what the Wiggles are? I think they are an Australian singing group on the Disney channel.  They’re for the four to eight year old audience.  They’re big deal.  And we have also worked with other companies like ESPNW and The American Heart Association.   We have some other partnerships coming up with Roominate, which was just named by Time magazine Toy of the year for girls. Our website is also a comprehensive media outlet for girls.  Every day we have informative content including videos.  We do interviews in a question and an answer session on our website. We also give away scholarships for girls.

SF: What types of scholarships?

KG: We do scholarships for projects.  So, if a girl wants to launch her own advocacy campaign we can fund that.  But we also fund scholarships for colleges or camps girls want to pursue or online courses they may want to take.

SF: How did all this came to life?

KG: I have always been really passionate about empowering girls.  I drank the Kool-aid; I went to an all-girl school, was a girl scout and when I came to Wharton I thought someday I want to have a Katlyn Grasso Leadership Institute for girls which will be a high school.  Girls have to step up and become leaders if there are no boys that would be hogging the spotlight.  So when they need someone to lead the team or when they need someone to be the class president, then it has to be a girl. When I came to Penn I was sort of shocked that in my classes — and I take financial classes so they are pretty male-dominated — girls were afraid to raise their hands in class because raise their hands even if they don’t know the answers!

SF: I have never seen that happen. Just kidding!  So that’s still a thing, as you said, in your finance classes?

KG: Yeah. Girls they have to make sure they are 100%.

But I think even earlier in my career here, when I said I want to be an entrepreneur and I started googling who are female entrepreneurs and CEO’s, I found that there are very few.  I wanted to create role models, relatable models, for teenage girls 13 to 15 years old so that they could aspire to be like them. I always had the mantra that if you can see it, you can be it.  And it becomes harder when you are in those finance bio-tech, tech worlds so that you need someone out there encouraging you to get out there and get over those huddles that are in those fields.  That’s why I created genHERation.

SF: To provide role models and inspiration for girls to see and be able to say, “I see that, so that means I can be that.”

KG: Right.  I also think that the experiential learning platform is important. Every month, working with a different company, girls actually implement these projects. Last year when we did a campaign with the American Heart Association the winner went to a charter school in New Jersey.  The girl came up with an after school program for CPR training that was implemented in nine schools in the district and she put that together herself.

SF: Is that a high schooler?

KG: Yeah a 10th grader in Newark.

SF: Wow!

KG: We have had girls do financial leadership campaigns where they do financial lessons for girls in schools or communities and arrange advocacy campaigns where they learn so much about themselves.

SF: And about their capacity to lead.

KG: Yeah.  Because even with my experience as an entrepreneur, you really don’t know what you are capable of until you have set really high goals. Sometimes they seem impossible, and then when you achieve them and you say, “Wow! If I could do that I can do anything!”

SF: What was the goal for genHERation when you first started?

KG: I don’t know if I had a really clear cut goal.  I was listening to your earlier guest, Dr. Ned Haollowell, and he was talking about entrepreneurs having a race car mind. I definitely have a racecar mind. We are a year old; we launched our campaign on March 1st 2014 and we have reached 10,000 girls since then. I didn’t think we would be that big in our first year. I just said I want to provide quality content and experiences for these girls so that they feel motivated to go out and make changes in their communities. When we launched our pilot program I said I want to reach 250 girls.  Over the summer we held our first Summer Leadership Series and we visited five cities across the U.S. to hold workshops for high schools girls — and we had over 500 attendees.

At the end of the summer I said I want a 1000 members and then we started growing.  But the true impact that genHERation can have on a girl’s life is not quantifiable.  I go back to that girl in New Jersey who was in the charter school. One day she called me to talk about this project and she said, “Katlyn, thank you for taking a chance on me because no one ever has.”  When I get emails from girls and they thank me so much for helping them pursue their dream; that’s really what is all about for me.

SF: Who influenced you and helped you along the way?

KG: I think there are so many people. I have I great family, my mom, my dad and my sister I am going to be starting a campaign called Dad’s for Daughters soon. I think having strong male role models in your life is important.  When I came a Wharton I really just started talking to anyone and everyone who would listen to me about entrepreneurship and I have met a lot great professors here. I work at the Small Business Development center where I have met incredible entrepreneurs.  Just rounding yourself with positive, optimistic people; they are the ones who have really helped me achieve success.

SF: Let’s talk about Dad’s for Daughters; tell us more about that initiative, what is it about and where you would like it to go?

KG: It’s still in its very early stages but I am working on a really big project that I hope will take place around Father’s Day this year. Growing up I realized what a big role my dad played in my leadership development journey and I realized some dads are not taking this role in their daughters’ lives. I thought that if we really want to get dads who are in the highest positions of power — CEO’s of companies, athletes and professors — coming together and saying,  “We have daughters and we want to pay them as equals to their male counterparts. We want them to be promoted and we want them to work in the tech industry as well.”

We need to come together and raise public awareness about this. I had a conference in the fall here at the Penn Museum for about 200 girls. I put together ideas for my Dad’s for Daughters panel and my dad came down from Buffalo to speak.  It was a big deal.  We also had Michael Rinzler, a Wharton MBA and CEO of  Wicked Cool Toys who has a two-year old daughter. I met him because he is also on the board of a company called Women In Toys, an organization that I am a part of. I was like Michael?  Is it Michelle?  He was a guy.   And he said,  “I think it’s important for me as a man in this industry, and someone who has a wife and a daughter, to stick up for the rights of women and to encourage their advancements.”

SF: What are the keys for fathers?  There is are lot of fathers listening out there who might be thinking,  “I would like my daughter to grow up to be like Katlyn.” What do they need to do?

KG: I think it’s really about being optimistic. My dad always said, “What’s the worst thing that any one could say? No?”  I think that’s why he is a natural salesman. I grew up seeing that he would always do anything it took to close the deal; he would be persistent. That always stood out to me; you have to keep on knocking on doors, pounding on pavement, you have to go on. I think it’s really important to be there when your daughters are going to fall, or have a hard time, and when they are applying to college. You need to say, “You know what?  It’s going to get better from here.”

I also have a younger sister so it’s not like there was a boy in my family.  I always thought that I could do anything that a boy could do.  I never thought because I am a girl I might not be able to do this.

SF: Was there something that your father said or did or implied that made you feel that way?

KG: I think he was just always there for me when I started my first business, Tap for Tots, and I didn’t even know if that was going to work out.  I have tap danced for 18 years now and my first business was teaching kids how to tap dance. When I started I couldn’t drive yet and he drove me to all my appointments during the summer.  And I just said thanks dad for always believing in me. I think it was just for always being there.  It’s not anything I think that they can say or do in particular but it’s just being the number one fan in the audience.

SF: What has been the most challenging part of bringing genHERation to life?

KG: I think this is what the importance of dads for daughters. Being a female entrepreneur can sometimes be the biggest thing that gets in your way.

SF: How so?

KG: I was pitching for a competition here last year. I was the only female finalist out of 10 contestants. They were MBAs, not a junior, like me.  It was a practice pitch and there were two male judges there. One of the male judges just stopped me in the middle of what I was saying.  And I am like, “What did you say?”  And he said, “I just want to tell you right now that this is a good effort and everything, but you are a girl. I don’t know how far this is going to go.”  I am seeing your face right now, Stew, and that’s how I felt.

SF: My jaw is dropping.

KG: He said, “This is cute and everything, but I don’t know if it could be a full time venture.”

SF: I am so sorry to hear that.

KG: I left there and that was the day I started, right after I called my mum and said, “Can you believe that this even happened?”  And she said, “You know what, this is going to happen in the business world. People are going to try to bring you down. You have to keep going on.”  And when talked to my dad he said, “They are never going to understand unless they have daughters of their own.”  Hence the idea for Dads for Daughters was born. I think being a female entrepreneur, especially being a young female entrepreneur, sometimes people don’t take you seriously.  You always have to go in even more prepared, showing why you are just as worth it.

SF: D you see that happening in your generation in the same way it has in prior generations?  Or do you think the dynamics of men and women in the work place have changed so that it’s easier for men and women to play different roles than they might have played traditionally?  There are now more women in positions of power and authority in the public professional world and men having a more active role at home. Do you see change happening?

KG: I think that there is no saying that I can’t work in this bank because I am a woman. I think I have the same skills as my male counterparts but I think in the entrepreneurial world — I am in the venture initiation program here, the incubator program for student startups at Penn — and there are about 30 ventures in it between the Philly campus and the San Francisco campus.  I can name three women in that. Women aren’t prominent in entrepreneurship yet.  I am not saying it’s a bit of an old boys club.  I think it’s because women are less likely, they see it as a risk to be in entrepreneurship. Other than that time [in the contest] I have actually never been discouraged by people saying girls cannot be entrepreneurs.  But there are just so few of them that when I tell my friends you should be an entrepreneur they are like,  “I can’t do that; that’s too risky and I don’t have the skill for that.”

I say, “Why not?”  When I ask them that they don’t even have an answer. I think they just think that’s a career that’s sort of off limits for them.

SF: What do you think is causing that sense of inhibition where these young women are hesitant to take the initiative?

KG: I think entrepreneurship is seen as something that is unstable; one day you may have a job and one day you might not have a job. I always thought that there is a greater likelihood if I worked for bigger corporation that one day they just say we went bankrupt I could get fired just because I am the young analyst on the totem pole. If it’s my company, sure maybe we don’t have a big capital like the investment bank, but I have control over my finances, how much money I want to make, in my day to day life. I feel more in control of my life in that way.  But other people don’t really see it in that way.

SF: What do you see as you look as the next five or ten years how do you see the world unfolding in terms of opportunities for men and women and how men and women are going to be working together both at work and at home?

KG: I think Sheryl Sandberg is the exemplary female icon of this generation saying we need equal agendas at the table. I think we are going to move to parity.  But I think the big change will come in politics.  I think that there would need to be a female president because when you look around the world the United States is 75th on the list on women empowerment.  There are more women in government in Rwanda, Pakistan and Iraq.

I think wow, we don’t have enough women in legislative positions who are working on daycare at work for women, paternity or maternity leave. The legislators aren’t even considering these issues just because they are not women.

SF: Unless men take a greater role for domestic responsibility and child rearing as they are starting to.

KG: Right and I think they are starting to but not the majority.

I think having the example, not even a female president, but more female governors and more women in Congress.  I think that will be a big shift. I also think there is a lot to be done about how women are portrayed in the media. I did a social impact research experience — a program that we do here at Wharton where they give students grants to study over the summer. Last summer I studied how girls’ consumption of media influences leadership development.  I was fascinated to see how the websites and the television shows that girls consume affects their daily lives. I interviewed about 500 people and 92% of them said that they don’t think that the media they consume portrays women in an equal light.

We see this but we don’t take action.  There has been an emergence of shows that are putting women in positions of political power to show that women can achieve. This goes back to my concept of if you can see it, you can be it, and that means female journalists. When you look at female journalists delivering hard hitting news about middle eastern conflicts — its usually not women, its usually men. Men sort of get seen as the trusted sources on important issues and bring more people in because it’s just a subconscious bias, you don’t even think about that.

SF: If you think about the rest of life — and let’s just look at family life — we have been talking about community and changing the cultural values and the iconography of who has the voice of authority and who has institutional power. At home how do you see the roles of men and women evolving in your generation?

KG: I think they will be equal because I think men and women both want to have families and I don’t think women now are content to stay at home. Women are earning more advanced degrees and at higher rate than their male counterparts.  That’s a lot of time and money invested.  So obviously they want to put that to work. I think what we are going to see is that not only are people going to want to have an active role in the household but companies are going to need to adjust in order for there to be more life and work balance.

SF: What do you think is the most important thing for young women to be thinking about in terms of breaking what remains a glass ceiling in large companies especially of reaching positions of authority and power?

KG: I just think that they need to be persistent and not let anyone or anything upset their perception of themselves as leaders.  They can’t worry about what their male bosses or their female bosses might say. They just have to go on with their goals and say I am going to achieve this and make sure that they are surrounding themselves with the right mentors and sponsors to elevate themselves up to those leadership positions.

SF: What’s the best way to get started in developing a network of support?  I am sure that is something you must address on genHERation?

KG: Yes. My best advice is talk to everyone and anyone. I think you can learn as much from a taxi driver as you can learn from a CEO of a company. You never know what you can learn from someone or how that can influence how you think about something.

SF: You’re graduating from Wharton.  What happens next?

KG: We will be working on growing genHERation fulltime in the beginning of May.  We are going to have a big announcement about a summer program. Then I will just continue and growing the company.

To find out more about Katly Grasso and GenHeration visit their web site www.genheration.com and follow on Twitter @KatlynGrasso and @GenHeration

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

How To Invest in Boys — Michael Thompson

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life Stew Friedman spoke with Michael Thompson, a consultant, author, and psychologist specializing in children and families.  He is the co-author of the New York Times best-selling book, Raising Cain: Protecting The Emotional Life of Boys as well as the author of Speaking of Boys: Answers to the Most-Asked Questions About Raising Sons, and It’s a Boy!: Understanding Your Son’s Development from Birth to EighteenThey spoke about how our hyper macho culture affects boys and ultimately all of us

Stew Friedman: There’s a great deal of focus on girl power, on women leaning in,  on not on using the word ‘bossy’ to describe women, so how did you come to focus is on boys?  Aren’t boys and men the dominant group?  Why do they need our help and special attention?

Michael Thompson: I wrote my doctoral dissertation on, anorexia nervosa — a disease of self-starvation that’s far and away a female disorder.  It’s the second most lethal disorder in psychiatry and it comes about because girls get obsessed with the idea of thinness and they starve themselves.

If you had told me 30 years ago that I was going to end up studying boys, I would have said that’s absurd.  But I began to consult to schools and the overwhelming number of referrals to a school psychologist are boys.  There are more depressed and anxious boys under the age of 10.  There are more boys with learning problems.  And, of course, there are far more disciplinary problems.  Two-thirds to three-quarters of school suspensions and expulsions are boys.  When you get into a school setting, the kids who give teachers trouble, and the kids who get into disciplinary trouble are boys, not girls.

Over my years of school consultation, I’ve seen girls, to a significant extent, thriving more than boys were.  In my lifetime, I’m 68 years old, the academic fortunes of girls and boys have flip flopped. When I graduated from high school in 1965, 58% of college graduates were young men. The pendulum has swung from one side to the other.  56% of graduate degrees now go to young women.  Girls outperform boys in school: in elementary school, middle schools, high school, college and graduate school.   Boys never catch up.

SF: What do you do to help them?

MT: I run workshops for teachers about the nature of boys.  What are the brain differences, between boys and girls?  What are acceptable behaviors that they are going to see in boys which will sometimes disrupt the classroom and which will make some teachers feel boys are the enemy of what they’re trying to do?

SF: Are teachers receptive to this?

MT: They’re really receptive because many teachers see that boys struggle more in school, and they want to help them.  They find that the boys can’t sit still.  I had a woman, I met at an International School in China.  She said she was the first woman teacher at a boy’s Catholic school in a very rough area of London.  She said, “Boys spend the first two years trying to freak me out and gross me out.”  She said that once she passed the test, she was in and stayed there for nine years nine month teaching boys.  She said, “The thing I learned is you can’t ask boys to sit for more than 20 minutes. You have to let them get up and move because by school age, three quarters of the boys in the classroom are more physically active than any girl.”

SF: You were one of the experts who appeared in the film, ‘The Mask You Live In.’ I recently facilitated a conversation about that film here at The Wharton School at the invitation of a group of men centered around the rugby team.  So these were super macho dudes.  They call themselves “the 22’s” to represent how much less women are paid than men in our society.  They’re committed to try to close that gap.  We screened this film and had fantastic discussion about it, and you were one of the people who spoke so eloquently about the risks of hyper masculinity in our society.  One of the points you made, Michael, was that, when you look at the distribution of attributes comparing men and women, there are mostly overlapping.  Mostly men and women are alike in so many ways.  It’s only at the extremes that you see differences.

MT: Some people want to simplistically say, “Boys and girls are the same. Any differences are a result of social learning and training. We just leave them alone they’ll be very, very similar.”  Other people want to say, “Well, the boy brain and the girl brain, as if they were separate brains.”

The truth, as far as I’m concerned, is that the male and female brains are 85% overlapping.  For the most part, children need for love, and attention, and support, and guidance and challenge; they’re mainly the same.  That’s why co-ed schooling works.  If they had two separate brains, then we shouldn’t have the same schooling for both.  But on a number of dimensions, boys and girls, as a group, differ dramatically.

One is physicality; two is the way boys and girls use language; and the other is the standard behaviors which boys, I believe, are biologically wired for, which are dominancy.  A first grade boy may come up to another boy and start a friendship by saying, “I can run faster than you.”  Elementary teachers whose take is “Oh, that’s not nice. We have to fix that. Those boys lack empathy.  Those boys are mean.”

SF: But this is their way of connecting.

MT: Yes, that competitive invitation is often the way boys fall into friendship.

SF: Our show is about works and life and there are a lot of parents out there who worry about their sons.  It distracts them while they are at work and can cause them to fail to be able to pay attention to things that matter to them at work.  What advice do you have for parents of boys in our society to be able to be the kind of mother or father that they want to be and still be able to attend to the things that matter to them in other parts of their lives, such as work?

MT: Because a lot of mothers and fathers worry about their under achieving boys, their boys not living up to their potential, their boys not being organized,  I often ask the dad, “When did you become organized, to take the initiative, to do your homework on your own?”

SF: I was about 49, I think!  Most people would say that I wasn’t organized then either.

MT: Right.  Most of them at least marry somebody will help them organize. Most men answer, Freshman year in college.  Junior year in college. First year of graduate school.”  Then I ask women, When did you get to be an organized student in school?” And they say 4th and 5th grade, 3rd grade, kindergarten, 5th grade, 6th grade.” It’s very different.

Boys and girls, as a group, take to school differently.  Boys often think that they’re in it alone. There’s no team work.   Research has shown that boys work better in conditions of team work, competition, movement, and getting up and showing off. Boys say, “I don’t like to write.” Well, they don’t like to write in a 5th grade journal that they’re supposed to keep about their feelings.  They know it’s really a diary.  They want to write science fiction.  They want to write action.  There are a lot of elementary school teachers who think that they are doing a service as if they were doing violence prevention.  But there is no relationship between what you write in 5th grade and whether you turn out to be a violent person!

SF: The well-meaning redirection takes the boy away from what is natural to him.  So how can parents do to deal with the worries they have about their boys so that they can get their own work done?

MT: I try and get them to stop worrying. Moms worry constantly that their boys are too active, that they’re going to be trouble in school, they’re headed down a bad road.  What I’m telling moms is that if you love your son, if you have good teachers, he may get into trouble because he got up on the desk, he was standing on his chair, and he was telling something to friends across the room but you do not need to panic about that.  If your boy has things he loves, even if it’s sports and you think that that is not academic, if he shows perseverance and focus, and if he is a good member of a team, then all those abilities he is developing are going to serve him very well.

SF: What you tell dads who worry about their sons?  How do you help fathers to stay calm and assured about their son’s development?

MT: Many adult men believe that masculinity has to be won through a series of tests.  It’s a very common belief in men.  Women, somehow, believe they’re going to go from being girls to women without passing tests.  Boys and men devise tests for each other:  Are you truly masculine? Are you truly tough?  Are you truly strong?  Are you not scared?

Of course, most of us are scared on the inside.  When you’re a boy, you worry, “I’m not going to win the respect of other boys. Therefore I’m not going to be a respectable man.” There are a lot fathers who still have that fear for their son, and who think that their sons aren’t going to be tough enough, aren’t going to be strong enough.  The fathers, instead of actually talking to their boys, are constantly benchmarking them. They’re evaluating them.  I work in an all-boys private school outside Boston.  They tell me their fathers try to start a conversation that goes something like this: “How are things going in math?” That’s not a conversation. That’s a conversation killer. That means my father wants me to tell him entertaining stories of how I’m getting high grades in Math.  That’s’ every boy hears and starts to close down.

SF: What’s a better way to approach that?

MT: “Do you like Mr. Bailey better than Mr. Anderson?”  That’s a father who knows the name of his son’s two Math teacher, this years’ and last years.’  That’s a father asking his son a question that only one person can ever answer; his son. His son will know he’s being used as a consultant on his own life as a boy, and he will feel the respect of that.  Everybody likes being a consultant.  Don’t you, Stew?  I do.

SF: So to tap into what he knows distinctively, uniquely?

MT: Exactly.

SF: That’s great advice. What are some other questions that a parent could ask?  What other kinds of questions do you recommend that fathers ask their sons to have a real conversations that invest in and empower their sons?

MT: I think it’s helpful to ask boys about negative things.  Human beings, in general, like to complain.  I guess I believe that because I’m a psychologist and I have heard a lot of human beings complaining, and I complained a lot myself.  If you ask a boy to tell you something that he hates about his day, something that’s real and concrete.  Moms tend to ask, How are you?  How was your school day?” And boys respond, “Fine.” They say, Okay.” They don’t want to open up a long conversation in which their weaknesses might be exposed.  The hyper-masculinity has the effect of making boys want to hide their shame, their self-doubt, and their uncertainty.

Well, who doesn’t have shame, self-doubt and uncertainty?  Every human being does.  Boys are taught if you’re strong, if you’re a respectable boy, you don’t have it. They very often feel that their mothers are going after their inadequacy. That’s not all with the mothers intend. Mothers think they’re being empathic.  The boy thinks, “She’s trying to unravel me.” And they think the father is saying, “You have to live up to these marks. You have to win my respect. You have to pass this test.”  Boys tell me how important it is to hear about their father’s struggle.  I don’t mean eight paragraphs.  I just mean a father saying, “I struggle with that.”

SF: That’s beautiful advice, Michael.

To learn more Michael Thompson visit his web site www.michaelthompson-phd.com.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

Empowering Women By Engaging Men — Michael Kimmel

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Michael Kimmel Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, where he is also the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.  Kimmel is a leading authority on masculinity and gender, and author of numerous books on manhood including his most recent, Angry White Men. They explored the connection between gender and work.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: We’re talking today about the state of masculinity in America    and how this informs our understanding of the connection between gender, work and family. Most of us are familiar with the women’s rights movements and with feminism.  Michael, please tell us briefly what is the men’s rights movements and how did it come about?

Michael Kimmel: Michael KimmelThe men’s rights movement began in the 1970’s. At that time it was very much in favor of feminism and women’s rights. It basically made the argument, just as feminists had, that women were imprisoned by archaic roles and so too were men.  Men wanted to be “liberated” from those stereotypical roles just as women wanted to be. However, the men’s rights movement has since morphed into a very angry and volatile anti-feminist movement of which I have no part. In fact I’m probably the person they like least because I am a big believer in gender equality.

In fact, in my book, Angry White Men, I included a chapter about the men’s rights movement. I was on a TV show opposite these “men’s rights guys,” angry white men, who believed that they were the victims of reverse discrimination in the workplace. The TV show we were on was titled after a quote by one of these men who said “A black woman stole my job.” These guys all believed that they were victims. When it was my turn to speak I simply asked one question.

I said “I want to ask you about the word “My” where did you get the idea it was your job? Why isn’t the title “A black woman got the job?” Or “A black woman got a job.” Without confronting men’s sense of entitlement we won’t see why so many men resist gender equality. The men’s rights movement believes that gender equality is a zero sum game and if women win, then men are going to lose. Stew, you and I both know that the data on gender equality is overwhelmingly persuasive; the more gender equal our relationships the happier men are.

SF: And yet that there is perception among some men that it is zero sum game. Two questions: where does that entitlement come from and what can we do about it?

MK: There is a large number of people in America who have been dealt a bad hand. If you look at the data on family income in constant dollars, family income for a family of 4 in 1973 was about $38,000. If you keep it in constant dollars the average family income for a family of 4 today is about $38,000.

So, you have to ask yourself what’s different about a family of 4 in 1973 and a family of 4 today? And that is mom’s working. So the reality is that if the wage gap has closed at all over the past 40 years, it’s not because women’s wages have risen so much but because men’s wages have declined. Men are getting a bad deal. There are many men whose jobs are being outsourced or downsized.

You work for a company as a friend of mine did he worked for a company for 40 years. You invest in the company and its pension program and then one day as you are approaching retirement the CEO writes a letter saying “I’m really sorry but we can’t fund your retirement anymore” and it’s gone. So guys are getting a bad deal. They have the right to be angry but the question is “who are they angry at?” Do you think its feminist women who issue predatory loans. Do you think immigrants are responsible for climate change? Do you think LGBT people outsource your job?

Not in the least. So I think these guys are right to be angry but they are delivering their mail to the wrong address. Their analysis of the source of their problem is mistaken. The data on gender equality is very persuasive. The more gender equal our relationships, the happier that women are, the happier that children are, and the happier the men are.

SF: How do we break through to get the real story of the data that you’re describing to the American workers?

MK: You’ll probably accuse me of being Pollyanna-ish about this but I’m actually quite sanguine. I think that the hysteria that you get on Fox news is an indication that the reality of people’s lives is daily disconfirming what they hear on Fox news.

SF: What do you mean by that?

MK: Well, the reality is we are in fact happier the more gender equal our relations are. There are more cross sex friendships between women and men these days. Men are spending far more time as fathers and they are happier for it. So everyday I’m happier if I’m doing these sorts of things and if I watch Fox news I know that’s not me. So I think we are living in an everyday the refutation of what Fox News is telling us. And we are daily refuting the idea that men are from Mars and women are from Venus — which is probably the silliest book ever written.

SF: Why do you say that?

MK: What do we know about the work place? What do we know about the university? What’s the most successful educational reform of the entire 20th century? It’s co-education. Co-education means that you can sit in the same class, in the same lecture, read the same book, take the same test, be graded by the same criterion and nobody ever goes to the Dean of students and says “I’m a Martian and my professor is a Venusian” so shall we get a translator for extra credit. Nobody ever says that.  The reason nobody ever says that is because in every measurable attitude trait and behavior, women and men are far most similar than we are different.  That’s what we know from the social behavioral sciences.  So we’re not from Venus. We’re not from Mars. We’re from planet Earth and nowhere is this more clear than in the American college classroom and in the contemporary workplace.

SF: And yet there’s a simmering anger or not too simmering.

MK: Once upon a time every single corporate board was made up of all white men and now we have to share. Meritocracy sucks.

SF: Because you’re giving something up, or so it seems.

MK: Yes, you’re giving up the fact that you and only you get to occupy those positions. If you actually get to earn it, then you could lose it.

SF: How do we delve into that sense of entitlement so that the anger either dissipates or is directed to where it should go?

MK: In our daily lives, in our relationships with our children, our  partners, our friends we’re finding that that is sustaining and is fulfilling and therefore the words that we’re hearing [on Fox News], the rhetoric, the ideology that we’re hearing, increasingly rings hollow. We organized the world so that white men in America basically got all the benefits.  And now I would turn to white men and say “Wo how does that work out for you? Feeling great about your life?” No.

All of the power in the world doesn’t trickle down to individual men feeling really great about their lives whether you are in the top 1% or not. Let’s say the guy down the block has 2 Lamborghinis and I only have one! I think this is terrible and I want to get more. Or, if you are part of the rest of the world and you say “I’m making less money now.  It has to go further.  And I my wife is working.  We are trying to balance things. I know that I feel fulfilled when I spend time with my kids.  You’re thinking, “How could I put pressure on this government to provide the kinds of policies that I need to make my life work?”

SF: And we need changes in the workplace to create the kind of flexibility and support for men and women to fulfill the roles that are meaningful to them beyond the workplace.  What we know from our research as organizational psychologies is that when you do that when you give people flexibility and you value who they are outside of work, they bring more to work.  So, what about the workplace?

MK: I talk to CEO’s all the time and when I tell them that gender equality is a good thing they start to roll their eyes and say “Oh God.  This is going to be really expensive.  Gender equality is really expensive. How much is this going to cost me?” And I say “You have it completely backwards.” Gender inequality is really really expensive.

SF: How do you make that case to a CEO’s?

MK: It’s very easy. First of all, think of the labor cost of gender inequality:  higher turnover, lower productivity, lower levels of job satisfaction, higher rates of absenteeism, higher retraining costs. The costs are enormous.  But there’s good news. When a company announces a women’s ascent to the corporate board, stock prices tend to go up. Companies that are more gender equal tend to have higher valuation. They do better. They have higher levels of profitability. There’s phenomenal data on this by Catalyst and other organizations. So, to the CEO’s you don’t make a personal lifestyle case, you make a business case.

SF: So, this sense of entitlement you spoke of, it has gotten stronger perhaps more virulent in its expression.  What else can we be doing in our educational system or through the media to cut into that?

MK: We have to be sensitive to the fact that these changes in our workplace and in our lives have come really, really quickly. My father’s workplace looked very much like Don Drapers’ [in Mad Men.]  I grew up thinking my workplace would look like Don Draper’s.  But, of course, it looks nothing like that. And my son, who’s 16, looks at that world and thinks, “That’s insane! What’s going on there?”

SF: What’s so shocking to your son about the Draper world of Mad Men in the 60’s? What is it that shocks him?

MK: First of all, the men – the entirely white men — are the ones who have all the corner offices with the windows.  And the secretaries are in the middle and the men have their pick of them. The relations of between women and men, the wrestling over the past 6 years of the characters to allow women to enter this world and to achieve in this world, he finds it completely anachronistic.

When we were young there was this riddle that we spent hours trying to figure out.  Everyone knows this the riddle: A man and his son are driving along the freeway and they are in a terrible accident and the father is killed. The son is brought to the emergency room of the hospital where the emergency room doctor takes one look at the son and said I can’t treat him that’s my son. How is this possible? People of my age. I’m a baby boomer were flummoxed by it.

We couldn’t figure out. My son who’s 16 has a bunch of his friends over watching a soccer match.     I used the riddle to them. And they all looked at me like, “that’s his mom, of course!”  Except for my son, who said, “Or dad it could be he has two dads.”  It doesn’t perplex them at all anymore. Think about the sea change.

SF: It’s true.. Just last week I led a conversation among Wharton men and women about the film “The Mask You Live In” – in which you appeared as one of the experts. This was a group brought together by the Wharton women in business — MBA students – and a new group of Wharton men called “the 22’s.”  They called themselves “the 22’s” to represent how much less women are paid than men in our society. Their goal is to close that gap. Most of these guys are in the rugby club.   So these are some seriously macho guys. The room was overflowing with people who wanted to be a part of this discussion.  There’s clearly a lot that needs to be worked through.  As you do your work, not only in the classroom but in organizations, how do you go about helping to raise consciousness about the kinds of things that you’re talking about here and moving us into a world that has less animosity and more support for egalitarian or a 50-50 world that we really all ultimately want to live in? What do you do?

MK: Great question. I think that part of this is to recognize that that since these changes have come about so fast you can’t simply dismiss people’s anxiety or dismiss people’s perceptions.

SF: Right. It has to be accepted.

MK: Absolutely. Every therapist, every psychologist tells you that you can’t tell someone their feelings are wrong. The reality is their feelings are real and you have to attend to them.  You can’t just say “your feelings are wrong, get over it.” That’s not going to produce the kind of changes that you’re looking for.

SF: It will likely create more resistance.

MK: Exactly. So, we need to acknowledge the fear as a result of these changes. At the same time we have to begin to move off the idea that it was women who did this.  That’s part of challenging those notions of entitlement at the same time as we’re trying to work through them.

SF: You have a book, if I have this right, about “Bro” culture, Guyland.

MK:  Guyland is really a book about what kinds of pressures young men are under to prove their masculinity and especially to prove their masculinity to other guys. It’s really a book about college age men. There is something happening that’s new in our culture, a new stage of development between adulthood and adolescent.  It’s now taking us a full decade longer to accomplish the markers of adulthood than it once did.  The average age of marriage in 1950 was about 20.4 and today is about 28.3 so it’s really taking us almost the full decade longer to do all of those things.

SF: So Guyland maps that change, the extended adolescence, and its impact on current society in the workplace.

MK: Right. It’s about what guys are being asked to do on college campuses in order to prove their masculinity to other guys. We want parents and young people to be aware of these issues so we can figure out ways to help young men navigate this world more effectively.  Every day there’s another article about sexual assault on college campuses.  These are the things that men are being asked to do in the name of proving their masculinity.

SF: What have you found to be the most effective means for changing that culture?

MK: The way I try to engage with those guys is not by trying to tell them that they have to be different but rather that what we really need them to do is to live up to their own ideal of masculinity.  The idea is to foster a conversation about what it means to be a man.

I think we have an idea about what it means to be a real man which is stoic and never crying, never showing your feelings and winning at all costs. But I think if you ask most men what does it mean to be a good man — at you funeral you want it to be said of you ‘he was a good man’ —  they have very different models.  They would say things like being a good provider, being responsible, having integrity, doing the right things, standing up for the little guys.

SF: Serving others.

MK: I basically want to foster a conversation between the two ideas of masculinity that we have in our heads that currently vie for dominance.  I want young guys, guys like my son, to know that some times in the name of the brotherhood they’re going to be asked to be a real man and betray their sense of what it is to be a good man.  I want us to foster that conversation so that it costs them. So they can’t look at themselves in the mirror and say “you’re a good man” if they haven’t done the right thing.

SF: So it really begins with a self-definition of what does it mean for me to be the man that I want to be.

MK: That’s right. So, if we are to guide young men my feeling is that if we propose to them that this model of masculinity that they’ve embraced is toxic and therefore they have to change, then it you’ll get nowhere.  What we can do is say “it’s not my idea of masculinity it’s yours.” I believe that you need to live up to your own ideas. When I am asked to work with a fraternity on a campus that has been singled out by the administration as particularly problematic, prone to sexual assault, then I say to these guys: “I don’t want you to fold up. I don’t want you to go out of business.” What I want you to do is I want you to bring your charter. I want you to show me what you say you are.  If you look at the charter of any fraternity it says ‘We’re men of honor. We are gentlemen. We believe in service.’ So, I’m saying I want you to live up to your own codes.

SF: Michael, I want to make sure the listeners get your thoughts about paternity leave in America. What do you see as the important challenges to make paternity leave less stigmatized and more available to men who want to take advantage of it.

MK: This is a really big question because the United States is one of the only four countries in the world that offers no paid parental leave to anyone, male or female.  The other three are Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea. We really have an enormous gap here.  Paternity leave needs to be part of a much larger conversation about changing workplace policies. Men want this. Men want to be involved with their children and when they are given the opportunity to have paid parental leave, they take it. You don’t have to look much further than the Scandinavian countries.  In Iceland, for example, over around 96% of men take paid parental leave.

So obviously, men want this because we do want to be around our kids. Parental leave for both women and men is a vital workplace reform that we all desperately need.  Men need to step up and say that we want this because we think of parental leave in this country as a woman issue and it’s not a woman’s issue. It’s a parent’s issue. Men are identifying as parents.  We all know that women don’t get parental leave unless men support it. There has never been a reform that women wanted that didn’t need men’s support. So, this is the complete win-win.

SF: What’s the one thing you want our listeners to do to advance the cause of men and women as equals in our society?

MK: The model of our center, The Center for the Study of Men and Masculinity, and the work that I do in general, can be summed up in one sentence: We cannot fully empower women and girls without also engaging men and boys and when we do we find out that gender equality is a good thing for men as well as for women.

To learn more Michael Kimmel visit his web site www.michaelkimmel.com.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.




Involved Dads Are Happy Employees — Jamie Ladge

Contributor: Andrea Yeh

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Jamie Ladge, Associate Professor of Management and Organizational Development at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, which is affiliated with the Boston College Center for Work and Family.  She discussed her research on how fathers who are more involved at home have a more positive work life, which ultimately benefits their organizations.

The following are edited excerpts from their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Historically, there’s been lots of research on how work affects family life.  There’s been so much written on hours worked and the impact on family.  What inspired you to study how men’s new family roles affect aspects of their work?

Jamie Ladge: Jamie LadgeI started out focusing on women’s issues and focusing on mothers when I was a doctoral student at Boston College.  I spent years focused on issues surrounding pregnancy and the workplace and the re-entry to work after becoming a mother.  The funny story is that I got sick of people asking, What about the dad?  At every conference that I went to and every time I was at a cocktail party talking about my research, everybody wanted to know what the dad’s experience was, so we set out to determine whether their story was different from the mother’s.  Initially, we set out to explore new fathers — the experience of becoming a father — from an identity perspective and what the effects were on them personally and professionally.

SF: So you’ve been examining men’s changing role and the impact of caregiving and parenting on their more gender stereotypical role of breadwinning.  At the outset, what were you expecting to find?

JL: Frankly, I think we were expecting that not much had changed.  When I was studying moms, it seemed that nothing had changed.  Gender norms and values seemed so entrenched and deep in the heart of cultures within organizations and societies and even in our own values and beliefs. I didn’t think there was going to be much of a difference.  I thought men would still think of themselves as the breadwinners.  Based on the descriptions our participants gave, it was largely true that expectations around the breadwinning model still existed within their organizations, but the surprise was that we saw that men really desire to be more involved.  When we talked to them, they seemed to espouse a more fathering, nurturing self or identify with being a more involved father.  It seemed that these deeply entrenched gender roles prevented them from being who they hoped or wanted to be.

I think a large part of the problem is the ideal worker versus the ideal father phenomenon, and it seems to be that most of the men were caught between wanting to be a little of both.  But there were some really nice benefits experienced in becoming a father.  One individual talked about the self-discovery benefit that he developed as a result of becoming a father and really being able to think about what it meant to be a father in the context of his life as a whole.  He just felt like he was learning so much about himself through the eyes of becoming a father, caring for an infant, and thinking about prioritizing his life and family role.

SF: How did that affect his work life?

JL: He talked about feeling a lot more satisfied because he had the opportunity to be who he truly wanted to be.  Not all the men were as articulate as that, but a lot of them talked about this benefit, even feeling good in the workplace that they were able to talk about being a father and share some of these stories with their coworkers. You also see that new dads tend to get high fives for being more involved, or at least being perceived as more involved.  Certainly for those men who tried to embrace fatherhood, I think they felt a real benefit.

SF: What other benefits did you observe, in addition to the immediate social recognition and the sense of clarity of what’s important?

JL: Well, some of them may have been seen as benefits, but in some ways, they might be a little self-deprecating.  In one of the studies I conducted, an older first-time father tended to feel as though people looked at him a little more seriously now that he was a father.  I think for everyone that becomes a parent, it starts to allow you to feel like a whole person where you’re able to build on many selves, not just work, and these are men who have mostly lived for work, by and large.

SF: Did you observe benefits for the business that were economic outcomes or other outcomes that were of direct interest to the business?

JL: The benefit we found to organizations was that the more hours men spent with their children during the workday when they normally would be working, the more satisfied they were with their jobs, the less conflict they experienced, the more enriched they felt in terms of their work and family domains, and the less likely they wanted to or intended to change their jobs—those were all the positive things.  There was only one negative effect on men’s “career identity,” which refers to how much you define yourself by your work role.  This finding probably isn’t surprising given that since you’re spending more time on one domain, you’re taking away from another.

SF: Why is weaker career identity a bad thing?

JL: Well, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  When we looked at it more deeply, we found that when men felt their managers were supportive, there was actually a positive effect on career identity.  So men’s weaker career identity could be offset by perceived support of a manager.

It is important that organizations understand that it’s not a deficit for their employees to have lives outside of work.  This and other studies have shown that there are both individual and organizational benefits to providing some level of support for these individuals, both men and women.

The stigma of the working parent still exists.  We found a little bit of the stigma in our research, and I have also observed the stigma just in my own experiences.  I have three children of my own.  About a month or so ago, I was at an after-school activity where I was picking up my children, and I overheard these two men—clearly present, clearly involved fathers—who were picking up their children around 4:00 to 4:30 in the afternoon.  They seemed to know each other from a business context.  One of them asked, “Do you have that presentation that so-and-so presented?” Then the other said, “Oh no, I don’t have that—the guy’s on paternity leave.  Our paternity leave is ridiculous—he’s been on one forever.”  Then the other guy concurred and said, “We have a very generous policy too, and it’s just not fair.”  I found the situation to be ironic.  It illustrated that it’s fine to be a little involved—they obviously left work early to pick up their children from an after-school activity—but when it’s too extreme, like a paternity leave, it’s different.

SF: Interesting.  So what does that portend about how the role of fathers as caregivers is evolving in our society and in our business lives?

JL: It might just mean that we’re getting closer.  A little bit’s okay, and we just need to get that moving and get that further along and not make assumptions about men or women when they do have to take on leaves or meet their work-life challenges.  We should recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and we have to recognize that people all have different needs for different reasons.  We also found that in comparison to a lot of the research I’ve done on mothers—where mothers usually negotiate with their supervisors when they need flexibility or want time off special arrangement—the men in our study tended to do the things that aren’t seen as much.  The stigma is not as bad for working fathers when they are doing it behind the scenes, but, like I said, the people who are more extreme that take the form of paternity leave still seem out of the ordinary.

SF: Because they’re exposed, right?  You can’t be stealth if you’re out for four months.  Small doses are now more socially acceptable and even supported by businesses that you are working with or have studied.  How do you advise managers who are trying to support their employees who are young father?

JL: I think it’s just the recognition that everyone has different needs and that the overarching work-life policies only go so far.  We need to understand why these managers might be devaluing individuals’ work-life needs, so maybe part of that is working with managers to figure out different strategies and find examples that show the positive benefit to organizations.

SF: Do you have an example or story of one of the subjects in your study that comes to mind as a particularly good exemplar of this idea that investing in the father role brings business benefits?

JL: The husband of one of my co-authors on the study works for a very large investment company in the Boston area.  Our study was cited in The Wall Street Journal and that article was distributed to the entire organization to highlight the fact that we need to value the father’s role.  Of course, he was very proud that his wife was one of the authors of the study.  They have a very balanced work-life situation, maybe a little bit because of her research, but also because of how they have negotiated their own work and life and family needs.  I thought it was a really good example of an organization concerned about these issues.  Many organizations, even those that are largely male-dominated, are interested in really thinking about this issue and pursuing it further.  Perhaps another thing we can do for managers or for organizations is to provide this kind of evidence through the research.

SF: So one thing to focus on would be to educate managers on the research that you and others have done through stories of success.  What can individual fathers and their spouses do to reap the benefits of fatherhood at work?

JL: I think the stealth nature is a great approach. Maybe women should take advantage of that approach as well.  I think men should ask for what they need. They shouldn’t be afraid that they’ll be penalized for it.   But they do have to be in a work culture that supports that, so obviously it works both ways.  From the spouse viewpoint, preparation is a good thing.  While you can never prepare fully for what’s going to come your way, I think it is important to negotiate with your spouse when you’re thinking about extending your family.  Think about what the impact is going to be, and recognize that there are compromises associated with that.  Lastly, I think we, men and women, need to practice what we preach.  Men need to support other men and help each other out.  Regarding those men who I saw picking up their kids early, for example, they were demonstrating that they were involved fathers, yet they were espousing something that speaks otherwise, which is not going to help move things along.  We need to support each other and get out of our own way.

To learn more about Professor Jamie Ladge and her research on working fathers, follow her on Twitter @jladge, and read her article, “Updating the Organization Man: An Examination of Involved Fathering in the Workplace,” in Academy of Management Perspectives.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Andrea Yeh Andrea Yehis an undergraduate junior majoring in Operations and Information Management and in International Relations.

Pioneers in New Roles for Men and Women — Cathy and Jeremy Schlosberg

Contributor: Andrea Yeh

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Cathy and Jeremy Schlosberg, work/life pioneers of the “role-reversal” family.  Jeremy was a stay-at-home dad and a freelance writer and editor.  Meanwhile, Cathy was the family’s primary breadwinner and a high-level executive.  She is the Vice President of Marketing and Channel Growth in Education at Aramark.  Together, Jeremy and Cathy have three children, ages 20, 24, and 27.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: We’ve had guests talk about changes in the roles of men and women in society, including the rise of stay-at-home dads and the trend toward many more women serving as the primary breadwinners in their families.  You two, however, started as pioneers in this movement more than 20 years ago in the mid-’90s.  How did this start for you?  Was it always your plan to work out your family relationships like this, or did it happen by accident?  Jeremy, could you give us the history?

Jeremy Schlosberg: I think it falls somewhere in between those two poles.   I don’t think it was completely an accident, but I also don’t think we sat down and had a big written plan.  I think it just naturally evolved.  I was a freelance writer, so I was working from the home anyway.  Cathy already had a trajectory of having a corporate job, and I vaguely remember that we said at one point that it seems like it would make sense if I stayed home and watched the kids or the new baby.

Cathy Schlosberg: Cathy SchlosbergThat’s right.  Ever since I got out of college in 1980, I have been working in a corporate setting pretty much all the way through.  In 1987 when our first son was born, we both determined that Jeremy was temperamentally suited to work from the house, and I was temperamentally suited to be in a corporation, so we evolved into it.  We had some daycare help, but it was only four hours per day for four days a week at the time when our oldest was three months old, and I had gone back to work.

SF: So Dan’s arrival meant you had support in terms of childcare?

JS:  Yes, we figured out a minimal amount of time that I could feel like I was able to get my writing done uninterrupted.  The joke was that I would work two 9-to-1 shifts: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. when he was in daycare and 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. when everyone was asleep.  I could get 8 hours that way, and it kind of worked.  I think I was also temperamentally suited to the role.   I was naturally nurturing and felt comfortable in that role emotionally.  It was awkward logistically at the time because in 1987 you didn’t see dads pushing strollers around the neighborhood or carrying kids on their backs, so it took a while to get over the feeling that I was only doing parenting. I felt self-conscious about it at the beginning.

CS: When your kids are young, you want to be together with other families with kids of the same age, so when Jeremy would be around during the week, he would pretty much be doing playdates with other kids along with their mothers.

JS: One of the things that gave me a foothold was that in our original neighborhood where our first son was born, there were oftentimes other dads in the playgroup.  I think that one week in particular, four out of five parent caregivers were dads.  There were some people living a little bit of the alternative lifestyle along with us.  That wasn’t common at all at the time, and, most of the time, people would think that I was babysitting when I was with a small child.  But in that playgroup, everyone was warm and welcoming, and it felt more like family.  It felt like a grounding place where I could feel less unusual.

SF: On this unusual day where there were four out of five fathers there, did you guys talk about what it was like?  Do you recall that day?

JS: There was often one other father because there were a few freelancers in the mix and others running their own businesses.  We probably commented on how there were four dads there, but I don’t think we got into a big session about what it was like.

SF: There was a time when you must have had to decide that it was okay and that you were going to be doing this.  What was the conversation like that led to your family resolving that this was a good way for you to be?

CS: Somewhere along the way we realized that this was just what we were going to do.  I was the primary breadwinner, and, as a result of that, we were both able to enjoy the careers that we wanted—Jeremy as a writer, and me in a professional setting.  We were getting some care and feeding from our careers while at the same time being able to do that juggling act that we all know is challenging in a dual-career household, regardless of what the situation is—balancing those quadrants of your life, which are work, your children, your marriage, and yourself.   After figuring all of that out, we just evolved into a place where it seemed like this was working okay.  We also had a good division of other labor in the household.  Jeremy always cooked.  I always did the laundry and most of the finances, except the checkbook.  It seemed to evolve into a place where—without a lot of conversation, without a lot of debate, and without a lot of argument—we both felt like we were doing okay.

JS:  Yeah, it never was really much of an issue.  It just seemed to be working.

CS: Prior to coming on today, we did end up asking our three children what their take on this was.

SF: So tell us; what did they say?

JS: They all pretty much had the same view.  It didn’t strike them as that unusual because by the time they got to a certain age, there wasn’t really a traditional model.  They didn’t feel like there was a “normal” that they were diverging from because everyone has something different going on in their house.  They realized that it was different, but it was really a non-issue for them.

SF: But you experienced something very different in the world outside, right?

JS: My biggest problems were in the earliest days when the kids were little.  By the time everyone was in elementary school and getting into middle school, I was pretty adapted.  There would always be situations where I was the only dad, but it stopped being an issue for me.

SF: But your kids didn’t experience that?  That’s what is so discordant here.  They didn’t feel that it was strange, yet you were feeling it, and Cathy, you probably were too.

CS: Right.  There were times when I would say to Jeremy, “Wow, wouldn’t it have been cool to have felt like I had the choice to stay at home?”   But it never really was a choice, and in the end it really seemed to work well for us.  I think it felt very natural for our kids because it felt very natural for Jeremy and me.  There were really no points of argument.  One of the things I tend to have a lot of strong opinions about was regarding how we raise our kids, but since Jeremy was taking care of the household, I essentially said to myself I was going to cede primary decision-making to him.  Where we had difficulties, we were going to talk about it, but I was not there, so I decided that I was going to let him run his show.

JS: It first started being something that was even being considered when there would be a movie like Mr. Mom.  You would see this ridiculous dad who was so clueless from start to finish—and yet, that had nothing to do with my experience.  It’s not really rocket science to do some of this stuff.   You have to be paying attention and be sensitive, but it wasn’t like the cliché that Cathy would go to work, and she’d come home to a mess.  As Cathy was saying, it felt like the household was working in a fairly ordinary way.  Maybe that’s what the kids ultimately felt.

SF: What else did you hear from your sons about what it was like for them?

JS: For the two older ones, it was even more in their distant past, so they really said that it seemed like a non-issue.  Our youngest did have some memories of when it first started to occur to him that it was somewhat different.  He did say that early on he might have felt uncomfortable talking about it because he didn’t want to seem different, but he mentioned that since he got into high school, he really took it more as a point of pride.

SF: So he wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed that his parents were different, but rather he saw this as a source of pride.  What was he proud of?

CS: I think it might have been pride in the unique situation and having come through being a part of that.  I used to worry since we raised our kids in a different way.  I would wonder: Are our kids going to be fine?  Are they going to be normal at the end of this?  Are they going to be able to make their way on their own?  What are their attributes going to be?

I have since talked to a lot of young women that I mentored in their careers.  When women now are facing the decision of whether they should work, stay home, or work part-time, I, having been all the way through this, am able to say that I took only three months off with three pregnancies and basically worked my entire career.  I have three kids (20, 24, and 27), and, if you have a supportive family situation, that model is very doable.

SF: What do you say when they say, “Well yeah, you had your husband?”

CS: I would say that ultimately every couple and person needs to make their own decision.  I think they have to weigh the pros and the cons.   I can only speak from my own experience, but I know that the secret to my ability to have peace of mind in my career and work was the fact that Jeremy was there and that he wanted to be there.

SF: So maybe it was luck.  Maybe it was that you chose each other wisely or that you had conversations about this as it was evolving in terms of what was working and what adjustments you needed to make.  What was it like for you at work back then, Cathy?

CS: It’s really interesting that you bring that up.  I think that back in the day you would say to your management that you were coming back right after having the baby and literally they didn’t believe you.  In fact, I didn’t tell my office that I was pregnant with my first son until I was five-and-a-half months pregnant.  I kept it to myself for that amount of time because the environment was such that you might get put on a different track.

SF: The slow track.  So it was in your professional interest to keep it secret?

CS: That was my perception.  It may not have been the reality, and, in fact, it didn’t turn out to be the reality in my career once I showed back up after I had children and demonstrated that it wasn’t interfering with my ability to do my job with excellence.  I found that the companies I have worked with throughout the course of my career have been highly supportive of family.  The balance issue is not just a female issue though—it’s everybody’s issue.

SF: Were there particular issues that you had to face because you were in an unusual family structure the given the political and cultural environment.

CS: I don’t think so.  I think once I demonstrated that when I was at work I was focused on work, the companies I worked for were very supportive.  It was no different than if I was the husband at work.  I had the same situation at home, so it was accepted.  I find that now many different women who have raised children and have two-career families had to have very good support systems at home to reach senior levels in an organization.

SF: Yes, of course that’s necessary, however you structure that.  So you didn’t face any stigma of having a stay-at-home dad as your partner back then?

CS: No, I don’t think so, but when we would go to the holiday party for the company, there might be some joking around about that.  Do you have any memories of that, Jeremy?

JS: My memories are just vaguely not liking to go to these gatherings.  The concept of the stay-at-home dad wasn’t even a phrase back then.  I would talk about my writing, and it was only when my kids were almost in college that I realized that this is what I do.  At the same time, I started getting some more positive feedback on my professional work, so I was able to embrace that uniqueness three-quarters of the way through my stint as a stay-at-home dad. If I had gone into these things with more confidence, I’m sure I would have been fine.

SF: Reflecting back on this experience, what advice do you have for young people when they’re facing questions like these? Cathy, reflecting on your personal experience, what’s the big idea in terms of lessons learned that people can use now?

CS: I feel that I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had Jeremy.  It’s really a gift that he’s given to me, and, Jeremy, hopefully you feel that raising the kids and being the primary caregiver was a gift to yourself as well ultimately.   What I would say is that when you have children, you have to forge a new approach to how you’re going to manage that within the context of your relationship and your career.  And my situation would not be everybody’s situation.  We always said to one another that we didn’t want to have our children with other folks for 40 to 50 hours a week.  So when I was home, I was fully present, and when I was not, Jeremy had them at home most of the time.  My advice is just to know that a number of different situations can work if you’re both committed.

SF: Committed to whatever it is that you decide to do together?

CS: That’s right.  There are many different scenarios, but it should be a discussion between a couple regarding how you want to do this.  I think it’s important to have that conversation and to continue to check in about how it’s going throughout the course.

SF: Jeremy, how about you?  What’s the upshot in terms of your wisdom now with a little speckle of gray in your hair?

JS: Now I don’t feel that people need as much advice.   The networking and camaraderie and even the community of stay-at-home dads seem to be much more present—things which I certainly did not have at the time.  I think that the retrospective advice speaking to myself would have really been to just embrace it.  Most of the time I was pretty good at this, but it’s really true the whole childhood goes by really fast.  So when you’re in it, be in it—don’t be elsewhere with your mind and elsewhere with your intentions because it’s a precious time.

I look back and mostly feel okay with having been present, but I wasn’t as embracing of the role as I could have been to give myself more comfort.  I didn’t grow into it as quickly, and I wasn’t able to own it as early on as I might have.  I don’t think it’s as much of an issue for people now because it all had to do with feeling that it was a little too unusual. It was only when I had done it for about fifteen years that I realized that the writing really was only a part-time job.  I always thought that it was my full-time job, but it really wasn’t.

SF: But you still felt like you had to cover?

JS: Yeah, that’s an important point.  There was that pressure to be productive in the eyes of the world.  Now I don’t think it’s a problem as much.

SF: We are in world where there is greater freedom and in part thanks to pioneers and great role models like you.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Andrea Yeh Andrea Yehis an undergraduate junior majoring in Operations and Information Management and in International Relations.



Wharton Women Talk About Work and Life

Contributor: Morgan Motzel

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with current Wharton MBA students Zinnia Horne and Abby Holmes. Zinnia completed her undergraduate education at Stanford and came to Wharton to pursue her MBA, after working at Google in California. She is a leader in the Wharton Graduate Association. Abby worked in consulting at Deloitte before coming to Wharton. She is a married student with a one-and-a-half year old daughter. Stew spoke with both women about how the next generation of business leaders are thinking about what matters most to them and how they intend to integrate the different parts of their lives upon graduation.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Zinnia, you work with the Wharton Grad Association which must give you a perspective on just how many students are involved in clubs at Wharton and what types of clubs have high enrollment and high engagement. When employers — who look like me, old, gray-haired people — look at young people coming up, what do they see? Do they see people who are self-interested, lazy, entitled, and distracted with technology? Or do they see people who are ambitious, committed, and eager to make a difference in this world? Or something in between? How do you see that?

Zinnia Horne: Zinnia HorneI think employers see students who are fresh and who bring new ideas. I think that’s really what they look to us for. We almost all have work experience, have taken two years out of school, and have really been inundated with a number of different ways to think about things. When employers are looking to the clubs to see who the rising stars are, I think they are looking for the people who are trying out new things and who are involved in a variety of different activities, so that they can get that new fresh perspective, and not only fresh, but also dynamic and a perspective that has a lot of variety.

SF: So if I were to ask the typical employer who comes to campus, “how might you characterize the MBAs in terms of their values and their attitudes?” what do you think they would tell me?

ZH: That’s a great question. While I can’t generalize across the entire Wharton population, I would say that people here want to achieve. We came here for a reason. That said, I’m definitely seeing more and more of a trend among students wanting to make an impact. Here, there are students going into different industries — from consulting to finance all the way to social impact — and they’re all thinking about ways they can make a difference in the world, and, even more so, what they can start in order to make a difference. So I’d say it’s a mix of thinking about making money for yourself, but also thinking about how you can see your impact on the community.

SF: On the community… what do you mean by that exactly.

ZH: Everyone defines their community differently. It could be a local community, it could mean pushing different ideas in terms of corporate social responsibility within a company. I think the spectrum is broad, from anyone starting their own business that does good, or working with a non-profit that does good, to going to huge corporations that may need a couple of fresh ideas and new perspectives to push the forefront of doing good for the world.

SF: That’s certainly a theme that we’ve seen evolving over the more than three decades that I’ve been here at the Wharton School. There’s much greater interest in having a positive social impact. In the study we did last year, now part of a book that I published through Wharton Digital Press called Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family, we compared the Class of 1992 graduating seniors with the Class of 2012 — same place, same school, same age, but twenty years later. One of the major trends we observed was a much greater interest, particularly among young women, in having a positive social impact, and your experience is certainly consistent with that study.

Abby, you’re a mom. How many moms are there in your class of 800 second-year MBA students?

Abby Holmes: Abby HolmesI can count them on one hand, so not that many.

SF: That certainly gives you a unique perspective. Your husband, if I have it right, is a teacher in Baltimore, and your daughter is a year-and-a-half, so you can’t be slacking very much to be managing all of that in your life! The perspective one often hears is that older people look at Millennials and think they’re obsessed with technology and really just interested in their own careers. How do you see it as a student-mom here in our school?

AH: I think Millennials are actually making a change in that a lot of people are more focused—especially women I would say—on having that balance between a family and a career. We are all trying to achieve in terms of a successful career and having that major impact, but I think we’re hearing more and more, both from employers trying to emphasize this during recruiting but also from students asking for this, that we want to be aware of a way to balance a career and a family. Being able to do that here at school is a challenge and being able to do that in the real world is also a challenge, but I think it’s definitely a hot topic among students and employers lately.

SF: How do you talk about this with a prospective employer? Especially in your personal story right now, when you can’t deny the fact that you have a child. Is that a liability for you, or an asset, or neither in your employment search right now?

AH: At times I’m worried it’s a liability. I want to be cognizant because I’m not trying to withhold that information, but at the same time I do hesitate to be as forthcoming because I guess I am worried that it is going to have a negative impact on the results.

SF: You think it could be held against you? Like, “how committed could she be really if she’s got a little girl at home?” is what they might be thinking.

AH: Yes, and obviously children do take away some of your time, so that’s less time that you could potentially commit to a company compared to a student who doesn’t have that type of commitment. It’s definitely in the back of my mind at most times, but I do try to be pretty open about my family situation and that I do have a child during the recruiting process.

SF: I wonder if there’s a way in which the assets that you develop as a mother—the skills that you have to cultivate, particularly with respect to managing time and boundaries well—if those can be presented as part of your repertoire of skills that you bring. Has that come up at all? Has that occurred to you or does it seem unrealistic?

AH: I mean I think it’s completely true, I just don’t know whether I would publicize it in that way. When I approach an interview, I’m thinking about being able to express skills that I’ve gained either through work or school. I don’t know whether I would voluntarily bring those skills up. I agree they’re very applicable, but…

SF: It be useful for you to do that. If I’m a prospective employer, and I’m a benign progressive person trying to change my organization to make it more hospitable to different kinds of people in all different kinds of lifestyle situations, I’m going to want to know who you are as a human being and what kind of skills you bring. If you have assets which you developed in another part of your life that are going to help me in my business and also help me demonstrate that this is a kind of place where anyone who is committed can thrive, then I’d like to know how you bring that.

What do you think about what I just said? Easy for me to say at 60 years old and my kids are in their twenties, so I don’t really have to worry about it in the same way.

AH: I guess I just don’t know if employers look at it in terms of those strengths outweighing what they might think is a liability. So I understand that it is a strength, and they do want to know and understand, but I’m still not sure.

SF: You and I both agree that this is a potential strength for you, Abby. Zinnia, can you weigh in on this?

ZH: Definitely. I do think it could be a strength from the management perspective. I definitely hear Abby’s concerns though: there are several strengths that she’s been developing as a mother, but how does that weigh against the potential needs of the organization in terms of her time? Questions might arise around after she leaves work—is she really leaving work at work? Depending on the employer that may not be as acceptable of a practice.

SF: Depending on the employer, I think that’s a very important caveat in that statement. Let’s talk a little bit more about that. I know students have been talking a lot more about this issue because it’s been the subject of a lot of conversations that I’ve been a part of here. How do those conversations go with a potential employer? Are you thinking in terms of choosing employers on the basis of whether or not they are indeed embracing the whole person? Is that something that is part of your calculus?

ZH: Definitely, given some of my future life goals. I was very privileged to work at Google when I left college, so I think that gave me a certain skewed perceptive regarding what certain employers are willing to allow in terms of flexibility in work schedules. Google is skewed fairly extremely in that way, based on my experience. Google would allow you to work from home if you needed to, to come in late or leave early if you had an appointment, etc. So even though I do not have a child, I could see that being a really helpful policy for a new mother or new parent. The flexibility around scheduling and your employers understanding that you can do the work if you have a computer and an internet connection is key. And you can do work for the most part with tech companies anywhere. That’s why I think Google, and increasingly other businesses, are becoming more flexible around their employees spending time in the office, and the perceived amount of work that they’re contributing.

SF: Are you going back to Google? Would you like to?

ZH: I’m definitely open to it. I think that later in life Google would be a great place to raise a family. They have wonderful policies for parents, so it’s definitely not a bad place to work.

SF: So is that eventually part of your plan to have children of your own?

ZH: That is something I’m still figuring out. It’s still on the table, but it’s not necessarily something I’m certain I want to do.

I mean having children is a bit terrifying to me personally. When I think about my future and what I want, I get concerned about the time and dedication you have to give to a child in order to raise it correctly.

SF: Zinnia’s smiling at Abby now with admiration…

ZH: It is admiration. I don’t know how so many women do it! But clearly there are a lot of them that do.

SF: It is a scary proposition. And indeed, another thing we found in the study that I called Baby Bust was that many people in your generation, both women and men, are choosing to opt out of becoming parents because of what you just described. What do you think about that Abby?

AH: I think it’s definitely something you need to consider. Careers are certainly challenging in terms of your time, and you have to dedicate a lot to them. I think a lot of people—if they want to take on the responsibility of starting a family—know that it’s a huge time commitment. I don’t think people want to have to give in one way or the other, so if they don’t feel like they can do both really effectively, they might make that decision to hold off on one side.

SF: You decided not to hold off and how are you feeling about that now that your one-and-a-half year old is being taken care of by somebody else, right? I don’t see her crawling around the studio here

AH: Her grandmother, my mother, is taking care of her right now. That helps a huge amount. She’s actually from Baltimore where I’m from. When I need help during the week she’ll come up with me to Philadelphia. We have quite the arrangement. It’s kind of a long story, but my sister is an opera singer, and she works a lot of part-time jobs, so she usually watches my daughter when I’m in class. When she’s not available, my mom will travel with me up here during the week. I usually commute weekly.

SF: So you’re not here on the weekends? What about the whole MBA party scene? Is that not a big part of your life?

AH: Not a big part. Being a mother has forced prioritizing what I wanted to get out of my experience here.

SF: You’ve missed out on some of the social aspects of life here on the MBA campus. What’s been the upshot of that for you?

AH: I think it was actually good because a lot of students when they first arrive have an issue of trying to figure out where exactly they want to spend their time. They end up doing too much and getting stretched too thin.  I was forced to prioritize from the beginning. I didn’t waste too much time doing things that weren’t quite as valuable.

SF: So Zinnia, what do you think about that?

ZH: I’m a little envious of Abby and that she’s been able to focus like that.

SF: There’s a lot of research about focus that shows this to be true. A recent Federal Reserve Bank study actually showed that working moms are better at managing their time than other women. Abby, you’re shaking your head…

AH: It’s a necessity I think. You’re forced to.

SF: And Zinnia you said you’re kind of envious of the laser-like focus that a working mom has to have.

ZH: Definitely. As a student here you might have your plan and what you’re intending to focus on for that week or that semester or even the entire experience, but then other things always pop up. I think if I were in Abby’s position it would be a lot easier to say no to certain things, whereas I definitely feel pressure—it’s internal pressure in most cases—to always say yes and do those things and get the “most” out of this experience. Whereas I think in Abby’s case she’s definitely getting the most out of her experience in her own way.

SF: Abby you don’t experience FOMO? Fear of missing out? Which is ubiquitous on this campus, is it not?

AH: I think I did during the first semester. I felt like I was missing out on something—I wasn’t going to all the parties or doing every single Happy Hour—but I think I did start to find groups of people in my areas of interest, and I gained that social side in a different way. I think I got over that FOMO by the second semester, which was good.

SF: The more I hear the both of you speak about it, it seems pretty clear to me, Abby, that there are assets that you have as a working mom that you might want to consider how to frame in conversations. The evidence is on your side. Something that could help to create change in this world would be presenting that idea and perhaps shifting the perceptions of employers.

Let’s get back to our discussion of employers. How do you know which are the good companies to work for? What are you looking for? You mentioned Google, Zinnia, their extreme flexibility. Indeed, the investment banks I know are talking about, “Wow, we’re losing all of our top talent to Google—we need to do something.” Aside from Google though, how do you and your classmates think and talk about where you want to work?

ZH: One thing we certainly consider is what employers are saying and what they are touting when they come to campus. Is it their flexible work lifestyles, or is it daycare programs on campus to help working parents, what is it? Part of it is what they’re saying, but you have to look at what they’re doing because it could be different.

SF: Ah, so there might be a lot of rhetoric that might not match the reality? Do you tend to look skeptically at those pictures of daycare centers when companies pop them up on the screen?

ZH: In certain industries, maybe. I plan on going back into the tech industry, and I would give those companies a little bit more benefit of the doubt, in terms of what level of flexibility they’ll allow for their employees. But I think you also have to look at what they’re doing. What are employees actually taking advantage of? You could have ten programs for working parents, but if the employees aren’t taking advantage of them, that says a lot, too.

SF: How do you find these things out?

ZH: You have to talk to people. You have to ask, “Okay, on Fridays if I needed to leave early to go to an appointment, what would your manager’s reaction be?

SF: “Oh, we don’t want to hire her because she’s obviously not committed,” they might be thinking then. You’re not afraid of that? In doing your due diligence on companies, you don’t think you’re giving away an ambivalent commitment by asking questions like that?

ZH: I think it depends on the industry and the company. You have to be an active listener before you ask those questions. It’s definitely not the first thing you walk in saying, “When can I take off?”

SF: What’s your perspective on that Abby, in terms of how you find the right fit and what kinds of information are available to you as you’re scanning the employment market?

AH: I think the most valuable information, like you said Zinnia, is going to be through your personal networks. I find that I’m generally not getting that kind of information coming from the recruiting team, or trusting it if I am, but when I go through the alumni network or personal networks and try to get a real perspective to see, for example, if there are women there who have families and are able to manage it, then that says something. I think that’s where you’re going to get the most honest perspective about what is still tough about doing it at a given organization and what do they have that helps you. I think networks are the biggest resource in terms of finding that kind of information.

SF: So what’s going to be necessary to create meaningful change in today’s business world in which you both want to become leaders? What do you think is the most pressing issue that the business sector faces in terms of becoming the place where you, your friends, and your future children, would want to contribute?

ZH:  I think part of it is just openness. This relates to the points Abby and I just made about trying to get information to assess whether or not an organization is open to certain levels of flexibility. For meaningful change there has to be a shift in openness on the topic of work-life integration If we shift to a more open culture where people feel comfortable talking about these things, both from a top-down and a bottom-up perspective, and across industries, that could really drive meaningful change. I think it’s starting to happen over the past several years, but it still needs to be more open.

SF: Let’s say the recruiting department of IBM is listening to this show right now, what would you tell them?

ZH: I would say put the people in the organization who are doing a “good” job of managing their work and their life on your recruiting committees and put them talking to students, just to let them know that there is a shift in culture.

SF: And it’s important to see the good and the bad, right? I would want to know, “What are you wrestling with? What’s hard about trying to create meaningful change in the culture of your organization, and how are you dealing with that? Abby, what do you see as the great challenge facing companies trying to adapt to a new world order?

AH: I agree that a lot of it is having openness and transparency, but I also think that flexibility is essential. We are seeing much less traditional work models moving forward—women working, men staying at home, and vice versa Having that flexibility to be able to make it work for someone in your company, no matter what their situation, will be important. It’s first the openness and the conversation as to how to handle that possibility, but then also enacting that. I think there is a lot of talk about flexibility—especially in the more traditional industries such as investment banking or consulting. How are they really making things flexible for people? And how can they continue to exhibit that moving forward from the top down?

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Morgan Motzel Morgan Motzelis an undergraduate senior in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business at Penn focusing on Management and Latin America.

Breadwinning and Caregiving: Liza Mundy on Work and Life

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

Work and Life is a weekly radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday from 7 to 9 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Liza Mundy, award-winning journalist and author of The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming our Culture, about how breadwinning and caregiving roles have become gender-neutral and shared by all Americans, and the barriers to men and women embracing the roles that fit them best.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Tell us about your primary responsibilities at the New America Foundation.

Liza Mundy: Liza MundyI started at New America after receiving a fellowship from the Foundation to write my last book; it was a real source of intellectual stimulation and support and a wonderful community. Now that I’m taking over as Director of our work and family program, Breadwinning and Caregiving, the aim is to continue to reframe the conversation. I think this is a really interesting moment for these issues – there have been some significant books and articles, and a stream of research in the last several years. The more we can talk about work and family and bring these issues into the public domain, the more we can help people understand that we are all breadwinners and we are all caregivers at some point in our lives. Those two responsibilities are shared by every citizen, and I think it’s fair to say that our laws and policies haven’t changed to enable people to fulfill both sets of obligations, and the workplace is changing in ways that in some respects make it easier and in some respects make it harder to play both roles.

SF: A central question is, Who are the breadwinners and who are the caregivers?  You’re saying we are all breadwinners and caregivers. That’s a radical idea, to construe these roles in society as gender neutral. What do you think are the main barriers to people feeling a greater sense of freedom and opportunity to take up the roles that fit best – breadwinner or caregiver, whether man or woman?

LM: I’ll begin with one that may not be obvious – family members can be a real barrier. For my book, I interviewed any number of couples where the woman had emerged as the primary breadwinner and the man was taking a secondary role in terms of earnings. In many couples, this was working out extremely well, and allowed both partners to fall into patterns that were comfortable for them as a couple. And yet, they were met with a lot of resistance from in-laws who sent powerful signals to the husband that he is, in the words of one man, a parasite – not fulfilling the household role he should. These were often situations in which the grandparents were very proud of their daughter, but unable to see that one of the reasons she is able to be so successful and productive is her supportive partner. After my book came out, I found myself in many conversations with people who were parents of young adult children who were really troubled if, for example, their son made a career concession like moving to another job in another city for the sake of his girlfriend. It’s natural for parents who raised their children – male and female – to be super-performers to have a hard time when one of those children decides to be the lower-key member of a couple. And stigma doesn’t necessarily come only from in-laws.

It wasn’t that long ago that marriage was the only available avenue for women to feel like they had been successful; one way for a woman to telegraph her success was to say what her husband did. I interviewed a really successful young woman, an engineer at Georgia Tech, whose salary one year into the workforce exceeded that of her father, who was a construction worker, and who also made considerably more money than her boyfriend. Her boyfriend had taken the only job he could find that would allow him to be near her, as the manager of a fast food franchise. She told me that when she tells people what her boyfriend does, she doesn’t know quite how to say it. She kept telling me she wasn’t embarrassed, but she said she wasn’t embarrassed so many times that it began to signal that she actually was a little embarrassed by his job.

Women can be offenders in this regard and can perpetuate barriers. I also spoke with a gay man who worked as general counsel in a company and was a father who told me that when he adopted his son and took paternity leave, the women in his office threw him a baby shower and celebrated his leave, but a couple of days into his paternity leave, were calling him and expecting his help. They did not respect the boundary of his paternity leave the way they might have respected a woman’s maternity leave.

SF: What else did you discover in writing your book that you think listeners should know about?

LM: I try to make the argument – not everyone buys it – that young women today have a new opportunity to be the lead partner in their relationships – to be the primary earner, the person who moves to take a new job. I think there’s a willingness on the part of some young men to move for the sake of their girlfriend’s career, or to put their wife through law school with the understanding that she’ll be the lead earner going forward. Those are things women have traditionally done for men, and the fact that we are in a time when some men will put their female partners’ careers first is something women should be happy about. I asked a number of young women, “Would you consider marrying or partnering with someone who didn’t go to college or doesn’t have the same level of education you do?” And they were generally very resistant to that idea. They would often say, “I’ve got to marry a guy who’s on my level,” by which they seemed to mean equally driven and ambitious. That can work, but many women who marry someone they meet in law school or especially business school find that his career ends up taking precedence. In an ideal world, no one would have to work too hard, and we would all share responsibilities, but there is a new opportunity for women willing to seize it to enter into relationships where they will be supported and their career will come first.

Liza Mundy’s most recent book, The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming our Culture, was named one of the top fiction books of 2012 by the Washington Post and a noteworthy book by the New York Times Book Review. She is also the author of Michelle, a biography of First Lady Michelle Obama, which was a New York Times bestseller. Liza Mundy writes and podcasts regularly for New America and other publications; visit New America for a list of her most recent work, and follow her on Twitter @lizamundy.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday, July 15 at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Ellen Bravo, Director of Family Values @ Work, and Dave Lissy, CEO of BrightHorizons Family Solutions. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.


About the Author

Liz Stiverson Liz Stiversonreceived her MBA from The Wharton School in 2014.