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Caring is Our Most Important Work: Anne-Marie Slaughter

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

Work and Life is a two-hour 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 Anne-Marie Slaughter – author of the ground-breaking 2012 Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” which sparked a national debate about the real pressures of having a career while also serving as a caregiver at home – about a traditional gender bias that underlies the American work-life conflict and the conversation we need to have in order to move forward.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: What has changed in your consciousness and perspective in the two years since you wrote your article for The Atlantic?

Anne-Marie Slaughter: Anne-Marie SlaughterA couple of things have changed. When I wrote that article, I started out with the same question Sheryl Sandberg asked, which was, why are there not enough women at the top? Over time, I became increasingly convinced that that question was actually only one part of a two-part question, and it was very important to consider the two parts together. The other part of the question is, why are there so many women at the bottom? Rather than seeing a divide between privileged, elite women and poor women, I came to see those two questions as part of the same issue. It became increasingly evident to me that, in fact, the answer to both of those questions is that as a society, we don’t value care and care-giving. We say we do, but in reality, people who take time out of their careers to give care pay a real price for it. If you take time out from other kinds of work to give care, your career will be penalized. That’s why we see a huge drop-off in women on the leadership track during their child-bearing years.  And if you are the sole care-giver and bread-winner, supporting your family and giving care at the same time, you are much more likely to be at the bottom.

SF: It also affects people in the labor market.  Childcare workers are among the lowest paid people in our country. I say the closer you are to a diaper – at the beginning or end of life – the less you are valued in society.

AMS: That’s absolutely another dimension of this. If you’re doing care-giving work as paid work, you are neither well-paid nor well-respected.

This really shook me up as a feminist. I realized that I had been raised as a feminist, proudly, to think that the work my father did was much more important than the work my mother did. I thought that the way I was going to be somebody in the world was not to do what my mother did – she was a stay-at-home mother and later a superb artist — but primarily defined herself as a wife and a mother. It was obvious to me that I should want to be a professional, because that was “more important” than care work. Realizing this, I had to say, “Wait a minute – that can’t be true.” If men and women are really equal, then the kinds of work we’ve traditionally done has to be equal, too. It can’t just be that we’re equal as long as we all act like men. Most women of my generation, whatever they say, do not think a stay-at-home mom does work that is as important as being the CEO of a think tank, for example. It’s uncomfortable to admit, but that’s just not what we were raised with. And this recognition of the equal value of different kinds of work is not just important for women – it’s vital for men as well. In the end, we are going to need an equal number of people in the workplace and in the home, supporting different kinds of work. If a woman is a CEO, she’s going to need someone at home who is what I call the lead parent, or the flexible caregiver, depending on who is being cared for. The only way to achieve that is to truly value care-giving, and to value it when men do it as well as when women do it.

SF: Yes, absolutely. What have you discovered and what are you advocating for so that we as a society can truly value care-giving?

AMS: The first thing we need is to break this conversation open. When I wrote my article, there were a lot of women thinking, “Everybody just says make it work, do it all, have it all; I’m supposed to be able to be at the top in my career and be a caregiver, but actually, this is really hard, and no one wants to admit it.” Well, we broke that conversation open. I think similarly, we really have to have a conversation that exposes looming biases. Few people will say openly, “Well no, of course care-giving is not as important as being a professor, or a lawyer, or a factory worker, or anything else,” but that’s what they think. Instead, we have to bring that out and look at it. Taking care of children is investing in the human capital of the next generation. There’s actually nothing more important that we do as a society, and if we do it badly, we pay for it economically, socially, criminally, and morally, in the sense of wasted lives and potential.

SF: And we’re not doing well compared to other developed nations.

AMS: Absolutely. And taking care of elders is an affirmation of our common humanity – a recognition that we will all be there someday. As well as making people’s lives longer and better, it’s a basic commitment to human dignity. Skilled care-giving requires education and experience, and we have to recognize that it’s something we should be valuing every bit as much as we value lending money or drawing up a will.

Anne-Marie Slaughter was the Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department under Hilary Clinton, and is now the President and CEO of The New America Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy institute addressing the next generation of challenges facing the U.S. New America is actively working on issues of bread-winning and care-giving (their more gender-neutral term for family and workforce topics) including cross-generational engagement through technology and the future of higher education after college to enable lifelong learning from multiple sources. Learn more at New America’s website. For more from Slaughter, follow her on Twitter @SlaughterAM.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday, June 3 at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Shannon Schuyler, Principal and Corporate Responsibility leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Liza Mundy, author of The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Our Culture. 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.

Marriages Now More Fair and More Passionate — Stephanie Coontz

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

Work and Life is a two-hour 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 Stephanie Coontz, the Director of Research at the Council on Contemporary Families, and the author of seven books on marriage, family life, and male-female relationships, including her most recent A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s. Friedman and Coontz spoke about the evolution of men’s and women’s roles and their expectations for parenthood, and the way progress on those fronts also presents new challenges.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation and a few questions for the reader, at the end, which we invite you to respond to in the comments section below:

Stew Friedman: What do you think about the recent research which found that people in their sixties and seventies are frustrated that their children are not having children of their own, which is creating tension in families and increasing pressures on the workplace to create environments in which people can have children while working, if that’s something they want?

Stephanie Coontz: Stephanie CoontzI think that’s an interesting example of a well-documented trend in international studies.  At a certain point after women enter the workforce in large numbers, the national fertility rate tends to drop. Social conservatives in the United States have suggested that if as a society we don’t make childcare easily available, women will be forced from the workplace and go back to having babies, but evidence suggests that the opposite is actually true.  When you make it harder for women to combine work and family, women don’t start families. If you want, as a society, to have more kids, you need to make it easier for women to combine work and family. Countries like France and Sweden are doing better in terms of maintaining fertility because they have instituted such polices.

SF: In Baby Bust, our study comparing Gen Xers and Millennials at the time they graduated from college, 20 years apart, we found that one of the main reasons young people today are less likely to plan or adopt children of their own is that they feel pressure to be fully engaged on the domestic front. They anticipate a greater conflict between their work and family lives, and therefore think, “I don’t see how I can do it, so I’m not going to try.”

SC: I think there are tremendous pressures that are further amplified by growing income inequality in our society. Historically, people wanted their career to be a competence. They didn’t want a fortune – they wanted something that would allow them to competently live their lives. There’s been a hollowing-out of jobs that allow you to have a comfortable life and still be secure; parents and even potential parents feel as though they have to engage in a competitive race to get ahead in the workplace and in life, and if they have kids, they also put pressure on themselves to constantly enrich their kids to give them the same competitive edge. That becomes a very wearing process.

SF: So you’re saying economic pressures have an influence on how parents approach the joys and challenges of rearing their children? That they might feel, because of economic insecurity, an obligation to produce a child who is going to be able to thrive in a competitive marketplace?

SC: People in the the upper middle class – people who are educated and looking forward to professional or managerial careers – have new options and opportunities now. There’s been a hollowing-out of the wage structure, and the advantage of being educated and in a professional job is much greater than it used to be. Less educated, less skilled workers have experienced drastically falling real wages over the last 30 years. But we’re also seeing increasing inequality not just between groups but within groups – for example, college confers a great benefit if you go to the right college and if things work out for you, but you can go to college and still fall behind. I think that leads to a lot of pressure for students who feel as though, “It’s not like I can get into an organization with a clear job ladder and know there will always be a place for me. I’ve got to be the best or I might be nothing.” I think this is a particularly intense problem in America, where there is a lack of a social safety net. Since the early 20th century, America has boasted more opportunities for individuals to buy things for themselves, but fewer opportunities for individuals to rely on public investment in spaces like hospitals and playgrounds. That trend has been accelerated and exacerbated even more within the last few years – there’s a frantic sense that, “If I don’t do this myself, I won’t have it at all.” Countries that have broader investment in healthcare systems and other social safety nets may have parents who feel less likely to hit the jackpot for themselves or their kids, but also less scared of losing everything.

SF: What’s your take on how the media is shaping notions of what family life is, and what it should be?

SC: Many people mourn the way media has motivated a change in values, but I think changes in values are complicated. I’ve been known to mutter things like “the fall of the Roman empire” when I catch glimpses of reality television, but on the other hand, you have to step back and understand that there are some ways in which our values have really improved since the 1950’s and 1960’s. We’re far less tolerant of racism and much more accepting of same-sex couples and women’s personhood. Some of the changes are surprising and seem on the surface to be contradictory – for example, we’re much more tolerant of a range of pre-marital and non-marital sexual behaviors than ever before, but we’re much less tolerant of infidelity and non-consensual sex than ever before. Since the 1970’s we’ve seen a rise in pornography and the glorification of violence, but the rates of rape and sexual assault have declined a stunning 68% since we started keeping accurate records. I think that’s attributed to the changing relationship between men and women – the more egalitarian power dynamic. Some of the things Millennials do are ruder than I’m used to, but on the other hand, a Millennial would never say, “Oh, here comes a cripple,” which was very common in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when people’s attitudes toward Jews, women, homosexuals, the disabled, and many other minorities were much less tolerant. One of the things that fascinates me as a historian is the notion of trade-offs. Almost every historical gain opens new challenges and problems in its place. For example, in my research on marriage, I find that when it works, marriage has become fairer, more intimate, and more passionate – it delivers more benefits to all members of the family than ever before in history. But the things that have allowed it to do so – for example, the fact that it’s a choice for both parties because women have other options and can set ground rules as equal partners – also create more points at which it can become unsatisfactory and break down. I think we see this in almost every element of life; some of the cultural problems we look at today are the flip-side of some important cultural gains we wouldn’t want to give up.

Coontz sees a link between the government’s provision of social services and young people’s plans to have children.  The decline of the one-job-for-life model has meant the rise of the many-careers-in-a-life model – should government support it?  Were your decisions about whether and when to have children – or, if you haven’t yet made those decisions, will they be – motivated by the growing range of choices available to your generation or by fear of not being able to fully commit to family life? Join us in the comments section below with your thoughts and experiences.

Join Work and Life Tuesday, May 6 at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Peter McGraw, Dir. Of the Humor Research Lab at the Univ. of Colorado and author of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, and Cali Yost, CEO and Founder of Flex+Strategy Group. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Liz StiversonLiz Stiverson is a 2014 MBA candidate at The Wharton School.

Combat the Tightrope Effect with Gender Judo and a Posse — Joan Williams

Contributor: Alice Liu

Work and Life is a two-hour 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 from 7 pm 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).

Stew Friedman spoke with Joan Williams, Hastings Foundation Chair and Director of the Center for Work Life Law at the University of California (Hastings). Williams has played a central role in reshaping the debate on women’s advancement for the past quarter-century. Her newest book, What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know, discusses the strategies that women can utilize to combat pervasive gender biases in the workplace.

The following are edited excerpts of Friedman’s conversation with Williams.

Stew Friedman: Let’s talk about the four patterns that every woman should know about and how to navigate through them.

Joan Williams: Joan WilliamsOne pattern of gender bias that really plays into work-family conflict is that women often feel that they have to prove themselves over and over again, providing much more evidence of competence than their male colleagues in order to be perceived as equally competent. Women’s successes are more likely to be attributed to luck rather than skill. In our interviews, we heard women over and over again feeling that men were judged on potential while women were judged strictly on performance. Because of this, women often feel that they literally have to work harder than men in order to be seen as equally competent, especially since women’s mistakes tend to be noticed more and remembered longer.

If people are going to tend to notice and remember your mistakes while at the same time overlooking your successes, then you have to be in a position to jog their memory. A very effective way for women to self-promote is what we call the posse where you form a group of men as well as women and you celebrate each other’s accomplishments. The reason the posse is such a good strategy is because of the gender bias called the tightrope, which stems from the fact that all high paying jobs are traditionally seen as requiring masculine qualities, while women are expected to be feminine. So women in these jobs often find themselves walking a tightrope between being seen as too masculine – respected but not liked – and being seen as too feminine – liked but not respected.

SF: How does the posse help you become both liked and respected?

JW: The posse is part of a series of strategies I call gender judo. You’re using a feminine stereotype – in this case it’s the stereotype of the selfless woman – but you’re using it not to hold you back but rather to propel you forward. The posse is gender judo in the sense that you’re doing something that’s considered masculine – promoting yourself – in what’s seen as a suitably feminine way by engaging with others. Because after all, what’s more appropriate for the feminine stereotype than to be celebrating the successes of someone else?

Another gender judo strategy stems from the common phrase, “women don’t get ahead because they don’t ask.” It’s true that women are less likely than men to negotiate for themselves. There’s been a lot of talk about how women should just step up and ask, but the studies show that when women do ask they tend to be seen as less likeable and people are less likely to hire them.

The solution is not to not ask. In What Works for Women at Work, we provide very specific guidance on how a woman can ask and negotiate for herself.  What’s missing here? For example, you could say, “My supervisor said it was really important to negotiate the salary.” So the request is on behalf of another. Another example: when Sheryl Sandberg joined Facebook she negotiated for her salary and later said, “I really needed to set an example for the group.” Again, she was acting for others not just for herself.

Brian, a caller: What are the steps that need to happen to make the inequalities in the workplace better for women?

JW: I think that we need to do something very concrete, something that people haven’t done. For example, we can redesign performance evaluations to interrupt implicit bias. If we know that men tend to be judged on potential and women on achievement, then we need to redesign performance evaluations so that everybody is first asked about the potential of the candidate and then the performance of the candidate. This will hopefully make that kind of bias go away.

SF: What else can organizations do?

JW: This is ultimately part of a larger intellectual project. When I wrote What Works for Women at Work, I really wrote it in response to the fact that I’ve been working on the issue of women’s advancement for 20 years. When I started, 15% of law firm partners were women, and today as we speak, still only 15% of law firm partners are women. I’m not saying that there hasn’t been any change, but women’s advancement leveled off in the mid-1990s.

That’s why I thought, “Organizations should change. Organizations aren’t changing.” I decided then to write a book that shows female leaders not what should work for women at work but what does work for women at work, because these patterns of bias are unfortunately very pervasive. What Works for Women at Work shows women how to navigate organizations as they exist – deeply shaped by gender bias. The next step is to redesign business systems so that organizations really do begin to change, and that’s what I’m turning my attention to now.

Williams discusses the ways in which gender judo can help women navigate and overcome the biases in the workplace. Have you ever used gender judo? What were your experiences? Join us in the comments below with your thoughts.

To learn more about Williams’s work, follow her on Twitter @JoanCWilliams and on her Huffington Post blog.

Tune in to Work and Life next Tuesday, April 29 at 7:00 to 9:00 PM EDT on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Prasad Setty, Google’s Vice President of People Analytics, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of New America Foundation and author of the widely popular article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” in The Atlantic.Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Alice LiuAlice Liu is an undergraduate senior studying Management at The Wharton School and English (Creative Writing) at the College of Arts & Sciences. 

Wharton Women on Hopes for a 50/50 World

Contributor: Alice Liu

Work and Life is a two-hour 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.

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with current Wharton MBA students about how young women are experiencing and thinking about their careers, families and future lives.  In the first segment, Friedman chatted with Nohemie Sanon (WG ’15) and Pamela Freed (WG ’14) about how they perceive the current role of women in business schools and in the workplace as well as what they hope to see change in the future.

Following are edited excerpts of Sanon and Freed’s conversation with Friedman.

Stew Friedman: What prompted you to come to the Wharton School?

Nohemie Sanon:Nohemie Sanon For me it was about career progression. I was at a certain level in my career where I was ready to make the next move, and I wanted to make sure that I had the best education possible to help me get to that next level.

Pamela Freed: I knew that I wanted to go to business school ever since I was an undergraduate. My father had gone to business school and seeing how much it helped his career really influenced me. After three years of working at JP Morgan after college, I started to feel like my career was going well, but I knew that business school would help accelerate it.

Pamela FreedSF: Who are the important people – the key sponsors or mentors – who have influenced you and helped you get here?

NS: The key influencers would definitely be my mom, my family, and also mentors at work, such as my boss and other colleagues who really wanted to push me to make sure that I attained that next level.

PF: My parents definitely had a big influence. In particular, I think that my mom had probably a bigger influence on me than anyone else. She had a long career working in media, and growing up, I watched her passion for her work and how it gave her drive. That was really inspirational for me, and I always knew that my career would be something that would be very important in my life.

SF: What was the most surprising thing to you when you got here. 

NS: I was struck by the ratio of men to women. The class of 2015 has about 42% women, and I was excited to find that number so surprisingly high. As you walk through the halls of this school you don’t feel like it’s 42%, you actually feel like it’s 50/50.

PF: I think I was surprised by how much I learned outside of the classroom. One of the most rewarding things for me has been the extracurricular opportunities. I’ve been fortunate to serve as co-president of Wharton Women in Business this year, and I’ve learned far more from that than any class I’ve taken. As Nohemie mentioned, Wharton has 42% women, which is more than any other top business program, so the women’s community here is very strong.

SF: How has that particular experience shaped your thinking about the future?

NS: I think it’s not only very inspiring, but it also gives me hope that more women will eventually rise to the top of the ladder in a variety of industries. It’s a big signal to me that it’s possible for women to achieve that level.

PF: At Wharton, there’s definitely a sense that women are equal to men. You see just as many women participating in class as men. Women are receiving academic honors at the same rate as men and are going on to as good careers as the men here are. We’re equals while we’re at Wharton, I’ll be interested to see what happens when we leave Wharton, and how my male and female peers perceive their treatment in the workplace.

SF: The ratio of women at the top of organizations is not nearly the same as it is at the entry level. What do you see happening within companies today that is really going to make a difference in changing this gender inequality?

PF: I hope that companies will be able to implement more policies to help women find ways to stay, particularly after they have families. At Bain & Company for example, they have very flexible work policies – flextime and sabbaticals – for women who have had children, and they claim that 80% of women who are partners have taken advantage of some of these flex policies. If over time companies are able to roll out more flexible policies and make it the norm to take advantage of these programs, then hopefully more women will be inspired to stay.

SF: And are you optimistic or pessimistic about that?

PF: I’m definitely optimistic. I see senior female role models that I can aspire to be like someday.

SF: That’s so important to have people you can look up to and say, “Yes, she did it. Therefore, I can do it too.” Nohemie, was this an important consideration when you thought about your summer plans?

NS: Yes. Throughout the time that I was recruiting I’ve met all different kinds of women who made it a point to tell me about the infrastructure set up to support working mothers – for example, a facility where you can bring your child in the morning and then see them at lunchtime. It’s also incumbent on us as women throughout our careers to lean in and open ourselves to opportunities as they reveal themselves to us, especially after we have our children and raise them. Very often we tend to not accept and not be willing to step into available new roles.

SF: Why do you think that is? Why do you think women hold back from opportunities to advance their careers?

NS: Maybe, because of fear of not being able to provide for their family in the way that they want to. You want to be there for your family not only financially, but also emotionally, and you may hold back from opportunities because you’re afraid that you’ll miss important things like your children’s recitals.

SF: Is it different for men and women at Wharton? Do you travel in different worlds?

PF: I don’t really think it’s that different for men and women here. I think that Wharton is a very equal place and if anything I think that women may have an advantage here, because we do have Wharton Women in Business and all that it provides. All 700+ women at Wharton are automatically members. We do many things – we bring thought leaders to campus, we have workshops to help women with negotiations and communication, we have connections with alumnae, we have an annual conference with more than 400 attendees, and we even have social events such as golf workshops to make sure that women will be able to keep up with men in the workplace. Men are invited to many of these things but generally you see more women taking advantage of these offerings so I think that’s something that makes the women’s community very strong.

SF: As you dream about your future, what’s the most important change that you want to see happen in the world over the next 15-20 years?

PF: Something that Debora Spar, the president of Barnard College, talked about at a recent Wharton Women in Business event is the expectation that women place on themselves for perfection – a perfect career, a perfect family, a perfect life. I hope that in the future women will feel s less pressure to do everything perfectly.

SF: How might men help with this goal?

PF: I think Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter both emphasize the importance of partners and making sure that each partner is sharing the housework and sharing in child raising, for example. It’s important that both partners are part of the conversation about how each can each integrate work and life.

SF: What about you, Nohemie? What do you wish to see change in the next 15-20 years?

NS: I would agree with Pam, and I would also add that I wish to see a world where women allow themselves to be more involved in their careers if they so choose and also more involved at home if they so choose.

SF: What’s the one thing we could be doing at this school to make that happen faster?

NS: I think that women as a community could encourage other women to take a bigger role in their careers and/or at home.

PF: I would love to see more men joining these conversations, attending more Wharton Women in Business events, and talking about integrating work and life and how men can help women get ahead.

Visit the Forum tomorrow for the second segment of Stew’s conversation with current Wharton MBA students, Kristina Milyuchikhina (WG ’14) and Meaghan Casey (WG ’15), about what it’s like to start a family while in business school and the importance of choosing a partner who not only shares parenting care, but also shares your values and ambitions.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday, February 25 at 7 PM on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Deika Morrison (W ’94, WG ’08) and Jerry Jacobs, Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania,about work and life in different labor markets. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Alice LiuAlice Liu is an undergraduate senior studying Management at The Wharton School and English (Creative Writing) at the College of Arts & Sciences. 

The Path to Shared Care — Jessica DeGroot on Work and Life

Contributor: Kate Mesrobian

Jessica DeGrootJessica DeGroot founded ThirdPath Institute in 1999 to encourage employees at all stages in their lives to follow a “third path” – one that allows success at work while creating time and energy for their lives outside of work, as opposed to an exclusive focus on one or the other.

On his radio show, Work and Life (on Sirius XM’s Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School), Stew Friedman spoke with Jessica DeGroot about the overwhelming priority work receives and why we need a cultural shift in our approach to work and the rest of life. DeGroot offers practical solutions for individuals and couples to improve life outside work.

Following are edited excerpts of DeGroot’s conversation with Friedman.

Stew Friedman: What was the origin of ThirdPath Institute?

Jessica DeGroot: When I first came to Wharton as an MBA, I thought about what might be a logical solution to creating healthy families. Healthy relationships are good for an organization and for business. If you have an employee who is in healthy, satisfying relationship, they are more focused and ready to work each day. I wanted to equip families with tools for how do work differently. “Shared care” is about two people sharing in the care of a family. Some families figure out how both parents can care for the family.  – For example, both parents working, so that the dad isn’t the sole provider. Planning where the couple is headed and considering how they want to think about care together is important.

SF: We don’t have to choose between career and family aspirations. But so many people still struggle to make a shared care model work.  

JD: Yes, and right now, we are talking about professional families, where the mom and dad both work in professional jobs, and the biggest worry is that if they don’t follow the normal path, their choices will have a negative impact on their career trajectory and they will not be able to earn as much. We call that the “work first” model, where you have to have your work come first.What we’ve been able to do over the past six years is have leaders show that there is a different model out there in which male and female leaders have not followed the work first model and been able to gain leadership positions and make all parts of their life accessible.

SF: What would you say is most essential to making that model real?

JD: The couple needs clarity about their priorities and to watch each other’s back. They need simple solutions and a back up plan, what we call a Plan B, for situations that arise.

SF: What do you mean by Plan B?

JD: Starting your own job outside of the corporate world, writing for a year.  There are a lot of other alternatives nowadays if your current circumstances are not aligning with your priorities. One example is a mom who created a flex-year solution. She really wanted time with her kids, and summers were a big opportunity. So she went to a 20-hour per month schedule in the summer. Before the summers, she trained people to manage the time she was away. She was such an incredible mentor that her mentees were plucked away and put into other assignments because of their increased skill levels.  

SF: I talked earlier about the New York Times magazine cover story “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?” What’s your take on the connection between romance and the 50-50 model?

JD: I have done a lot of reflection on why we use shared care.  If both members of a married couple have a full time job, both have given most of their energy to work. The rest of their energy is reserved for family, children, bills, but probably not for sex. One in five couples are considered a sexless couple, meaning that they have sex 10 or fewer times per year. We are all just overwhelmed, and we need to take action today. This is bigger than the trend of egalitarian couples – as a society, we are overwhelmed, and we are disproportionally giving energy and time to work and not to the other things we care about. One unique thing about shared care couples is that we tell them to be more intentional about their time.

SF: So an important part of the solution is to be mindful and intentional with time?

JD: My husband and I go to Miami once a year, just the two of us. We prioritize this time. We not only prioritize sharing household responsibilities, but also what’s important to us. Personally, my priorities are about having a passionate marriage and having fun.

SF: What are some of the things you’ve learned about staying true to those priorities?

JD: We have learned what we call “21st century skills.” We learned how to turn our cell phones off, to take a vacation and “turn off” work by setting boundaries. There’s a pattern for learning better skills to cope with our crazy, overwhelming world.

SF: What are the important things for listeners to be mindful of to create boundaries?

JD: Experiment with these thoughts starting today. Take that vacation and turn off work for that whole week. If a family has kids, the primary focus is to develop this mindset to model these actions for your children, such as having dinner together and putting the cell phone away. This can be difficult with the slippery slope of letting work slide into our lives, but modeling the behavior is important. If my son tries to text during dinner, I will say “You know we don’t text during dinner,” and he knows that because we have been doing that for 15 years.Parents have to role model and show the value of prioritizing life and family themselves.

SF: Let’s talk about businesses and what organizations can do to enable the full immersion of both parents in both family and career life.

JD: Flexibility for everybody is key. Whether for caring for children or an aging parent, you want people to look for the right answer. I would tell companies to think of a solution for the triple win: effective for the employee getting work done, effective at meeting the firms’ own needs, and also good for their colleagues and clients.

SF: But there’s no one size fits all solution, and companies can make that mistake.

JD: You have to customize the flexibility to your business, and you have to have leaders who model what they believe in.  If you are in an organization and cannot leave, you can look inside the organization and find a more supportive manager to work normal hours, which means not working nights, still having dinner with the family, and not having to work on the weekend. If you set that boundary, you can improve your life quite a bit.  The first step is for couples to clarify their priorities, have a collaborative conversation, and become a resource to one another.

SF: Where do people find the time to step back and make change? Do you have to reach a point of stress where you need to make the change or can you be more proactive?

JD: The starting point is being able to step back and get off that gerbil wheel. Teenagers are actually more proactive with this. I can’t tell you how many times I see parents on their phones with their kids pulling on their sleeves, going, “Could you put the phone away?”

SF: It’s easy to ignore those signals to put the phone away and stop using technology when you have a client on the line.

JD:  I think of this as a muscle. These are families that want to change, but they absolutely make mistakes. People are developing this skill of how to set boundaries and turn off technology. Learn to see what it feels like to stop and turn of that cell phone and slowly develop that muscle.

SF: What have you learned in your work with families?

JD: I think professional families have a lot to learn from other families. Professional families put a lot of investment in their profession. I’ve learned from working class families, however, the importance of couples having their priorities pretty straight and making time for them. In many such families, they are willing to change jobs to have time for the things they care about. They demonstrate how to make work part of your life but not all of your life.  

SF: What would you want to say to current MBA students?

JD: Dream big.  It’s all possible. Keep track of what’s important. Don’t be afraid to experiment and learn from others who have experimented with different work/life style integrations with their partners.

Work and Life is a two-hour 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 from 7 pm 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).  Join Stew next week, Tuesday February 25, at 7 PM conversations with Deika Morrison, co-founder and President of Do Good Jamaica, and with Jerry Jacobs, Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, and Founding President of the Work and Family Researchers Network.

About the Author

Kate Mesrobian is a sophomore in the Huntsman Program in Business and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. 


The New Dad — Brad Harrington on Work and Life

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

Work and Life is a two-hour 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 from 7 pm 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).

Brad HarringtonOn Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Brad Harrington – research professor and Executive Director of the Center for Work and Family at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management – about the substantive shift in the role men play in their families from financial provider to equal caretaker, and how organizations can support The New Dad.

Following are edited excerpts of Harrington’s conversation with Friedman.

Stew Friedman: What are some of the major similarities and differences you’ve observed between mothers and fathers immediately after the birth of their first child?

Brad Harrington: The major differences are probably going to come as no surprise. First, becoming a father was more of an incremental experience than was becoming a mom. I remember Carol Evans from Working Mother once said that no matter how well-prepared you are, how much thought you’ve put into it, how many books you’ve read, nothing can quite prepare a woman for the experience of having a child. When that child arrives, all of a sudden all bets are off, and a woman has to re-think what she really wants to do with her life and how the work-family interplay will trade off. For men, the experience is more gradual. We’ve seen in multiple studies that men take only a few days off following the birth of their first child; 16% of men say they didn’t take a single day off.

SF: Is that because they didn’t want to, or because they didn’t feel it was legitimate for them to do so?

BH: It’s some of both, but I would put more onus on the men than I would on the organizations. The majority of men, 76%, took a week off or less, and 96% took two weeks off or less. Only one out of 20 men are spending more than 10 working days at home with their newborns. That contrasts, of course, with the experience of women, who on average take 12-14 weeks, and can often stretch a maternity leave to six months. There isn’t paid leave in most organizations, and there certainly isn’t paid leave across the board in the United States. Although we might say these men would have to take some time off without pay, that’s a sacrifice women have been making for years. One of the ways in which men and women are different is that women spend much more time in the first months of the child’s life bonding with the child, flying solo as a parent, really connecting with that little person. Men don’t have an opportunity to do that, and once they miss that initial opportunity, they are already moving down the path of being a supporting actor to the mother as primary player within the first few weeks and months of the child’s life.

SF: What can organizations do to really make a difference and move us forward on this front?

BH: If organizations can get a data point on where men are these days in their attitudes about work and satisfaction with their careers as well as professional aspirations and their role as parents, they would be quite surprised about the reality of the stereotype they hold about men and their career motivations.  In particular, that men have a singular focus on their contribution to the family as the provider is a stereotype that is outdated. When we surveyed men at four major Fortune 500 companies, we looked at six criteria on being a good father and asked which was most important to them. One of the criteria was being a good financial provider. Of the six, that criterion came out fifth in the rating of importance to being a good father. More salient than being a good provider were being present and visible in the child’s life, being a good coach and role model, being a good mentor, and providing love and emotional support. If these new paradigms for young men were apparent to leaders in organizations, they would start to say, “Gee, we might need to really rethink our assumptions.”

Becky (caller from California): My husband and I have two daughters, a 22-year-old and a 19-year-old, and when they were born in 1991 and 1994, it was not very popular to have reversed roles. My husband and I reversed roles out of necessity – I had a standard job with retirement and benefits, and he was self-employed. We faced stigma and lost family and friends who said, “How dare he stay home and babysit while his wife works.”

BH: That stigma is very real, and sometimes it comes from the people closest to the men affected. Their parents and friends say, “You’ve dropped out of the workplace to stay home with your kid? When are you going to get back to your job to make money to support the family?” But usually, over a period of time, more people get up close and see how well this arrangement is working not only for the wife but for the husband and the children. After that people are much more accepting.

As one of my colleagues said, it isn’t about gender, it’s about competence. When women entered the workplace in large numbers in professional and managerial roles 30 years ago, we looked through a lens of “Can women make it? Can women be successful? Are women ambitious enough?” Over the past 30 years we’ve come to realize that it wasn’t gender, it was competence. When women were able to display their competence in leading, negotiating, facilitating, and analyzing, people stopped talking about whether women’s gender allowed them to be good enough in the workplace; it was simply about whether they were competent.

So often – especially in the media – we talk about men in the context of the family in disparaging ways. “He’s 100% committed to his career,” “He wouldn’t know what to do if we left him at home with the kids,” “He’s babysitting today,” “A man could never possibly fix his daughter’s hair or get her ready for school, or find clothes that match for his children.” If we talked about women in the workplace the way we talk about men in the home, we’d be sued for that, and rightly so. The jokes women had to put up with 30 years ago are the jokes men are still putting up with today. We see commercials where men sit around and drink beers with their friends when the wife leaves her husband at home alone and chaos ensues; we don’t see very many commercials of men being competent at caregiving and parenting.

SF: What is the most important advice you would give your kids so that they can have the opportunity to create lives for themselves and decide how they’ll contribute to the world?

BH: Don’t get stuck in a paradigm and assume the way things are is the way things need to be. It’s all about individual choice and having the courage to follow your convictions.

Brad Harrington is the author of Career Management & Work Life Integration: Using Self-Assessment to Navigate Contemporary Careers; learn more about his research in his 2013 white paper The New Dad: A Work (and Life) in Progress.

Tune in to Work and Life next Tuesday, February 11 at 7 PM Eastern on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Jessica DeGroot (WG ’94) and current Wharton MBA students Pamela Freed, Nohemie Sanon, and Meaghan Casey on how couples can share caregiving to mutual advantage and how women planning business leadership roles see their future work and family lives. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Liz StiversonLiz Stiverson is a 2014 MBA candidate at The Wharton School. 

Dads as Primary Caregivers – Breaking Down Stereotypes with Matt Schneider on Work and Life

Contributor: Kate Mesrobian

Work and Life is a two-hour 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).

Matt SchneiderOn Work and Life on Sirius XM’s Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, Stew Friedman spoke with Matt Schneider, co-founder and co-organizer of NYC Dads Group, about the rise of stay-at-home dads and new choices for men and women in work and family. NYC Dads Group exists as a meet-up community that gives stay-at-home fathers the opportunity to socialize and support each other in their role as primary caregivers.   Matt Schneider spoke about breaking down through new marketing, social media engagement, and work place innovation.

Following are edited excerpts of Schneider’s conversation with Friedman.

SF: What were the things Dads cared most about when you started meet-ups with other stay-at-home dads?

MS: We cared about the same things any caring parent would care about. We had meet-ups about what dads were feeding their kids, potty training, choosing a preschool… Being good parents was first and foremost a priority.

SF: This was not something you were trained in your early lives to pay a lot of attention to, I imagine.

MS: I would say few of us, men or women, train to be parents or homemakers. We had caring parents as role models, but growing up in the 70s and 80s, women weren’t trained to be homemakers, either. There was simply an expectation that they could fill that role. Men and women are both scared as they jump into this thing called parenting. Our philosophy is: We’re all in this together. Let’s learn together how to be good parents, and make sure that neither one of us takes on too much of the role and pushes the other out.

SF: What else was on your minds when you got together as dads in the role of the primary caregiver?

MS: We thought of ourselves as a community. It was crazy to think that men could get together to talk and share ideas. Men don’t get together anymore. Developing community became important to us. We also have a lot of working dads who want to re-enter the work force.

SF: So this is not just about stay-at-home dads, this is about dads as primary- caregivers or equal partners in caregiving.

MS: Exactly. According to the Census Bureau, as of last year there are about 189,000 stay-at-home dads. But the Census defines stay-at-home dad as someone who does not make a dollar over the course of the entire year. The reality is there are a lot of dads out there that have part time jobs, so the number of a stay-at-home dads is much greater than one thinks. We have a wide range of dads in our group.

SF: What do you see as the primary driver for why society is changing in the way that it has with respect to the role of fathers?

MS: I think it has changed in some ways, and in some ways it hasn’t. The great news is that mothers and fathers who are making these decisions together are making good financial decisions. They are not being held back by gender stereotypes from the past. They decide whose career to rely on to provide for the family and who should step back. Today, there are a lot more dads who are thinking of themselves in a secondary bread-winner role because women have increased in the work force.

SF: What do you mean by a secondary work role? Secondary with respect to what?

MS: I now consider myself a work-at-home dad, but my career is secondary to my wife’s career. Every day I work a certain number of hours. The rest of my time is spent taking care of my kids, doing laundry, planning meals, shopping for groceries, and all that type of stuff. My wife and I made that plan before we were married. You should have this conversation before marriage. I was never forced into the situation; I was the one interested in the situation.

Caller from Denver: I love what you have founded, turning a simple meet up into a large organization. What advice or suggestions do you have to bring what you’re doing to other places?

MS: There are great groups like ours across the country. There’s a national organization – National At-Home Dad Network that has a listing of all the “dad groups” across the country

SF: How do you respond to stereotypes?

MS: Pop culture has been a big part of the problem for so long. Guys have been portrayed in the movies, TV, the media, as buffoons: duct-taping diapers together, wearing a gas mask until mom gets home and saves the day. We hear from moms all the time that they want a partner, not a husband portrayed as a buffoon. Many brands are recognizing that dads are a big part of the equation.

SF: And you’re helping some of these brands, aren’t you?

MS: We are. We will have meet-ups across the country this year where brands get to meet our dads directly. Our dads will use their products, tell them what we think, and share our thoughts over our blog and social media.

SF: How have you used social media?

MS: Other men now have license to say, “Wow, I can be the one holding our baby, pushing the stroller.” To me, the term “manly” is so weird. I think it’s manly to do what makes sense for your family. In so many cases it makes sense for both to jump in. I know my wife could not do the job she does if I weren’t at home with our children. I don’t want to take credit for her talents and success. She works in private equity and real estate. She worked at Goldman Sachs. These are very demanding, work-oriented environments. These are not people who prioritize work/life integration. She has had to devote herself to her career, and our joint decision for me to stay home has enabled that.  So for good or bad she has been able to be very successful, and together, we have created the life we are looking for in New York. That’s not to say she isn’t an excellent mother as well. She jumps right in to parenting. And who knows? She might have to take a step back from her career. We talked about it before we got married. If it wasn’t working for me, we would talk and change.

SF: You set aside time to talk about these things regularly?

MS: With all decisions – financial, parenting – we talk. We are by no means perfect. We argue. We fight. But we try to make these decisions together. I actually don’t think there’s anything special in the way we communicate. The same kind of communication should happen with stay-at-home moms and bread-winning dads. We teach classes for expecting dads, and the first thing we say is don’t allow yourself to get pushed out of that parenting role. It sounds like a great short-term, easy solution to get diapers changed by mom. But it turns out that those moments of changing your child’s diapers are pretty special. That’s when your relationship develops. It’s the day-to-day moments we need to be a part of, and we encourage dads to get in the game. It’s rewarding to be an involved, active dad, and necessary from a parenting and partnership perspective. Both of you need to be capable of getting the stuff done.

Matt Schneider, a former public school teacher, is an at-home dad who lives with his wife and two boys in New York City. He is the co-founder of NYC Dads Group.  He plans workshops, screenings, and lectures with parenting, family, and education experts on behalf of the group. Matt has written for New York Family magazine, Huffington Post, Big Apple Parent, Role/Reboot, and The Good Men Project. For more information about being a stay-at-home dad and for ways to connect with other stay-at-home dads, visit NYC Dads Group online or refer to the National At-Home Dad Network.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday February 4 at 7 PM on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Marci Alboher (Penn ’88), on finding purpose and meaning later in life and Katrina Alcorn, on strategies to manage the stress that comes from trying to have it all. for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Kate MesrobianKate Mesrobian is a sophomore in the Huntsman Program in Business and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Wharton Students Discuss Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family

Contributor: Alice Liu

About Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family

Stew Friedman, director of The Wharton School’s Work/Life Integration Project, studied two Baby Bustgenerations of Wharton undergraduate students as they graduated: Gen Xers in 1992 and Millennials in 2012. The cross-generational study produced a stark discovery – the rate of graduates who plan to have children has decreased by nearly half over the past 20 years. Men and women have become more aligned in their attitudes about dual-career relationships, and, while their reasons for opting out of parenthood are quite different, they are doing so in equal proportions. In his new book, Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family, Friedman draws on this unique research to explain why so many young people are no longer certain they’ll become parents. He reveals good news and bad news: there is greater freedom of choice now, but new constraints are limiting people’s options.

Student Reactions to Baby Bust

At the Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women discussion events on November 5, 2013 and January 17, 2014, Wharton undergraduate and MBA students explored the compelling findings of the study and the actions that might emerge to help Millennials achieve greater harmony and less conflict in work and life across all stages of their lives and careers.

After approximately fifteen minutes of small group discussions, students reconvened to share the findings that surprised and affected them the most. All students were shocked by the overarching finding that only 42% of 2012 graduates definitely plan to have or adopt children, compared to the 78% of graduates who indicated the same in 1992. However, students also articulated a variety of specific insights and concerns about how the definition of family is changing. Kashfia Ehsan (W ’16) was surprised that Wharton graduates who, by and large, had benefitted from robust parental care and support are choosing not to give back by becoming parents themselves. On the other hand, Federico Velarde (W ’14) and Katie Simon (W ’14) noted that while our personal upbringings affect what we believe is possible in our own futures, there are many structural challenges that create conflict between what we desire and the reality of what is possible. As an alternative to parenting, Briana Thompson (W ’15) resonated with the finding that Millennials are choosing to structure their “families” around their friends rather than starting to form their own nuclear families at the outset of their careers. However, despite the benefits of having a tight-knit “family” of friends in our twenties, Arjan Singh (W ’16) expressed concern that we are redefining family to the point where children won’t be part of the equation anymore. Thus, while students saw reflections of themselves in the results from the 2012 graduates, they were also disconcerted by how much the definition of family has shifted away from having children in the past 20 years.

After discussing the findings, students shared new actions and choices that might emerge after reading Baby Bust.  Many students said they feel that their energy and attention is devoted to academics and job-searching and that they neglect the other parts of their lives – family, community, and self. One suggestion was to encourage the practice of trying to consciously and deliberately integrate work and other parts of life starting at the undergraduate level by establishing small goals, such as finding a new café in another part of the city in which to study or going out to lunch with a new friend.  Stew Friedman added that these ideas aligned with the concept of “small wins” outlined in his Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life curriculum, which focuses on integrating work with family, community, and self.

Morgan Motzel (W ’15) noted that the most important new action that she plans to take is to encourage her peers “to be enthusiastic about pursuing a wider range of career paths and lifestyles than those typically chosen by Wharton undergraduates.” In his article, “Why Do Harvard Kids Head to Wall Street?” James Kwak, Associate Professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, argues that the reason so many elite university graduates head to typical career paths like consulting or investment banking is because these firms make the recruiting process straightforward and guarantee future opportunities. To combat the difficulties of reconciling these challenging career paths with other life priorities, many students inthe discussions believed that expanding the dominant mindset from consulting and finance to include work in the social impact and public sectors might be a beneficial adjustment. Hanna Seminario (W’ 16) noted that in order to pursue a more individualized path, she planned to utilize the Penn Alumni Network to learn more about positions in non-typical fields. More generally, Morgan suggested that undergraduates should broaden their imaginations and considerations when making early career choices in order to explore a wider range of possibilities to be in a better position to integrate work and life throughout the duration of their careers.

At the end of the November 5, 2013 discussion, Stew Friedman asked, “How do we get men to care?” Arjan, one of two men in a room of fifteen students, posited that the nature of “manliness” is changing. He believes that in order to engage more men in the discussion, we need to not only redefine family, but also redefine manliness. Visit the Forum next week for a guest post from Arjan about the role of men in the work/life integration conversation.

If you are interested in joining the discussion about challenges and choices in pursuing greater harmony between ones values and ones choices in work, family, and the rest of life, “like” the Wharton Work / Life Integration Project on Facebook and subscribe to the Forum.

About the Author

Alice LiuAlice Liu is an undergraduate senior studying Management at The Wharton School and English (Creative Writing) at the College of Arts & Sciences.

Getting to 50/50: The Life-Changing Journey

Contributors: Joanna Strober and Sharon Meers

We are two working moms who believe that everyone wins when men are full parents and women have full careers. When both parents pay the bills and care for kids, this life is possible—we know from experience. In our homes, we don’t assume that Mom is destined to be the “primary parent.” Our kids see Dad as equal to Mom because we set it up that way. True, we did 100 percent of the breast-feeding and sometimes only we can make the monster under the bed disappear. But Dad loves parenting as much as we do—and he’s good at it, too. There is also no “primary breadwinner” among us. Mom and Dad are both on the hook for the costs of raising kids, from groceries to braces, from housing to soccer cleats. The payoff? We enjoy rewarding careers and see that our families thrive—not despite our work but because of it.

“Don’t you really need to choose? Won’t I need to pick which comes first, my work or my family?” We hear this often from women in their twenties on campuses where we speak. (We rarely hear it from young men.) And even when young women are more hopeful, there’s a big disconnect between what they hear (you’re equal) and what they see. “These issues creep up on us without our being aware of them,” one twentysomething told us. “I think women my age believe the world has changed so much that we don’t need to worry. But then we look at the men in charge where we work and think, That is not what I want my life to look like and it’s clearly not feasible for me if I want to have kids.

We remember the angst we felt at their age, that somehow things would be tougher for us than they were for our guy friends. At times in each of our own careers, we shared the fear that we’d have to forfeit something big—a career or a husband.

“I’ll never find the right guy if I can’t ever leave the office,” Joanna, then a lawyer in her first 24/7 job, complained to her mother. At her second corporate law firm, still unmarried but curious about the future, Joanna went to a meeting on work/life balance. The discussion leader, the only female partner with children, started to cry. Not inspirational. Joanna had grown up with a mother who mostly stayed home. So the discouraging signs around her at work did not give Joanna much conviction that she would want to keep working after she had kids.

Sharon, a child of divorced parents, assumed she’d always earn her own living. No man Sharon dated could miss the point. She grilled boyfriends for double standards and gave them books such as The Women’s Room and The Feminine Mystique—which largely went unread. Working stock-market hours in San Francisco, Sharon was in the office close to 4 a.m.—and asleep by 9 p.m., making her an even more unusual date. As she was turning thirty-one, Sharon walked down the street after work one day with tears in her eyes. “No marriage is better than a bad one,” she thought, “but how did I end up alone?”

Then we met our husbands and learned this: The most important career decision you make is whom you marry. (And the deals you make with him.)

When Joanna got engaged, her fiancé, Jason, told her he wanted to start companies. To take the risks that entrepreneurship requires, Jason knew that sometimes he would be putting more money into his business than he’d be taking out. When Joanna wanted to quit her job, Jason did his share of child care while Joanna transitioned to a career she found more satisfying than the law. Jason not only wanted to be a good father, he also knew Joanna’s income bought him freedom to pursue his own career dreams.

“Women are more nurturing and should stay home with kids for a few years,” Sharon’s future husband, Steve, said on their first date. That evening did not end well. But Steve, an Iowan raised with the virtue of fairness, was curious (and a good sport). So he asked Sharon to put her thoughts on paper. “I want my husband to share every part of parenting with me 50/50. How do you feel about this?” Sharon wrote. Steve wasn’t sure but kept an open mind until he and Sharon found a vision they could share.

We’re not saying it’s easy. Living this way takes lots of discussion and often debate. No matter how fair-minded your spouse, if you’re anything like us, you’ll still find plenty to argue about. But hundreds of men and women in this book tell you in their own words why they make the effort: The 50/50 mind-set can help you live the life you want.

About the Authors

Sharon Meersjoanna stroberSharon Meers is the Head of Enterprise Strategy at Magento, which is part of eBay Inc.  Prior to joining eBay, Sharon was a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs.  Joanna Strober is the Founder and CEO of an online company to help fight and prevent childhood obesity.  Together they have written Getting to 50/50 — How Parents Can Have it All.

Careers Outside The Narrow Path

Contributor: Connie Gersick, Ph.D., Yale School of Managment

We have certain phrases in life that kind of—make us up. Mine was, “I can’t.  I can’t do  anything.“ (laughs)  Over and over, I’ve proved myself the opposite!  I’ve been able to do things I thought I could never do. … I never thought I could do the work that I’m doing.  And the children that I have!   I just never imagined it’d be so great!     —Olivia at 51[1]                                                                                      

In his new book, Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family, Stewart Friedman presents the stunning discovery that, among graduating seniors in Wharton’s 2012 college class, only 42% (of men and women) plan to have children—half the percentage who took the same survey in 1992. This is not because they don’t want to become parents, but because they feel they must “conform to a narrow set of career paths”[2] that will not permit it.

As a teacher, mother and grandmother who cares about young people, I find the revelation heartbreaking.  Not everyone wants or needs to have children, or to pursue an involving career.  But when so many feel these deeply human experiences to be mutually exclusive, something is very wrong.  As a social scientist, I see Friedman’s finding as an urgent challenge.  What do we know, what can we learn and how can we communicate it, to provide young adults with far better options?  How can we help foster the changes needed to give them (justifiable) confidence that they may do things that they now believe—as did the successful woman quoted above–they “could never do”?

Friedman reports that Millenials are actively willing to try out new models of family and work.[3]  If this is correct, then we have arrived at a crossroads of spectacular need and opportunity for change.  In fact, resources like the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, the Families and Work Institute[4], and Catalyst[5], along with voluminous research by scholars such as Bailyn, Galinsky, Hewlett, and Valian–to name only a few–offer a wealth of evidence-based recommendations for pulling outdated organizations into alignment with the needs of today’s workforce, both in terms of the way work is done and in the way careers are permitted to grow over the long term.

Many approaches are required, but I believe that if we wish to encourage change we need to significantly broaden our understanding of the meaning of work across the life span.  We need to provide alternatives to the “narrow set of career paths” that confine the imaginations of both individuals and institutions.   Friedman’s new study is a wonderful step in that direction, and it begs for more.   Currently, we have almost no research that illuminates the personal experience of careers beyond young adulthood and into middle age—a time span through which profound change and development can occur.   For the past several years, I have been immersed in a study of forty women from four occupations and a range of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.  Their biographies, recounted from childhood to their mid forties and fifties, demonstrate how much room there is for variation, uncertainty, flexibility, delay and misstep on the way to rewarding work—given certain key opportunities.  These ordinary / extraordinary women’s lives veer far outside the polarized debate that has sprung up between “Leaning In”[6] and “Women Can’t Have It All, And Shouldn’t Even Try.”[7]

My study participants grew up in a culture even more confining than that described by Wharton’s 2012 graduates.   As children, their generation largely assumed that men would focus on breadwinning, while women (who might work outside the home, but in jobs, not careers) would concentrate on family.  Baby Boomers became pioneers inventing new career journeys and new ways to combine work and family, often with the support of spouses, mentors and employers.  Now they are nearing retirement, and the results of their important choices are in.  The learning they offer is immense. We can see the new pathways they carved out, the ways they managed their doubts, what helped them along and how they recovered when they got lost.  Importantly, we can see the rewards that delighted them as they exceeded their own expectations.

Capturing the underlying structure in these women’s lives was extremely challenging because of the incredible diversity in their histories.  They found their métiers at ages ranging from 6 to 50; they became mothers any time from their teens to their forties or not at all; they did or did not take time out from careers, at varying moments and with varying results.  Patterns emerged only when I stopped looking for the conventional signs of career progress and turned to Levinson’s definition of the successful life structure as one that is “suitable for the self and viable in the world.”[8]   These criteria suggested two dimensions for capturing career development: the degree to which a woman was clear about what she wanted to be (Vocational Identity) and the degree to which she was proactive in moving to get there (Navigational Control).  These measures formed the basis of a two-dimensional grid on which each woman’s starting position could be located, and then the major changes she made as she moved from adolescence to the present could be tracked.   After all forty women’s journeys were mapped, six distinctly shaped career “trajectories” emerged, each with its own particular challenges.

The study’s findings contrast sharply with the notion that in order to succeed, people must know clearly in advance where they want to go, and must be vigilantly strategic about getting there.   Defined goals and well thought-out plans were not always best.  Alongside those who did well by the conventional wisdom, there were women who benefitted by loosening the focus of their ambitions, women who found fine careers by trial and error, and women who thrived on improvisation.

The six trajectories are illustrated in “Getting from ‘Keep Out’ to ‘Lean In’: A New Roadmap for Women’s Careers.” The paper also explores the pervasive role of confidence in women’s development, and offers a set of implications for individuals and institutions.  This forum is not the place to go into detail.  But I do want to emphasize the sharp contrast between the imagined futures of new college graduates who fear their careers will rule out family–with the experience of a generation who began adulthood with at least as many constraints.  These women’s stories suggest the possibilities of a much richer, more adventureous, more complicated and more forgiving reality.


[1] Pseudonym.  Quote from Gersick, C. 2013  “Getting from ‘Keep Out’ to ‘Lean In’: A New Roadmap for Women’s Careers”

[2] Friedman, S.  2013  Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family  Wharton Digital Press  page 5

[3] Friedman, op cit

[6] See Sandberg, S., with Scovell, N.  2013  Lean In  location 118, Kindle edition  New York: Alfred Knopf.

[7] Leibovich, L.  9/30/13  “Debora Spar, Barnard President, Says Women Can’t Have It All — And Shouldn’t Even Try” The Huffington Post


[8] see Levinson, D.  1996  The Seasons of a Woman’s Life  New York, Knopf.  pp. 28-29.