A new study suggests that when boundaries blur between work and home, women feel guilty. Men? Nope. Even when after-hours demands are the same.
Women? Guilt? Well, duh, right?
But here’s what’s interesting. The findings held true whether the work demands actually interfered with home life or not. And here’s what’s more interesting: The study also found that women didn’t even have to have families to feel distressed when work came home.
Call it the unintended consequences of the “always on” life: the electronica that makes it so easy to bring work home that, you know, we bring work home. But why should women feel the pressure of the phonecalls, emails, texts and tweets more so than men? The authors blame cultural conditioning. Over at Jezebel, Irin Carmon does, too:
… there are several things at play here, including the obvious aspect that women are culturally conditioned to feel guilty about doing exactly what their male counterparts are doing: Earning a living. (Remember the moral of the story in The Devil Wears Prada, in which the protagonist becoming good at her demanding job is conflated with abandoning her values and her boyfriend and friends? In which she watches a woman at the top of her game lose her husband?) We’re also constantly expected to make it look effortless, with which a frantic late night call or email tends to interfere.
We’re also soft-wired — or maybe hard-wired — to please. An urgent (aren’t they all?) text or email from a [student, client, editor, boss, insert one] shoots in just before we flop into bed? We respond. We’d feel bad if we didn’t — and feel bad when we do.
Now. We could solve this angst by going off the grid the minute we walk inside the front door. Thus, fixing ourselves. But, that’s not going to happen, is it? Especially given the above. Not to mention the need for a paycheck. So let’s work on the culture itself, shall we? Both the culture of the workplace and the social culture, too. And to change all that, sisters, we need to fight for getting more of us in high places. If that sounds like a call for quotas, as you might find in some Scandinavian countries — what the hell, let’s go there. Because, guess what? It’s even better for the bottom line.
More about the money below, but first, let’s go back to that study, which was published this month in the “Journal of Social Behavior and Health”:
“… these results suggest that work contact may not necessarily inhibit the performance of domestic roles, but they still can have health implications in the form of negative self-appraisals and the feelings of guilt that may arise when the boundary separating work and family life becomes blurred.
And for women, the authors write, even though “gendered role identities” have long since changed, we’re still stuck with the weight of the old expectations. We’re caught in this shifting cultural landscape, one foot in the way things were, the other in the way things are. And consequently, feel rotten. As the authors of the study told Science Daily:
“Initially, we thought women were more distressed by frequent work contact because it interfered with their family responsibilities more so than men,” says lead author Paul Glavin, a PhD candidate in sociology at [University of Toronto]. “However, this wasn’t the case. We found that women are able to juggle their work and family lives just as well as men, but they feel more guilty as a result of being contacted. This guilt seems to be at the heart of their distress.”
The study’s co-author, sociologist Scott Schieman, says it’s all about differing expectations:
“While women have increasingly taken on a central role as economic providers in today’s dual-earner households, strong cultural norms may still shape ideas about family responsibilities. These forces may lead some women to question or negatively evaluate their family role performance when they’re trying to navigate work issues at home.”
Sigh. Now what? Well, we can sit around and feel guilty for, uh, feeling guilty. I was raised Irish Catholic, after all. I can definitely go there. But still, I vote for Door No. 2: Changing the structures and cultural norms that leave us in this land of mea culpa. And for that, we need more women at the top: women who themselves know what it is to feel this angst. And then there’s this: if changing structures, revamping expectations, and redefining the whole concept of worklife don’t-call-it-balance isn’t enough to make us fight for more women in high places, let’s knock on the door of enlightened self-interest. This is where the money comes in.
The WSJ reports that the two companies that had the best stock-market gains in 2010 were run by, you guessed it, women. In the piece, consultant Ann de Jaeger says it’s crucial to get more women into the boardroom — simply to boost profits. But she also says that one reason only 3 percent of the boards of the Fortune 500 are comprised of women is that women have had to fit into the male model — or not fit in at all. Asked why successful women often leave their companies before they can be promoted, she says:
Because at a particular point, they realize that they have been too busy being someone else instead of themselves and therefore cannot bring their best to the table. Women seem to adapt to the prevailing – male – culture as they rise on the corporate ladder. They are not even aware of the fact that they are doing this – they simply play along and adapt out of a sheer survival instinct.
And then, bow out. When asked what we need to do to get women upstairs, she edges ever closer to the Euro-idea of quotas:
It would be preferable if the drive to do something about gender balance came from within companies – from the strategic need to reflect the market and the talent pipeline in decision-making bodies.
On the other hand, we see every day that progress is very, very slow. Too many companies adopt a compliance approach, a “fix the women” strategy – as if they can tick a box, run a couple of events, provide amenities that make life a little easier, but they don’t allow for real inclusiveness.
Fix the women? Or fix the structures? I know what I choose. Without the slightest trace of guilt.