Sure, men stress about career choices, too. But for women, relatively new to this world of work, there are some additional layers that may explain why so many of us are, well, undecided.
One of those layers has to do with time. An interactive chart — good for at least 15 minutes of playtime at your desk — from Sunday’s New York Times Business Section shows, graphically, what various groups of Americans are doing at any given time during the day. For example: at 6:00 p.m., 9 percent of women are at work, 16 percent are home doing chores, and 4 percent are taking care of family.
The chart is fun to play with, but what’s really interesting is the data behind it: the “American Time Use Survey” from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What you find there is that working women still work a second shift after work — which may help explain why “what should I do with my life” can become such a loaded question: we’re welcome in the workforce, but we’re still expected to get it done at home.
For example, on an average day, 20 percent of men did housework — compared with 50 percent of women. As for cooking and cleaning up afterward: 38 percent of men versus 65 percent of women.
Meanwhile, in families with kids under 6, women spent 1.2 hours directly taking care of them — bathing, feeding, etc. Men spent 25 minutes.
Which brings up another layer of angst: many women are in a place where they have young children or have begun to think about starting a family. Suddenly, career choice becomes a matter of careful and excruciating calculation: Women raised to be masters of the universe –but still seeking the flexibility to raise their kids – are pulled in opposite directions: Meaningful career? Meaningful family life? Choices become crucial: how will we find that niche that will allow us to find satisfaction on both ends? What if we don’t? Maybe we came up expecting to achieve the male model of success; now we realize it’s impossible. Or we’re agonized and guilty because, with all this grand, amorphous opportunity, we find we don’t want that model of success anymore.
Or, maybe, the scrutiny. As Shannon pointed out, women in the workplace are often judged in ways that men are not.
Sunday’s New York Times raised this question on its opinion blog: Do Women Make Better Bosses? (Accompanied, of course, by a headshot of Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly. But let’s not go there.) The question was posed in response to an interview with Carol Smith, the senior vice president and chief brand officer for the Elle Group, published last week, in which Smith said she thought women tended to be “better managers, better advisers, mentors and rational thinkers” as opposed to male bosses who “love to hear themselves talk.”
Several smart people chimed in, pro or con, some citing credible research. Well and good. But really, I couldn’t help wondering: Exactly why are we still having this conversation?