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Posts Tagged ‘second shift’

I’m starting to wonder if this presidential election might hinge on apron strings.

In the wake of the last debate, we’ve all been caught up in binders and trapper-keepers and funny Facebook memes – along with some hijinks on Amazon, where a bunch of smartypants hijacked several binder pages.  I think we’re missing the point.

According to the New York Times, both Obama and Romney are in hot pursuit of the women’s vote.  Which is to say, they seem to think that Double Xers may determine the next president of the United States:

 … And on the campaign trail and on the air, the candidates and their allies argued intensely all day over who would do more to help women. At the same time, the topic of whether the heated encounter Tuesday night had alienated the very female voters they were seeking to connect with became fodder for cable TV discussions.

The level of intensity left little doubt that the election was coming down not only to a state-by-state fight for territory, but also to one for the allegiance of vital demographic groups, chief among them undecided women.

Whew.  Whether the chattering class is right or wrong, it appears we have a lot more power than we’ve had in quite the while.  Let’s think this through.

The bedrock issue in the debate over the women’s vote has had to do with reproductive rights:  abortion and contraception.  Key issues.  Agreed.  Especially because the next president will more than likely be appointing one, or maybe two, justices to the Supreme Court, who may hold the future of Roe V. Wade in their hands.

And then there’s the funding of Planned Parenthood, which not only provides family planning services, but also provides women without health insurance life-saving care for breast cancer, among other medical issues.  My friend was one of them.

But the real issue as I see it is the vision of women’s role in the workplace and the home.  I found one of Gov. Romney’s responses in the debate to be key.  The question had to do with inequalities in the workplace, including the pay gap — Go here for a state-by-state chart of gender pay inequity — which the Governor sidestepped with the unfortunate comment about binders.  What I found revealing, not to mention troubling, was the end of his response, which related to the woman he had hired as chief of staff while governor of Massachusetts:

 Now, one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort, but number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can’t be here until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5:00 so I can be there for — making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said, fine, let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.

On the surface: flexible schedule.  Good.  One of the issues we’ve been writing about is the challenge faced by working women, who put in the same hours as their male counterparts, and then have to dig into the second shift when they get home.  But look again at the governor’s answer, then ask yourself this:  Where was the chief of staff’s husband and/or kids’ daddy at 5:00?

That’s it, right?

Why is it that in 2012 some folks still assume that household and childcare duties are women’s work?  And why, as one of the sources in our book fumed, do we plant work life balance smack in the middle of the “women’s issues” silo?  Shouldn’t this be a human issue?  A family issue?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I cook dinner most nights, no matter what time I get home from work.  And I’m damn good at it.  No, scratch that.  I’m really good at it:  I inherited my culinary mojo from a long line of incredible Italian cooks (Ask me about my aunts’ gnocchi or cannoli sometime, or my mother’s ability to throw together anything fantastic without a recipe).  Plus, I like to eat good food.  But that’s my choice.  Proscribed gender roles have nothing to do with it.

The issue here, as the presidential election heads down the home stretch, has to do with perception as well as policy.  And I suspect that the nuances of the latter are often driven by the former.  And in this case, the perception in question is gender roles in the home as well as the workplace.

Cue the aprons.

The most recent time-use survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that women still own the second shift. Most telling stats?

On an average day, 19 percent of men did housework–such as cleaning or doing laundry–compared with 48 percent of women. Forty percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 66 percent of women.

All of which, presumably, is on top of a 52 hour work week.

Now, can a president do anything to change all that?  Probably not.  But given that I have been given a lot of power in this election, my vote goes to the guy who doesn’t assume my place is in an apron.

Speaking of which, my husband is wearing one right now.  I’ve got one eye on the Giants game as I write this.  He’s firing up the ‘que and throwing together a salad.

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The other day, a good friend who is Swedish emailed me a link  to post by Ann Charlott Altstadt, a Swedish writer who suggests that when life gets us down, we’d sometimes be better off ditching the trip to the yoga studio or the psychologist and seeing a sociologist instead.

Funny, my friend said, but true.

Being as how my knowledge of Swedish is, well, limited to the Muppets’ Swedish Chef, I google-translated the piece and, given a few glitches, I think I caught the drift:  When you find yourself in some deep weeds, it’s not always you that needs fixing.  Rather than placating yourselves with feel-good measures, you ought to look toward the structures that are causing all the grief in the first place.

In other words: Ain’t me, babe.  It’s you.

If you can get past the cyber-translation, which is more than a little wacky in places, here’s a taste of what Altstadt had to say:

 … it was so liberating when psychologist and author Jenny Jäger Feldt … questioned the trendiest and most fashionable solution to all our social problems-mindfulness. For example, if 90 percent in a workplace feel stressed, it probably is not a personal problem, and how can it be? …. Can the solution be to stand and smell for 10 minutes on the fish stick pack you just opened for dinner?

If you read women’s magazine, you get an intravenous overdose of the millions of images on the hyper-aesthetic women sitting with eyes closed in yoga position. Women take care of themselves, treat themselves and enjoy in their home spa. The woman in perfect balance in the sofa corner with folklore blanket sipping a giant cup of soothing herbal tea is a genre of its own class with religious myths of the Middle Ages.

Hit the like button.  As my Swedish friend points out, so much of the rhetoric these days is about us taking responsibility for how we react and feel.  But what if our negative reactions are normal and warranted?

Indeed.  We’re led to believe that if we’re not happy, if we’re less than content, there’s something wrong with us.  But what if those negative feelings alert us to a structure in need of a fix?  When we’re unhappy/stressed/worried/angry/sad — pick one — it may well be the absolute proper response to a situation where, if we were calm and peaceful, THAT would be a sign of crazy. When we are stretched too thin, when we’re struggling with the second shift, when we’re overworked and underpaid, when we’re striving for that elusive thing called perfect, when we’re relentlessly undecided, maybe it’s not us that needs help — it’s the system.

The structures themselves.  Cue the sociologist.

And yet, we’re led to believe that if we would  just, you know, dig the moment with a steaming cup of herbal tea, all would be right with the world.

All of which reminds me of a crazy notion we wrote about a couple years ago: on-the-job happiness coaching:

According to the Wall Street Journal, corralling employees in a conference room and showing them how to make happy is apparently the new black:

Happiness coaching is seeping into the workplace. A growing number of employers, including UBS, American Express, KPMG and the law firm Goodwin Procter, have hired trainers who draw on psychological research, ancient religious traditions or both to inspire workers to take a more positive attitude—or at least a neutral one. Happiness-at-work coaching is the theme of a crop of new business books and a growing number of MBA-school courses.

The coaching stuff seems silly, at least to me, but we see vestiges of this happiness-building stuff all the time:  workplace massage chairs.  Free sessions with a work-life coach.  Oatmeal-raisin cookies (my personal favorite) in the front office.  All of which might feel great at the time, but is it all a way to placate us, to keep us smiling so that we won’t notice that we’re overworked, that we deserve a raise, that your buddy in the next cube just got laid off, that the list of things-to-do-when-you-get home is longer than your right arm, that we’re still making only seventy-seven cents to the guy‘s buck?  To keep us from questioning why we need the massage chairs in the first place?

To keep us thinking that if it’s happy and serene that we want, all we need do is stop and smell the chamomile?

Or, as Altstadt writes, the fish stick pack.  Anyway, she writes that she’s tried mindfulness and that all it does is stress her out.  Instead of sitting around thinking about reality, what she’d rather do is change it.

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Had it to here with that old second shift? How about this for a solution: Workplace benefits packages that include housework — as well as healthcare?

That’s what two Stanford professors proposed in an article published this week in the current issue of Academe. They argue that one way for universities to keep more women in the labs is to find a way to get them out of the kitchen. To which the only possible response is:

“Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Clearly, it’s a workplace policy to consider beyond the confines of the ivory tower. But that’s as good a place as any to start. The authors of the study — Londa Shiebinger, Professory of History of Science and Director of the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and Shannon Gilmartin, Clayman Institute analyst — looked at the work-life balance of dual-career academic couples at 13 U.S. research universities. What they found is that the scientists spent about 19 hours a week cooking, cleaning and washing clothes. Women, rather than men, did the bulk of the work, a whopping 54 percent to 28 percent.

Here’s what they propose:

Our policy recommendation provides a solution to one key aspect of balancing work and life. We propose that institutions extend their current benefits program to support assistance with household labor. Few universities to date have looked at reforms related to housework. U.S. employers tend to provide specific benefits for health care, day care, and sometimes even housing and college tuition. We recommend that institutions offer instead a “cafeteria” or “flexstyle” benefits plan from which employees could tailor a package to meet their particular needs (retirement benefits should remain as they are now, fixed and not optional).

Employee needs can change over the course of a lifetime. Younger people, for example, may need assistance with household labor when salaries are low. Those who have children may choose to put resources into child care and later into college tuition. Some employees may need help with elder care. A flexible benefits package—providing a specific yearly dollar amount—could be used for any aspect of private life that saves employee time and hence enhances productivity. One appealing aspect of this benefit proposal is its inclusivity—one need not be partnered or have children to gain access to the full range of services under its umbrella.

To our knowledge, U.S. employers generally do not provide a benefit to assist with housework. Some non-U.S. companies, such as Sony Ericsson in Sweden, do. There, the company pays for housecleaning from select service providers. The Swedish government is currently experimenting with tax relief on domestic services, believing that, despite initial costs, Sweden will benefit in the long run by creating new jobs and reducing illegal employment and exploitation in services for cleaning, gardening, and cooking. In the United States, the effort to provide benefits for domestic labor revalues housework that has never been represented in the nation’s gross domestic product. Housework has been invisible labor carried out by women behind closed doors and often in the wee hours of the morning. This work needs to be lifted out of the private sphere of the family and put onto the national grid. The United States needs to capture the talents of its female scientific workforce for science.

It’s a policy that could, and should, be applied to all professions, not just science, Schiebinger said in an interview originally posted on Stanford Reports:

While the study is focused on improving the work-life balance of female scientists working at universities, Schiebinger says housework benefits should become a standard perk for men and women in all professions.

She says employers need to think of housework benefits as “part of the structural cost of doing business,” with the payoff being more productive employees able to spend more time in the lab, for instance, than doing household chores.

“It doesn’t seem like a good use of resources to be training people in science and then having them do laundry,” Schiebinger said in reference to Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University, who was doing laundry when she got the call in October that she won the Nobel Prize in medicine.

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Here’s another one for the Well, Duh file. Women need more sleep.

I bring this up not because I like to make Well, Duh-style proclamations. On the contrary; I tend to prefer proclamations of the Wowee! variety. I bring it up because this week, Arianna Huffington and Glamour magazine EIC Cindi Leive have issued a New Year’s Call to Arms on the Huffington Post: “Sleep Challenge 2010: Women, It’s Time to Sleep Our Way to the Top. Literally.”

Sounds great, right? Not so fast. As Feministing’s Jessica put it:

But here’s the thing – what Huffington and Leive are really talking about is sexism, not sleep.

Let’s back up, shall we? From the HuffPo piece:

“Women are significantly more sleep-deprived than men,” confirms Michael Breus, Ph.D., author of Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep. “They have so many commitments, and sleep starts to get low on the totem pole. They may know that sleep should be a priority, but then, you know, they’ve just got to get that last thing done. And that’s when it starts to get bad.”

…Getting a good night’s sleep, of course, is easier said than done. You have to tune out a host of temptations, from Letterman to the PTA to your e-mail inbox — and most of all, to ignore the workaholic wisdom that says you’re lazy for not living up to the example set by Madonna, Martha Stewart and other notorious self-professed never-sleepers. Of course, the truth is the opposite: You’ll be much more likely to be a professional powerhouse if you’re not asleep at the wheel. (Even Bill Clinton, who used to famously get only five hours of sleep, later admitted, “Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.” Huh! ) The problem is that women often feel that they still don’t “belong” in the boys-club atmosphere that still dominates many workplaces. So they often attempt to compensate by working harder and longer than the next guy. Hard work helps women fit in and gain a measure of security. And because it works, they begin to do more and more and more of it until they can’t stop. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory: The workaholism leads to lack of sleep, which in turn leads to never being able to do your best. In fact, many women do this on purpose, fueled by the mistaken idea that getting enough sleep means you must be lazy or less than passionate about your work and your life.

Maybe. Or maybe, as Dr. Breus pointed out, it’s more to do with the fact that many of us are so overloaded with tasks and to-dos, first shifts and second shifts, there simply isn’t any time left over for sleep. (And it’s worth mentioning that the not getting enough sleep thing is a notoriously vicious cycle: The more we take on, the more stressed we are about all we have to get done–and how and when we’re going to get it done. And stress has a rather nasty way of messing with our zzzs. And, in the face of a packed day after a restless night, well, coffee becomes our BFF–until, like a fickle 5 year-old, the clock strikes X and we ditch that BFF for another one–named Malbec. Or whatever. And then we go to bed, worrying about whether or not sleep will come… Rinse, repeat.)

Sleep deprivation, of course, comes with all sorts of nasty side effects, as the HuffPo piece points out. Among them: illness, stress, traffic accidents, weight gain (let no fat card go unplayed). But wait, there’s more!

Rob yourself of sleep, ladies, and you’ll find you never function at your personal best. Work decisions, relationship challenges, any life situation that requires you to know your own mind–they all require the judgment, problem-solving and creativity that only a rested brain is capable of and are all handled best when you bring to them the creativity and judgment that are enhanced by sleep.

Well yeah. Who could argue with that? We all know we should get more sleep. We know how it feels to slog through a busy day in the fog of exhaustion–how impossible it is to think straight. But what rubs me wrong about the whole thing is this: I can’t shake the sense that this is yet another instance in which something that’s societal, systemic, is trivialized by framing it as a personal issue. Yes, we should all aim to get a little more sleep. But the fact is, the modern workplace–of which women are on track to become the majority, like, any second now–is still set up as though the workers who fill it were Don Draper clones, men with a full-time Betty at home, able to take care of all of the stuff that keeps a life running smoothly. But the ladies (and gentlemen) of today don’t have a Betty. She took off to Vegas, baby. So we do our best Don–and then we make the time to get Betty’s job done, too. We work our full day–and then we fold the clothes. And do the grocery shopping. And pick up the dry cleaning. And attempt to cook healthy items (or contend with the parking lot at our favorite take-out joint), to exercise, to socialize, to sleep. To quote Germaine Greer yet again:

When we talk about women having it all, what they really have all of is the work.

Or, as Lisa Belkin put it, over at the NYT Motherlode:

The reason women don’t sleep as well as men is not because of our misguided workaholic tendencies, or our short-sighted need to prove ourselves, but because the world, as it is constructed, gives women more to DO. Particularly during the hours when we should be sleeping. Some of this we can’t control — a baby who needs to nurse at 1 a.m. and again at 3 a.m., for instance, or the fact that at least one study found women wake more easily to a baby’s cry than men. We have those hormonal insomnia issues, too, and, with time, hot flashes and night sweats.

Other reasons are handed to us by society. The expectation is that mom will work a second shift, filling her evening with homework checking and lunch fixing and bedtime storytelling and clutter picking-upping and laundry sorting. Then, after that, so many of us get back to the pile of work we brought home from the office — an office we left early in order to be home for dinner. Yes, men do this more and more in many homes, but the social expectation is that this is still a mother’s job, and shaking it requires more than a simple declaration that we will get more sleep.

It’s enough to make me cry out for my blankie! So what are we to do, aside from putting ourselves down for a little bonus shut-eye every now and then? A good start might be recognizing the only marginally deeper truths in “personal challenges” likes this for the eye-openers that they are.

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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?

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