Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Are Women Penalized For Talking About Family At Work?

As is a bit of a tradition around here, one of my friend Penelope Trunk's blog posts lured me into commenting at such length that I decided to do an actual blog post:

In her recent post, Penelope writes about her struggle to avoid branding herself as a mom:

"I intuitively knew to hide my kids when I started having them, because I had already had a rip-roaring career where I steered clear of women who doted on their kids. (It’s always women, even today.)

I made sure to stay in male-dominated departments so as to not get sucked into the kid thing by proximity.

I made sure to take no maternity leave. (A terrible decision, but one that many women make.)

Even with all my precautions, my editor suggested that instead of writing a workplace column I should write a women’s column."

But after trying to hide her true self, Penelope decided she was tired of the masquerade:

"Parents are scared of devaluing themselves by becoming the person at work who lets their kids take over their life.

We don’t value that. Which sets up childhood and adulthood as competing interests. Parents cannot have fulfilling (career-based) adulthoods if they are affording their kids a charmed (home-based) childhood.

If we can start celebrating parents when we see them at work, we’ll all feel more able to make choices that are true to us at our core, and not just true to our desire to conform to historic icons of power at work. After all, the only alternative to being true to ourselves is to feel like a human version of that museum: boring and outdated on the outside, but vibrant and alive inside, with almost no one seeing or even knowing what’s there."

Sadly, I think that it’s much tougher for women than men to be authentic about family at work. Married men actually get a wage premium, since they’re seen as more reliable, more responsible, and need to support their families.

In contrast, I do think women face discrimination. Part of this is the assumption that parenting is less time-intensive for men than women. I’ve always violated this expectation, since for much of the kids’ childhood, my office was closer to school than my wife’s, and my schedule generally more flexible. Nonetheless, the assumption that the mother does most of the work is typically true; I got used to being the only dad at numerous events.

That being said, consider the fact that few would recommend staying in the closet to advance one's career (Hollywood leading men aside!); at some point, you have to be who you are, and damn the consequences.

There’s a reason why the main photo on my personal web site shows me with my entire family:

If somebody wants to discount my value because I prioritize being a husband and father, I want to scare them off up front, so I don't waste my time dealing with them.

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