Skip to main content

I was surprised to discover (in my early 20s) that I didn’t like being in the Navy. I had looked forward to serving in the military for so long. What was going on?

I knew it wasn’t my colleagues. I loved them. It was the culture: aggressive, black-and-white, fast-moving, demanding, pitiless. I paid close attention to the women who were successful in this masculine environment. They either were or they acted masculine, too.

When I trained for the Navy, there was a lot of celebratory talk about the inroads women were making in the military. We thought it was win for feminism that we were allowed to do jobs that had previously been open only to men.

But in the end, it felt like a hollow victory. I wanted a feminism that didn’t stop with token representation, but which reshaped the world of work to include feminine values – cooperation, caring and caretaking, empathy – and took family life seriously.

I thought I would find more of this type of feminism outside the military, but it is rare on a large scale. In those contexts, the “ideal worker” remains the 1950s archetype of the employee with no caregiving responsibilities or life outside work, because there is a spouse at home full time running that show.

There are pockets, though, particularly in women-owned and small businesses. I am fortunate to have among my clients women in corporate who are reshaping the world of work around their values. They inspire me to keep an eye out for news and analysis of this evolution.

There has been a bounty lately, and I wanted to share it with you. Here is news from one of the frontlines of feminism: the ongoing negotiation between work and our real human lives.

“Leaving the Office at 5 Is Not a Moral Failing.” By Jessica Grose, New York Times, August 16, 2023.

This article is a response to billionaires Elon Musk and Jamie Dimon shaming people for working from home or having lives that they tend outside of work. It reframes the new concepts of “quiet quitting” and “lazy girl jobs” as people putting legitimate boundaries around work and maintains that there is a vast difference between shirking responsibility and unlimited availability. It also challenges the equation of quantity of time at work to quality and profitability:

“Laying down acceptable boundaries between the home and work lives of your employees doesn’t mean less profit. A four-day workweek pilot program in Britain, for instance, was so successful that 92 percent of the companies participating said they would continue to offer the truncated schedule because there was no loss of productivity; in fact, it seemed to boost productivity…. ‘The study also found that companies’ revenue stayed broadly the same on average over the trial period — and that attrition among employees dropped significantly.’”

Women Did Everything Right. Then Work Got ‘Greedy.’ By Claire Cain Miller, New York Times, April 26, 2019.

Speaking of billionaires: “Three-quarters of men in the top 1 percent of earners have an at-home spouse. Just a quarter of women in the top 1 percent of earners do — and they are likely to be self-employed, suggesting that they have more control over their hours.”

It’s not your imagination. This is an article about the premium paid to people in “greedy” jobs – the kind where you are expected to work long hours and be available nights and weekends. Women earn as much as men in these jobs until they have children, at which point women are three times as likely as men to quit to be available at home. They often take a less “greedy” job, with normal or fewer hours and flexibility, but earn disproportionately less. From the woman profiled: “Being willing to work 50 percent more doesn’t mean you make 50 percent more. You make like 100 percent more…. The trade-off between time and money is not linear.”

As one analyst said, “Women don’t step back from work because they have rich husbands…. They have rich husbands because they step back from work.”

Can the Dream of the Four-Day Workweek Start with Restaurants? By Regan Stephens, New York Times, August 8, 2023.

Another lesson in work-life balance from the pandemic. When COVID-19 curtailed their operation, these restauranteurs noticed improvements in retention and employee happiness. They decided the benefits were worth it and kept the four-day week.

How to Feel Happier at Work When You Have the Urge to Quit. By Christina Caron, New York Times, July 30, 2023.

Here’s a little life-coach-y article about thinking through your options when you’re unhappy at work and finding the power and choices you have short of quitting. It highlights that you don’t have to simply acquiesce to the apparent terms of your employment. You co-create them. It starts with mindset.

How’s your work-life balance? In what ways are you “being the change” you want to see?

Join the discussion 2 Comments

Leave a Reply