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Reality Check: Women Want Work/Home Equality and Flexibility

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No doubt The Shriver Report, "A Woman's Nation Changes Everything," meant to stir up debate and discussion.

Hoopla has surrounded the news that women have just about reached parity with men by comprising 50% of the paid workforce; and that women and men agree on much about their evolving roles as both breadwinners and caregivers.

Now here comes the reality check. Judith Warner says in the New York Times that "life for women has not come together." Expectations raised in 1970s for equality at work and at home don't match women's lived reality today. That's why women report in surveys (such as the recent Wharton happiness study) that they are less happy than decades ago. Further, Warner says that reduced happiness by women is an indicator of ways that society has failed women, particularly by failing to address the needs of working families.

One such need is more flexibility at work. Thirty percent of mothers with children under the age of three are in the workforce, points out the Time Magazine/Rockefeller Foundation study released in synch with Shriver's report. Coincidentally, these reports come on the 20th anniversary of the famous Harvard Business Review article that led to the coining of the term "mommy track." Controversial in 1989, today moms and dads both would like more flexible career tracks. Indeed, as Brad Harrington, Director of the Boston College Center for Work and Family, argues:

The highest impact actions that employers can take to help women thrive in business cost almost nothing. These include letting go of outdated mental models that suggest there is only one way to work, there is only one place to work, that a 40+ hour work week is the only model for contributing, and a standardized, rigid career path for all is a desirable norm. Rather, we should aim for highly flexible career models that can be customized to maximize the contributions of all employees, not a one-size-fits-all approach.

The other need is for more equality at home. Women still do a disproportionate share of the child-rearing and housekeeping, even though in many cases they have equal responsibility for supporting their families.

Even President Obama acknowledges that this additional burden is unfair:

If the Shriver report's goal was to get us all talking, thinking, and blogging about the state of women in America today, it succeeded. Now let's get to work on the real changes needed at work and at home.

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