I recently read the book Womenomics, by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, which focuses on how women can take charge in the workplace and negotiate for more intangibles that we need in order to balance our busy lives. I was excited to see what these two seasoned reporters would say on the elusive work-life balance topic, particularly in relation to working mothers. What I discovered was that although they were able to work out flexible arrangements in their lives, I felt that many of the recommendations in the book were not realistic for women in many jobs, especially those working in politics.
Picture the national campaign office: it's full of young twenty and thirty-something healthy, energetic men and women working for candidates and causes that they believe in, and the officers in these organizations tend to be older men who have been doing this for years -- often divorced, and certainly frazzled.
The candidates and elected officials, while they look polished on the outside, have worked long hours for years, they have created shells for themselves in order to survive the world of politics, and they have very little time with their families. They have very little, if any, privacy left and their every move is scrutinized. And the women candidates and campaigners -- if they have lasted more than ten years in this pressure cooker -- it's a wonder they have anything left at all.
Tell any of these people to try and negotiate for less hours on the job -- whether they work in a congressional office, whether they're a statewide elected official, or a communications person for a campaign -- they'll laugh in your face. Politics is a cutthroat world. The reason there are so many political consultants isn't necessarily that these people want to make so much money off of candidates and campaigns but that many of these people have realized that if they work directly for the candidates or electeds, they have no time for themselves. Sure, people can make it work. There are women working in the White House who have three kids. There are elected women who make it home every weekend to their children. But these are the exceptions, not the norm.
Womenomics is a great concept, and it cuts to the heart of the problem of why there aren't more women running for office, as does Meghan Harvey's post about Lisa Madigan. We need more women and men fighting for flexibility and realistic solutions for everyone to be more engaged in politics. It's not just about getting more women elected. It's about empowering those women, allowing them to be themselves and not have to act like men or be judged by a different set of criteria. It's about providing opportunities for all who choose less hours in order to spend more time with their children or their ailing parents, or to take on volunteer work, for example.
What we need is a paradigm shift on a national level -- in business, in politics, in media, in our homes and our places of worship -- something that will bring everyone together. The average U.S. worker has less vacation days than in every other country in the world except Mexico, according to Womenomics. We should be appalled by this. The list goes on and on, and it's a complex issue to be sure, but the first step is in acknowledging there's a problem. For women and others who want more professional flexibility -- including in politics -- we need to fight for more opportunities for ourselves and our children, so that we can do the work that we love and not feel like we have to choose between that and everything else that we hold dear.
Sarah Granger is the Director of New Media for WomenCount and a contributing editor for MOMocrats, The Political Voices of Women, and BlogHer.
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