Recently while having coffee with a friend who used to work for one of the largest tech companies on the planet and is now taking a break to be with her three young children, I listened as she pondered familiar questions.
Now that my youngest is in school more regularly, should I take on a little bit of work? I still need flexibility. Should I just volunteer? What can I do that will be helpful when I'm ready to go back to work?
Even though we field concerns like these regularly from moms navigating their careers on Maybrooks, I leaned across the table and said emphatically, "WHY IS THERE NO VALUE PLACED ON THE TIME WE CHOOSE TO BE WITH OUR CHILDREN?"
A few weeks later I read The New York Times piece "The 24/7 Work Culture's Toll on Families and Gender Equality," which talks about how men and women handle the "round-the-clock work pressure" differently and how they are rewarded (or not) differently as a result. I couldn't get this paragraph from the article out of my head:
"When a man left at 5 p.m., people at the office assumed he was meeting a client, Ms. Reid said. When a woman left, they assumed she was going home to her children."
Beyond the blind assumptions around this (Who's to say the man isn't leaving to go for a run or to be with his family? Who's to say the woman doesn't have a client meeting?), the bigger question for me is, "WHY IS THERE NO VALUE PLACED ON THE TIME WE CHOOSE TO BE WITH OUR CHILDREN?"
Why is the idea of a mother leaving to be with her children at dinner time somehow viewed as a bad thing, and more importantly, as a career staller -- particularly given that when men do this they are viewed as good dads and not penalized from a career perspective?
Shouldn't we as a society be OK with this and why does it imply that she's not as committed to the success of the company? What's the point of having children if we can never spend any time with them?
Sheryl Sandberg and her late husband Dave Goldberg may have done more good toward shifting traditional thinking around these assumptions by publicly acknowledging they left work at 5:30 p.m. to have dinner with their children, than any company policy has done so far.
Clearly, there's more work to do and I certainly don't have all the answers, but here's what I do know:
- Women are working hard to make it work -- working the "split shift" by logging off during dinner hours and logging back on after children are in bed. Companies should see and value this.
- Work and life as we know it are in complete conflict with each other. Kindergarten gets out at 2:30 p.m. and sometimes earlier. How does this work for work? Data shows shorter work days are more productive anyway.
- Women make up almost half the workforce and companies with more women in leadership positions make more money.
- Companies bleed $47 billion globally when women leave after having children.
I also know breaks can lead to more creativity and maybe create more opportunities for success. My mom took a 10-year break to be with me and my sister and then parlayed an existing interest in the market into a successful second career as a financial advisor. It's a model that worked well for my whole family, and one I take to heart.