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Journalism's slow death

Balancing home and work

BalanceAs the father of two daughters, I'm glad Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In, kicked off a healthy discussion about gender bias.

I passed up such a discussion in OtherWise to focus more on sexual orientation. Now I'm sorry I didn't cover both.

First, it's obvious we all suffer some degree of gender bias. Sandberg herself described the famous Heidi/Howard experiment in which students were asked to read the case study of a successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist. In half the cases, the VC was named Heidi; in the other half, Howard.

The students thought Heidi and Howard were equally competent. But they liked Howard more.  They thought Heidi was too "selfish" and said they wouldn't want to work with her.

Who knew having two X chromosones could be such a deadweight? 

 Nilofer Merchant, over at the Harvard Business Review, quantifies the resulting disparity in male and female achievement. "Women hold just ... 18% (of seats) in the US Congress," she points out. "Just 21 of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, a measly 4%. Women hold just 16% of board seats."

The same is true further down the executive food chain: although women hold more than half of professional and managerial positions in corporate America, they account for only 14% of C-suite executives. (More: here.)

Corporate executives have two principal excuses for the under-representation of women in top jobs.

The first is that there just aren't enough qualified women in the pipeline.

But when reminded that more than 50% of college graduates have been women since the early 1980's, they hasten to their second excuse: women aren't willing to put in the hours necessary to get the top jobs.

Being a top executive -- or partner in a law firm -- is a 24/7 proposition, they say. Women want to have kids, and then they want to spend time with them. Men's most enthusiastic involvement in chidcare centers on the period of conception and quickly cools thereafter. 

Ms. Sandberg's solution to this dilemma is to suggest that women "lean in," i.e., make their ambition known, take on tough assignments, etc. Then develop a strategy to split time between work and home.

Now, I've worked for women, and I've had women reporting directly to me. They all leaned in as far as I would let them.

Indeed, I promoted several of them because they were not only more intelligent, conscientious, and energetic than their peers (male and female), but because they were driven.

I knew that I could count on them to put in long hours and to take on big challenges. Apparently, others came to the same conclusion because eventually they all ended up in C-suite positions at other companies. 

Most of them had kids and a working spouse. I have no idea how they balanced work and family life. And I didn't care. Because I wasn't particularly concerned about the balance in my own life.

And that, friends, is the real problem.

The issue isn't how to carve out more space so women can fit in their kids. It's how to organize work so men and women can have a life outside the office. Jody Greenstone-Miller had some practical suggestions in last Saturday's Wall Street Journal.

The business model of most law and accounting firms is based on paying associates for 40 hours work a week and getting 60 to 80 hours of billable time out of them.

Corporations have adopted a similar approach. Since the 1970s, management ranks have been downsized to the point that the managers left are doing the work of one and a half to two people. 

It's time to recognize that having a fulfilling home and work life shouldn't only be a woman's goal, but everyone's. 

That's my hope for my two daughters and for my son, as well as for my four grandsons.


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