A vicious cycle for men who put family first

HuffPo’s Emily Peck ran a great Q&A with a father who wanted to use company leave benefits after his wife gave birth, but was denied. (Full disclosure: When Peck was at WSJ, she edited several posts I wrote for the paper’s site about balancing working and family.)

In the HuffPo Q&A, Josh Levs described how he was told that he was ineligible for paid caregiving leave when his third child was born. Levs said:

“There’s a vicious cycle punishing men who put family first. So many businesses reward men for just staying at the office for longer. Today’s dads are very involved at work, but the people in the C-suites are the few men who admit they don’t prioritize their family. They believe work-life conflict is a woman’s problem. They’re wrong.”

As Woman’s Work has noted before, it’s important for more men to appreciate their economic stake in caregiving. And as Levs makes clear, he and lots of other dads would like to spend more time with their little ones. A society that no longer labels caregiving as a “woman’s issue” is one that may move closer to properly valuing such work, and expanding opportunities for men and women to take the time needed to care for kids and older relatives without facing a financial shock.


Men who can’t take advantage of company leave benefits certainly have cause for complaint. But a big-picture view of the U.S. shows an unpleasant truth: The less money you make, the less likely you are to have access to paid leave, and women are overrepresented in the most common low-wage occupations. Women of color, in particular, tend to make less than their white counterparts.

Of note, in a 2014 report on the economics of paid leave, the White House points to an interesting phenomenon: While almost four-in-10 workers say they can take some paid leave to welcome a new child, just 11% of workers are actually covered by paid leave policies.

What’s going on? The paper explains: “The gap between workers’ and employers’ reports suggests that informal arrangements with managers and the use of other forms of leave, like paid vacation, may currently be playing an important role.”

So it seems that there is employer awareness of the importance of paid leave. But companies remain wary of formalizing policies. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to lag other major economies on mandating access to paid parental leave, but some states are supporting workers with such benefits.



Speaking of women not entering high-paying occupations…

…a new study shows that fewer than 10% of fund managers are women.

Also, according to Morningstar, a Chicago-based investment research and management firm: “Women exclusively run only 2% of assets under management in the $12.6 trillion U.S. open-end mutual fund universe.”

Here’s a look at how underrepresented women are as fund managers:


Morningstar also pointed out that women’s funds don’t underperform:

“Overall, our data suggest that, from a performance standpoint, women are holding their own as fund managers, despite their small numbers and despite running more-expensive and noncore funds.”


Here’s hoping that candidates for prez talk about fair pay


As presidential hopefuls try to woo voters with a mix of forced folksiness, semi-concealed vitriol and chiseled talking points, here’s hoping that the issue of fair pay is in the spotlight.

Men and women with comparable skills and experience who do the same job should get the same pay. That proposition seems obvious, but research signals that there’s still an illegitimate pay gap between sexes in the U.S.

One (very) rough estimate of that gap, based on U.S. Labor Department data, shows that full-time women workers make about 81.6 cents for each dollar men make. A couple of major factors contribute to the gap:

–Women make up the majority of the country’s largest low-paying occupations, such as child care workers and home health aides.

–Women are more likely than men to leave the labor force for some period of time to act as a family caregiver, whether for a child or an older relative, giving up some career experience.

Once researchers take such factors into account they find a narrower pay gap.

But here’s a disturbing trend: The pay gap is also evident early in workers’ careers, before the needs of kids and aging parents typically come into play. For example, a study by economists with Harvard and the University of Chicago found that at just one year after MBA graduation, median earnings for women were 83% of men’s.

There’s a similar gap among those with no more than a high school degree. These women earn about 86 cents for each dollar earned by men with comparable education, after adjusting for factors such as age, full-time versus part-time status, industry, and occupation, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office, investigators for Congress.

It’s taboo in the U.S. for workers to speak openly with each other about earnings, so it’s hard to pin down when employers hand out unfair wages. This silence creates urgency for leaders to loudly address the importance of fair pay.

In a speech last week in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton spoke about equal pay. She isn’t every Democrat’s cup of tea (and many Republicans seem to have a visceral negative reaction to her), but she made an important point when she said that equal pay isn’t just a woman’s issue. Rather, whole families are affected when employers unfairly treat women workers:

“The truth is that when any parent is shortchanged, the entire family is shortchanged…We should promote pay transparency across our economy to ensure women have the information they need to negotiate fairly.”

She also spoke about the need for paid leave, getting more women into higher paying occupations and enabling working parents to have flexible schedules. These are topics to be visited in future Woman’s Work posts.

Hopefully, Clinton’s speech won’t be the last time a major candidate addresses equal pay. It would be great to hear some Republican ideas about how to cut sex-based wage inequality.


This is sort of disturbing


So, Polly Phillips, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mother who recently wrote unabashedly about lusting after a pair of $750 shoes for months (she clearly has way too much free time), and I have something in common. We agree that there is great value in caregiving and household work.

Phillips wrote in the New York Post: “To me, there can be nothing more feminist than believing that staying home to take care of our daughter — as well as the day-to-day washing, ironing, cooking and cleaning — is just as worthy of a wage as going out to a job outside the home.”

That’s a sentiment that I can get behind. But other aspects of this woman’s outlook and habits just seem, frankly, distasteful. For example, she describes leaving her child with family members during a “week-long splurge” on Chanel and other luxury labels. I mean, I’m all for some occasional retail therapy, but why spend a full week shopping? After the first few hours, or even days, doesn’t it get boring? Does a bit of self-loathing start to creep in after, I don’t know, day four? It’s not like this is a woman who only whips out her wallet during that one week per year.

All this to say, it just feels a bit odd to agree with Phillips about anything, especially something as important as the economic value of “woman’s work.”

Go figure.


p.s. The shoes in the picture are $750 flats from Chanel. That’s some pricey mediocrity.

For those interested in all things about women in the U.S. workforce…

…here’s a link to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau, which describes itself as “The only federal agency devoted exclusively to the concerns of women in the labor force.”

The site leads with a reminder that the U.S. is the sole developed nation that doesn’t mandate some paid maternity leave. Indeed, the U.S. is the only country within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a 34-nation group that includes some of the world’s largest economies, that provides zero weeks of paid maternity leave (check out the table below). Meanwhile The International Labour Organization, a U.N. agency that sets “decent” work standards, says maternity benefits should be at least 14 weeks.



Fairly valuing woman’s work is about more than cash

Alia’s post highlights how hard it is for employed women to find a happy mix of hours spent working versus caregiving. The issue stems, in part, from feeling that others don’t fairly value the time that working women spend on kids and household chores.

Bean counters can estimate the dollar value of household work. A couple could, say, use the U.S. Labor Department’s list of occupational wages to calculate that the five minutes a wife spends wiping down the table after dinner is worth about 90 cents. But that estimate doesn’t include all of the benefits that her family picks up with each swipe of the dishtowel. Children watching their mother clean after dinner learn to value a hygienic home and to take responsibility for caring for their property and the health of loved ones.

Here’s another issue: For women who like their jobs, paid employment is typically more interesting than doing another load of dishes. So even when a woman makes less than her partner, she may still feel like she’s giving up a lot — pay and psychological benefits — by taking on the lion’s share of housework.

While looking for data about household work, I came across an interesting table from the Labor Department’s annual estimate of how Americans use their time. Among employed adults with kids under 6, men work about 1.7 hours more than women per day. Employed women spend those 1.7 hours caring for kids, cooking and cleaning, among other activities.


Of note, even while an employed woman is at the office, she frequently acts as the default parent and homemaker, dealing with school nurses calling to get a sniffling kid picked up and arranging for the plumber to fix a burst pipe, all while responding to requests from her boss.

In homes where there’s a substantial pay difference between employed adults, an uneven split for household chores may be satisfactory. But even in these families, the division of labor may be too stratified, with working women’s household chores significantly undervalued.

Increasing men’s appreciation for the full economic worth of caregiving could help families move closer to a system that feels fair to each adult. When more men carve out more time to spend with their kids and at home, a greater share of the country will have a stake in properly valuing “woman’s work.”


Women navigating work and family

As a woman in the U.S., having kids and a job outside of the home is a complicated and occasionally fraught life. Despite steps forward in terms of workplace equality — pregnancy non-discrimination and the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example — women still struggle to accommodate the demands of earning a living and having and caring for kids and family. More so if you’re a single parent, poor, undocumented, non-white or disabled.

We think that the heart of the problem lies in “woman’s work” — the way that the responsibilities of caring for the home, family and community continue to fall almost exclusively on women and girls. (OK, guys, before you jump up and say, “but I change diapers and do laundry too!,” hold off on your knee-jerk reactions and keep reading…)

This is a blog about how women are navigating work and family at home, the office, and in society at large. We don’t promise answers, but we’ll try to unravel the multiple ways that “woman’s work” can be both burdensome and rewarding and how, at the end of the day, women are getting it done.

–Alia and Ruth

There’s no award for keeping track of infant Tylenol

My husband and I have an ongoing “debate” about how much income we each should generate to be secure. I view income as just one part of the equation when calculating our “fair shares,” the other parts being everything it takes to create and maintain a family and home. Though he claims to “get it,” my husband insists on looking at our/my income and earning ability (i.e., paid labor) in isolation from the rest of our lives.

I’ve oriented my current employment around having small children. I work as an independent contractor with a guaranteed 15 days per month and pretty much complete freedom to work wherever and whenever I want. To secure this arrangement, I accepted a relatively low daily rate and I have no benefits — no paid time off, no maternity leave, and no employer-sponsored health insurance or retirement plan.

After years of making six figures, with fancy titles and full benefits to boot, I didn’t enter this arrangement lightly. It took a lot of negotiation, trial and error and time to work out the details. All the while I had a running conversation in my head about whether this is what I really wanted; whether I was selling myself short; whether my career would permanently veer off track. But for the life of me, I couldn’t picture having a conventional full-time job — one where you have to be physically present for at least 40 hours a week and mentally occupied for much more than that — while also raising two kids under 5.

Many, including myself, will be quick to point out that mine is a privileged problem to have. Far more women lack my options and resources, and they are juggling work, kids, family, life on little more than their own resilience and determination. But to simply accept that I should just be grateful for what I have obscures the underlying problem —everywhere in the world, “women’s work” is marginalized, invisible, even belittled, despite the fact that families, communities, entire societies depend on it for survival.

The fact that I can single-handedly provide the physical, mental, and emotional labor required to run a household and nurture a family and also earn income is no small feat. But this capacity, this skill doesn’t factor into my husband’s calculations with respect to our individual economic contributions. In fact, he thinks a lot of what I do is optional and/or could be replaced by purchasing more convenience products or by outsourcing the labor (no doubt to women of lower economic and educational status than us).

No one denies men the psychological connection between their labor (i.e., paid work) and their identity or questions the value it adds to the public and private spheres. In fact, our social, economic, and political institutions are built around helping straight white men compete in the economy and achieve. Paid work is organized around the “ideal worker” —someone who can work 40 or more hours per week and has a wife at home taking care of everything else. Men aren’t socialized to perform care work, and when they do, their noblesse oblige is lauded, as if they’d just discovered a cure for cancer.

In contrast, no one gives women awards for making sure there are clean sheets on the beds; scouring the Internet for how to deal (cope) with toddlers’ temper tantrums; being the heavy when it comes to disciplining kids; and, for the thousandth time, telling your husband where we keep the infant Tylenol. There’s no material reward for staying up all night to meet a work deadline while your partner is traveling and the kids have been home sick. At best, there’s saccharin rhetoric about the virtuous (middle-class) mother, which is a thinly-veiled strategy for convincing women to continue shouldering the burden of caring for the world so that men, the private sector, and governments don’t have to.


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