Are We All Screwed In The Modern Workplace?

The patriarchy and capitalism, back at it again

I‘m Dana. While I’ve hung around the APW crew for a few years, I’m brand new to being on the actual staff. And I don’t write much about my life. Once, a few years ago, I wrote about stocking the bar for your wedding, but that’s about as personal as it gets for me. But when Meg asked me to write a response to the article by Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times about womxn in the so-called greedy professions, I quickly realized I’d be diving headfirst into… well, my own life.

The article, if you haven’t read it yet (it was circling last week), is about the myriad ways highly educated womxn in high-powered or “greedy” professions (law, consulting, finance) are seeing their careers stagnate after having children in heterosexual households. Their husbands, who often work in the same field, are able to work as many as 80 hours a week, and employers are rewarding this kind of round-the-clock availability with outsized salaries and bonuses. Of course, the reason for this is because these womxn are leaving their jobs, taking lower-paid part-time work, or otherwise putting their careers on hold so their husbands can work constantly without having to worry about childcare.

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You should probably just go read it, but this was the quote that really broke me:

“Women don’t step back from work because they have rich husbands. They have rich husbands because they step back from work.”

And from Daniela Jampel, who was interviewed on her law career and family for the article, when discussing her husband and his law career:

“I’m here if he needs to work late or go out with clients,” Ms. Jampel said. “Snow days are not an issue. I do all the doctor appointments on my days off. Really, the benefit is he doesn’t have to think about it. If he has to work late or on weekends, he’s not like, ‘Oh my gosh, who’s going to watch the children?’ The thought never crosses his mind.”

All I could think was, “Oh, how nice for him. He never has to worry! About the children!” And then I went to the gym and worked off an hour’s worth of rage, then picked a huge fight with my own husband. Because this has been on our minds: he works a minimum of 72 hours a week, but can be called out for additional 20-day stretches at a time without coming home at all. He’s not in a “greedy” profession—he’s a firefighter. But as we’ve talked about having children, it’s become very clear that there’s not a lot of room for my career in his schedule. And most of his colleagues back that up: with very few exceptions, his colleagues’ solution is to work even more overtime so their spouses can stay home with their kids.

And much like the couple in the Times, this doesn’t actually work for either of us. My husband doesn’t want to work 20 days in a row while I’m home with our hypothetical kids, frustrated (and resentful) that I don’t have a career anymore. And you know what? I don’t want to trade with him and work like that while he takes on childcare. I love my job, but I love going home at the end of the day, too. (Also, I don’t get paid to sleep. He does.)

The article focuses on one heterosexual couple, only briefly glances at the challenges faced by lower-wage workers, and doesn’t mention racial disparities at all, while acknowledging that this problem, in many ways, represents huge privilege—how great to have a job that pays so well, how fortunate to have such a great education. But these kinds of hours represent a problem for every sector of workers, and this issue is also one of the barriers to womxn reaching positions of leadership in any field, including leading major companies and law firms—where making a change might actually be a priority. After all, part of why this happens is because of a cycle in which longer hours beget more after-hours demands, and so on. In turn, this feeds a system in which those at the top of these professions expect these hours from their employees—creating a culture where we all work constantly, or leave the workforce to care for children, apparently.

Making ourselves invaluable and irreplaceable at work is one of the core pillars of achieving success, after all. But it turns out that may be part of the problem. Men are taught to care more about being invaluable and irreplaceable at work, but not at home, to their families, while womxn are often taught the opposite, and there are countless expectations and barriers in place to reinforce this dynamic. Can we really blame workers (especially those of us who came of age during The Recession) for doing some hard math and ultimately making the best financial decision? This is what terrifies me the most: that by default, I’ll end up stepping away from my career and stay home—not because my husband expects me to, not because I want to, but because it just makes more sense, financially. How do I argue with that?

So…we currently just don’t have kids, which isn’t a solution anyone wants, either.

Clearly, I don’t have the answer here, just a big messy puddle of feelings and opinions. What did you think of the article? Does it apply to you at all? How have you resolved this math in your own life? What challenges do long hours present for you and your partner? What DID the article fail to address FOR YOU?

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