Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Balancing Career and Family: Women lead the way

The link above is to a Boston Globe article from the Health/Science section yesterday, Oct. 2, 2006, by Mary Hegarty Nowlan. The article looks at new trends with women physicians demanding a more flexible schedule, choosing balance-friendly specialties. According to the article, the high number of women doctors and their strong preference for life balance, forces a change in medical practice. I certainly applaud the changes, having watched relatives' struggles balancing medical careers with family.

See the Chronicle of Higher Education, Careers section headline "The X-Gals Alliance" link by Lucille Louis (a pseudonym) about problems of women in academic science careers. A bit here:

As high-achieving individuals who also happen to be junior scientists without the power to remove those challenges, we find little consolation in the stoic's admonition to "suck it up and deal with it" in silence. We believe that the profession of science, and academic science in particular, can do a better job of fully incorporating women, and we want to personally contribute to that change, as well as encourage others to do so. Anything less squanders the talents that we have worked so hard to attain, and wastes the investments made in us by our graduate institutions and funding agencies.

As a woman, I applaud these moves to change the situation, and the changes in our society that have allowed the issue to be brought up. The first barriers of accepting women in the workforce have been passed. There have been several generations of women moving into the workforce whose professional lives have really made balancing with family a huge struggle. See my earlier post here, Confessions of a Working Mother. I always believed I could have it all, and worked very hard for many years to do both parenting and a serious career.

This is a bitterness in my mouth. To my daughter. To all the women students I have had and spoken to over the years, I have a terrible confession to make.


at least, not all at once.

Something has to give when you try to be a good parent. (This complaint is not just for mothers -- it affects involved, caring fathers, siblings, aunts, uncles, children as well). You cannot work 50 hour plus weeks consistently, on top of real family and home duties, without it taking a toll somewhere. For too many of us, the toll is on our health. For others, it's really "paid for" from our families. And others pay the toll in their career. Any way you cut it, this is an unacceptable choice. I am so glad to see any movement toward a humane workplace that recognizes a serious career as possible for folks who also want to be there for their families, and other personal obligations we might have.

[T]he rise in two income families have already posed a host of new challenges. Child care, elder care, lack of parental supervision and just plain family quality time are issues we need to address. Trends toward job sharing, more part-time work, independent contractors, working at home or telecommuting also pose challenges. All of these and many more are issues the American Worker Project will address.

From Congressman Pete Hoekstra's Opening Statement as chair of the American Worker Project link here. But when will these issues be addressed? Right now, the onus still lies where it has always been, on the backs of the individual heads of family who are trying to make ends meet in a difficult world of work. The issue generates enough interest that the Washington Post sponsors a blog, "On Balance" link, focusing entirely on the difficult balancing job we all face. Working Mother magazine offers a list of the top 100 family-friendly companies link.

Lest we assume the issue only arises in the U.S, the terrific photo of a woman with a baby and a briefcase, is from Germany, www.dw-world.de/image/0,,1168083_4,00.jpg


Jacqueline Cantwell said...

Raising children and working is worse than hard. Our children suffer harm and neglect. I wish that I had been a law librarian for the courts when my daughter was small instead of working in a blue collar trade with a hiring hall. The white collar world is much more supportive of individuals' responsibilities.
Alameda County and Brooklyn Supreme law libraries have been wonderful. Not only do court holidays duplicate many school holidays, but my superiors have supported my family responsibilities. I would urge librarians with families to look into court libraries. While you raise your family, you can work in an atmosphere supportive of professional and family achievements.

Betsy McKenzie said...

Dear Jacqueline,
I have spent my professional career in law school libraries. My experience has varied depending on the school. The work-group has always been warmly supportive of family obligations. But the benefits you get at one or another university vary a LOT. Right now, I am at a school with very generous benefits by US standards: 12 weeks maternity leave unless there are complications, when you get more. The holidays here follow court holidays, so I get the same nice benefit of days off matching most of my childrens' holidays. Libraries can be such a great work environment. Though public service can be more demanding, requiring attendance to hold the library open and offer services over weekends, some holidays and snow days, depending on the policy. Tech services and administration slots tend to be more M-F, 9-5 sorts of work hours.

Betsy McKenzie said...

Oops! I should add that reference and circulation slots often require evening hours, too. There are some tech svcs departments that run evening hours, but most do not, I think.