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Sharon Meers

Sharon Meers

Sharon Meers is co-author of Getting to 50/50: How working couples can have it all by sharing it all. A former managing director at Goldman Sachs, she now works in Silicon Valley.

Dismantling the 'maternal wall'

In my late twenties, I asked my boyfriend how he thought having a family might work. Our standard weekday ended with dinner at 9pm, after 12+ hours at the office.

"I know just how it will work," my boyfriend gamely replied. He grabbed a pad and sketched out our future. He drew stick figures of himself, me and two hypothetical children. In the center of his diagram, he penciled in Mary, our housekeeper, who came in a few hours a week to save us from dust bunnies. "We'll do just what we do now," my boyfriend told me, "and Mary will take care of us." I laughed. I was no expert on running a family, but I had a feeling it was going to take more effort.

The gender gap in domestic life is the stuff of comedy. I remember handing salad fixings to a male friend, who turned to me and asked, "But how do you cut a tomato?" I saw tomato dicing as a unisex skill. He saw it as something women know how to do. It was just one tomato, I know. But these social expectations, small and silly as they are, compound into big results that aren't so funny.

The Project for Attorney Retention at UC Hastings Law School last week released a report that shows the expense of allowing different norms for men and women to persist.

Researchers at UC Hastings have long collected data on the "Maternal Wall," the dramatic drop in career success when women (even those working full time) become mothers across all job types. But this new survey looks at women at the top: 700 female law partners, a highly talented and hard-working cohort. Guess what? On average, they earn 22% less than their male partners. Why?

The new report points to a host of "soft" social expectations with hard consequences.

When you think of a "rainmaker," does a woman or man come to mind? Consider "origination credit." When a team of lawyers wins a new client, "origination credit" goes to the person who can most convincingly claim rights to signing up the business. But this judgment is subjective and clouded by gender norms.

Cornell University psychiatrist Anna Fels has studied the acknowledgment gap between men and women, the fact we instinctively give male wins "praise and recognition" but -- due to norms, not malice -- find it psychologically more difficult to acknowledge female wins. In addition, other research says that a woman is more likely to be deemed a poor team player if she defends her turf with the same vigor as a man would.

Among the women in the new UC Hastings study, the vast majority say they have disputes over origination credits. Over a quarter felt they were bullied into ceding ground. The consequence? Only half of women feel highly satisfied with their compensation while 71% of men do. That's good for no one.

Now, before someone says we need have no sympathy for high-earning female law partners, let's remember that this dynamic occurs at every level of the pay scale. The law-partner example is notable because it shows how social norms undermine even professionals who make a living negotiating for others.

I started speaking at Stanford Business School a few years ago, at a course called "Work and Family." In it, students take a hard-nosed look at the many factors -- hours, chores, trade offs -- that go into combining strong careers and happy children. By this time, my two hypothetical kids had become real ones, thanks to another guy (who was bigger on planning,) and we both had demanding jobs we enjoyed.

But as students commented and asked questions in class, I saw that the gap remains. The women over-worried about work-family balance, while the men under-worried, just like me and my ex-boyfriend had a decade prior.

Maternal walls, glass ceilings, gender gaps: What can we do to dismantle these barriers?

A young women once called me for career advice. I was honored but surprised when she showed up with these questions: "How do I tell my husband that I have to work late more often? That my job counts too? That he needs to pick up the slack with the kids?" She didn't want to work less, she wanted him to understand more. She needed help raising the sensitive topic of social norms for men and women. At the time, I felt very unqualified to answer these very good questions.

But now I know what I'd tell her: There's a wealth of research showing everyone wins when we, men and women, share more common ground. For example, studies now imply that when a kid is sick, if the father stays home with the child that day, he will likely suffer fewer consequences at work than his wife would if she did it, because our social norms say that men are more committed to work than women are. Even if we strongly disagree with that norm, let's take advantage of it. If more men know there's an arbitrage, that men pay a lower cost for being home with junior's fever than their wives do, wouldn't more reasonable, caring fathers do this?

While researching our book, Getting to 50/50, I talked to the retired CEO of a large publicly traded company. "In my experience, women get unreliable when they become mothers and often aren't good workers," he told me as he listed behaviors that were undeniably flaky. "But what about fathers who spend as much energy on their home life as those mothers do?" I asked him. "Are those men bad employees?"

This question prompted a frank discussion between the two of us. We agreed that when fathers see themselves as competent around the house, they can often help their wives see ways to cut the burdens of childcare, cooking and cleaning -- and that sharing the load lets women do right by their jobs and lets men do right by their kids. "I agree," the ex-CEO told me, "but almost no one lives that way."

I smiled and told him that, in fact, many people do, even if few talk about it. Yet.

By Sharon Meers

 |  July 16, 2010; 11:05 AM ET
Category:  Self-Sacrifice , Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The dangers of 'my way or the highway' leadership | Next: Medal of Honor: It's never too late to honor a fallen hero

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As a follow up to my previous comment, It was not my intention to disparage the issue of disparate pay for comparable positions of responsibility held by men and women. Pay should be reflective of performance and commitment, regardless of gender.

I personally feel that both my wife and I supported each other in our working relationships - as it should be. But work is merely one aspect of life's balance, not the single dominating factor, which was the point of my original posting. Each couple should decide how to honor their personal commitments, act accordingly, and make the sacrifices necessary to make those commitments work.

But let us not fool ourselves. Every decision has a trade off, and we are foolish to think otherwise.

Posted by: MillPond2 | July 17, 2010 10:11 PM
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"We can have it all on a 50/50 basis!" (and that will bring happiness to everyone!!!) Yay!!!!

Women often forget that men don't look at life that way. Men don't over analyze about credit and a "level playing field," and don't wring their hands or need a "therapy' session out with the girls if they take a big hit - it happens. Some professional women expect us to become something different than what we are. If you follow that logic my marriage would become perfect if I changed exactly the same number of diapers as she did. Or chopped the same number of tomatoes, etc etc. Women count, men don't and that drives some women crazy. I'm happy that I didn;t marry a counter. It would drive one to drink or something (or find the door).

Posted by: mowjoe | July 17, 2010 9:55 PM
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"We can have it all on a 50/50 basis!" (and that will bring happiness to everyone!!!) Yay!!!!

Women often forget that men don't look at life that way. Men don't over analyze about credit and a "level playing field," and don't wring their hands or need a "therapy' session out with the girls if they take a big hit - it happens. Some professional women expect us to become something different than what we are. If you follow that logic my marriage would become perfect if I changed exactly the same number of diapers as she did. Or chopped the same number of tomatoes, etc etc. Women count, men don't and that drives some women crazy. I'm happy that I didn;t marry a counter. It would drive one to drink or something (or find the door).

Posted by: mowjoe | July 17, 2010 9:54 PM
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I am more struck by the implications in the title of Ms. Meer's book than I am by the content of her article. I have heard the various arguments before - there is nothing new here.

However, the subtitle of the book - "How Working Couples Can Have It All By Sharing It All" - speaks volumes. A previous poster nailed it - work has trumped family.

It is peculiarly American to have the attitude expressed in Ms. Meer's book subtitle - namely, "having it all". Marriage, children, work and spousal relationships require balance. Balance means that functional adults make choices. "Having it all" is a false and meaningless goal.

Let's please be realistic. There are differences between men and women, and there are also differences among men and women. Some men worry more than women, and the reverse is true. Women and men also worry about different issues in life. This is irrespective of what men and women earn in the marketplace.

I am a retired male, married thirty years, with two grown boys and a wife I adore. Shortly after I married her, I used to teasingly joke that she was the perfect modern woman: a pregnant professional with braces.

When our children were babies, I used to clean and sterilize bottles, make formula, change diapers, do laundry, cook for the kids when my wife had evening commitments, plus take care of the yard and keep our cars in working order.

We didn't eat out once a week, take expensive vacations, or run up debt by buying "wants" instead of "needs". As young married, we did not "have it all" in the monetary sense.

In terms of what truly matters - wonderful kids, a marriage based on trust, we did have it all.

What worries me, is that Ms. Meers may not have the same definition of what really matters.

By the way, I can slice and grow tomatoes.

Posted by: MillPond2 | July 17, 2010 7:54 PM
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How did she wind up in a social setting with a guy who didn't know how to cut a tomato?

Posted by: blasmaic | July 17, 2010 4:39 PM
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The most expensive mistakes companies make occur during the hiring process.

The second stage of these expensive decisions occur at the turnover/replacement stage.

The cost of these mistakes are practically invisible, don't show up on the corporate balance sheet, because costs of retraining new employees, litigation expenses related to disputes, lost business attributable to separations, are rarely tracked.

Men for the most part make these mistakes.

Men in management are extraordinarily expensive to the companies they work for, but we are blind to their costs.

But let a woman employee have a baby, and our awareness of costs are acutely focused.

How odd.

Posted by: onesideplease | July 17, 2010 1:04 PM
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There are two imbedded assumptions within the article and many of the posted comments.

The first is that gender "equality" is achievable and the second, "balance" is possible.

When adults make choices to have children, purchase homes, cars and create other expenses that comply with our cultural imperative to spend, it make it necessary for one or both to earn enough money to pay for these things or just survive; then the pursuit of "balance" and "equality" kicks in. This effort is always destined to fail. Why? because these are ideals not goals.

At best, we make decisions that increase the chance of greater life satisfaction or "harmony" in ourselves and others. Both men and women need to take responsibility and do what's necessary to make this "harmony" work or make the personal/cultural/policical course corrections that do.

Posted by: adams397 | July 17, 2010 10:59 AM
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Men and women are different. They are not fundamentally different, as we once thought, but they are different in many ways. But acknowledging this fact runs counter not only to feminism, but also to US ideals of equality according to which we are all supposed to be EXACTLY the same.

But we do not actually believe in equal rights for men.

For instance, the writer complains that women at the top earn 22% less than men. But how about acknowledging the fact that 90% of our prisoners are male and 99% of people on the death row are male? Isn't THAT a difference? Should we care about this, or do we shove it under the rug?

How about the fact that Mel Gibson (not that I approve of his talk) is having trouble getting to spend even 20% of the time with his daughter? We discriminate against fathers right and left, say to them, "Shell out the dough and get out of your children's lives". But we expect them to be equal domestic partners.

The US has absolutely NO commitment to equal rights for men, but there are endless rants about some area in which women are very slightly behind.

This is not going to change until we learn to respect BOTH men and women, respect the ways in which they are different, and respect the ways in which they are similar.

And to get to that point, we have to stop thinking that the Constitution, or the Bible, answers all questions. Some of the answers are in our own common sense, if we would only look.

Posted by: rohit57 | July 17, 2010 10:50 AM
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Haretanan,

Speaking from experience, generally young men (40 and younger) are on board. They may not pull their weight around the house and with childcare, but they know they're gonna have to step up one of these days... those are the expectations. Employers will have to follow suit with more flexible work arrangements in order to grow and thrive. I don't think it's going to take 35+ years. By then all the old fart men with outdated mentalities will be dead.

Posted by: dcgirl6 | July 17, 2010 10:18 AM
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Sorry DCGIRL6 you're here but not all have caught up. That's what I'm saying. I didn't say I like it, just difficult to get there.

Posted by: haretanan | July 17, 2010 10:07 AM
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Haretanan,

Your post sounds like it was written in 1975. Get a clue! We're already there (in regard to the "35 to 50 years" you reference). Come on! Are you writing this from Saudi Arabia?

Posted by: dcgirl6 | July 17, 2010 9:56 AM
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Responding to JamesChristian: So you're lumping teachers in with welfare recipients? WTH? To be a good teacher is to give yourself over to it body and soul. To think that we don't work hard is ludicrous. I come home utterly exhausted every day. The stakes are higher too... we are talking about our future here! And BTW, I DON'T have the summer off... I'm working in my institution's summer school. People who think teaching is not hard work are tragically misinformed. I feel sorry for you.

Posted by: dcgirl6 | July 17, 2010 9:33 AM
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Changing the mentality of many men will take another full generation. As an offending male, I do not fully comprehend nor buy into working women. Ouch! I know bad me, but one must understand where I, and many men, have their starting point along with the ambitions of many, if not all, women. I was raised in a different climate where women stayed home and raised the family; men worked. That got passed down the gene pool. You're going to need a big eraser to change that, not the thinking, but the behavior. Women have a much closer connection to children and the prospect of earning money outside of the home environment today. I would suspect if a spouse were paid to stay home to raise the children and take care of the home environment your book would have a different basis. I give it another 35 to 50 years and equality in the home environment will be more standard across the board. I think we're seeing it now; women not interested in getting married or wanting to start a family later in life. It's changing - slowly.

Posted by: haretanan | July 17, 2010 9:19 AM
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Most of the commentary strikes me as ineffable twaddle. The concept of equity (justice, impartiality and fairness) demands equal pay for equal work. "Men are better" you want to claim?

Prove it. Prove it pay fairly.

This (as amended) strikes me as the soul of the matter:

"We have created an atmosphere that has little babies warehoused in day care centers so their mothers [or fathers] can work to pay for their babies being warehouse all day.
.
.
.
Somewhere this nation has lost focus on the importance of the family and especially the children."

How and when did "work" triumph over "family?"

Posted by: Over-n-Out | July 17, 2010 8:45 AM
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Studies also show men try and negotiate higher salaries and ask for raises while employed more than women do. That has as much to do with the differences in pay as anything else.

Posted by: divi3 | July 17, 2010 8:31 AM
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Always funny how the people who claim that quality of life (family, spending time with loved ones etc) is more important than money, almost always make their way back to "i should be getting paid just as much as the next person"--money. As for the woman who wondered how to get her husband to understand her career responsibilities.......she should instead wonder why she allowed herself to marry someone without coming to those understandings ahead of time.

Posted by: ojordan3 | July 17, 2010 8:10 AM
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Why did WaPo print this misandrist crap?

Posted by: areyousaying | July 17, 2010 7:39 AM
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Having a child is huge obligation that SHOULD take a lot of time. I don't think it's any great mystery that women's job performance tends to decline after they have a child.

It's sort of like acting surprised if someone's performance suffers when they develop a coke habit: it's expensive, it eats up lots of time, leaves one tired, sick, more likely to be absent and less likely to work hard while they're there.

A baby, of course, is not morally equivalent to a drug-habit but the effects on job performance may well be very similar at least in the first few years.

In so far as families CAN help compensate for this, they should but, in the end, it's the woman's choice and HER responsibility.

Women in this country have fought long and hard to gain total reproductive control and they have it. Since they have total reproductive power, it is time for them to take total reproductive responsibility. No more "trapping" young men by getting pregnant: if you're pregnant you have options. If you choose to keep the child, that's YOUR choice and it SHOULD BE your responsibility. If the boy is to have no say in whether or not the child should be brought to term, he should NOT be held financially responsible for the child UNLESS he agrees willingly to take such responsibility.

One of the reasons that abortion rights is so important to women is because if a girl has a child at a young age, this can have a massive impact on her life and will likely force her to change her entire life-plan and give up her dreams of school and career. Of course, if she doesn't want to change those plans, today's young woman can have an abortion. If, however, SHE CHOOSES to keep the child, then the father is on the hook for child-support whether he wanted the kid or not. Basically, girls are given a choice when they get pregnant but boys are required to take responsibility for THEIR choices. A young man's life can be just a screwed up by an unplanned child's as can the mother's but where as SHE has a choice, HE has none but is STILL HELD RESPONSIBLE for HER choice. It's just not right.

Now, before the feminists tell me that if the young man doesn't want to pay child support, he shouldn't have had sex in the first place, I would ask them to consider that that is EXACTLY THE SAME ARGUMENT that many pro-lifers use to argue against the necessity of abortion!

Ladies, you have a choice so use it. If you don't want your career to suffer from having a child, then don't have a child. I'm sure social prejudices do make this a bit harder for women but ANY such obligation undertaken by ANYONE is likely to hurt them a work; sexism isn't required.

Posted by: andrew23boyle | July 17, 2010 7:24 AM
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Hey JamesChristian, I hate to tell you this, but people work what they're contractually bound to work, which in most cases is a 40 hour week. If an employer demands more without compensation, the employer is breaking their contract. Nitwits like you who're on your knees sucking off dishonest corporate managers are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Posted by: Nymous | July 17, 2010 5:51 AM
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I hope there is no father or mother, who will ever say, "Wow, I wish I'd spent more time at work." Having children isn't about the parents, but about the children. The most joy I've had in this life was when I was with my sons, from the time they were babies and continuing to this day, when they're adults.

But, what I read is that the author is really more concerned about her contribution to her work so that the children are but decorations to be raised by Mary. And Mary will be the one who receives their love and affection while "Mother" sits off to the side, slamming down gin and tonics.

Your male friend must have been one who only saw food come out of a kitchen already prepared. I do know that I am unable to neatly fold clothes after they come out of the dryer.

Posted by: Stillpeeved | July 17, 2010 3:43 AM
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Mr. James Christian,

I'd love to see you teach (I am a teacher) and call it an effortless, or easy, job as you seem to say. Having worked in the office environement I know that my teaching job (even with the summers off, holidays, etc that you inevitably use as your basis for teachers "not working") is much harder and take a lot more management skill than my executive level, and more that management level job ever did. And, unlike the corporate environemnt, the take home work can't be put off to another day. Yes, there are many teachers who take it easy, but you and I both know (whether or not you'll admit it) just as many non-workers and effortless people work in the jobs you purport to be the "real ones" that take "real effort." My students, who aren't even close to the toughest, would eat you alive.

Posted by: airchris17 | July 17, 2010 1:41 AM
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Lots of talk when it simply comes down to expectations. A woman expects one level, a man another (often, not always). One is not correct and neither is the other wrong. It's best described (in my opinion) this way. A woman's definiton of "clean" is different than a guys but it doesn't mean a guy's definition isn't clean it just may not match the woman's. So, who is right? Neither. Mama bears protecting their "we work harder in the house in everything all the time" is no more true than the man who goes around saying "there isn't male-female disparity in the workplace." Ladies lighten up, your definition of clean, helping, etc isn't always right (nor wrong) and men do the same. This is really a silly topic

Posted by: airchris17 | July 17, 2010 1:37 AM
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Oh, good grief. "Allowing different norms to persist."

"Allowing the sun to rise in the East."

"Allowing the tide to roll in."

"Allowing evolution."

Get a clue, ladies...you are who you are, and all the wishing in the world won't change it.

That's not a bad thing. Unless you let fantasists like Ms. Meers spin reality.

Men are not imperfect females awaiting improvement. They are men. Deal with it. You want change, change yourselves. Good luck.

Posted by: jd5024 | July 17, 2010 1:04 AM
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Ridiculous. Companies and professional firms hire people to WORK. That work these days involves 50-80 hours a week. Too bad. If you want to rise in an organization, you have to WORK. That doesn't include long periods to go off and have children, maternity/paternity leave or anything else. Nice that today's women want their "equality" but don't want to accept the hours, responsibility and strain that men have always gone through to get ahead. There's no salary gap. What there is, is an effort gap. Women and the races want "equality"? No, they want preferential treatment. They want more dough, fewer hours, easier time at work, no deadlines and want to make no particular effort to get ahead. In short, they want a job in the Federal government, or as teachers, or as welfare recipients. They certainly aren't looking to work..

Posted by: JamesChristian | July 17, 2010 12:22 AM
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Whenever I think about this I think about how yet again I'm going to have to work late/weekends so some married people can 'have a life'.

Everyone else's kids always manage to trump me getting to have a normal life when the roulette wheel of who's going to work the unpleasant times gets spun in department meetings at work. This is so much the case I've considered lying about having children at jobs before. That because it just feeds on itself, and the result is that my dating & things like that always ended up taking a back seat to someone elses bratty spoiled kids.

It took too long, but that's a short end of a stick I won't pick up anymore.

Posted by: Nymous | July 17, 2010 12:06 AM
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The comments and the article focused heavily on the parenting aspects, which is understandable, but an entirely separate article could be elaborated from the short but very meaningful statement that "we instinctively give male wins 'praise and recognition' but -- due to norms, not malice -- find it psychologically more difficult to acknowledge female wins. In addition, other research says that a woman is more likely to be deemed a poor team player if she defends her turf with the same vigor as a man would." I hope the author has time to drill-down into this area.

Posted by: sarahemeyer | July 16, 2010 11:07 PM
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interesting comments here.

to CAC2, the woman who chose not to have kids and feels she should be paid more than the mom because she works 18 hours a day: there's some truth to this, but it misses the point of this article: that though dad AND mom have the kid, mom pays the $ price. to your question 'why would I ever want to have kids?', the only thing I can say is I hope you're grateful when you get your social security and your medicare. because this mom's kids are paying for it, while you're also able to enjoy the benefits of your higher retirement savings from having no kids. personal choices do have profound social consequences and that goes both ways...

liked NSENZEE's comments (and bread baking skills :) need more of him out there.

Posted by: ADP711 | July 16, 2010 10:41 PM
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Great article.
The final sentence - "Somewhere this nation has lost focus on the importance of the family and especially the children." - says it all.
The only thing about it that I would differ with is the finding that men who spend more time with the family are not docked at work. It depends upon the company. As a former single father raising three daughters, my experience was that mothers were cut more slack in flexible work arrangements without hurting their careers than men were. Management just didn't get it that a man would need family time, too. All the moreso for married men who are going 50/50.
Getting to 50/50 would liberate men as well as women. Still, given the final concluding sentence - that this nation, and especially corporate America, don't value those who seek a balance between work and home life, getting to 50/50 is only half the solution. But a very important half.

Posted by: virtualchemist | July 16, 2010 10:24 PM
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Right on, ENSENZEE. I work full time, and my wife doesn't, but I still do all the grocery shopping, cooking, bills and finances, my own laundry, car care, and child care when I'm home. (Well, did the child care; the kids are older now) I wanted to be a hip and liberated male. And the reward is universal derision of my contributions. Criticize a woman having a crying fit at work? You're roasted. But it's somehow clever and perfectly acceptable to mock a man's efforts at laundry or slicing that puzzling tomato.

The question that always occurs to me is who makes the rules about housework and how it "should be done"? Don't mock my contributions if your obsessions dictate that a bathroom isn't clean unless it's taken five days to do it.

Posted by: marcolius | July 16, 2010 10:05 PM
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This piece is so offensive. Many of the comments are even worse. It's this nice little pity party, but are there any facts here to back up the moaning? I'm a stay at home dad, I gave up my career to be home with my daughter and guess what? I can bake bread and push a stroller. Ain't I a man?

Seriously, there is no traction for all of the many, many guys out there working their tails off--either for money or at home or both--and what joy is ours as a sex to sit down to the paper and read how useless and inadequate one's efforts are.

Most guys are reluctant to get into a gender-war type of argument: women have traditionally been disadvantaged in the workplace and many men have been inactive in the domestic realm. Most men are happy to play along with the oh, how does this washing machine thing work? act. "The stuff of comedy," as Sharon cleverly puts it. Guess what? That comedy is not funny anymore.

I mean, the whole premise that there even is a "maternal wall" is dubious at best, much less a settled fact. The educational system, geared to girls and women, is failing men. Unemployment for men is much more prevalent than for women. I'm 33 years old and had a career for 7 years in DC. I only briefly had a male boss. Historical injustices aside, cry me a river.

And--let's just talk about housework here since that's what all the complaining is about. All of the complainers here--have you proceduralized the way you run your house, like the professionals you presumably are? If you did so, you'd likely be surprised at a) how much your partner is actually doing but without rubbing your nose in it; and b) how much you're doing that's a waste of time. If you want to manage your partner's time at home, I'd suggest sticking to the essentials and throwing out the Martha Stewart playbook. If you act like the boss around the house, you bought it, and you own it.

And then, one final thought: maybe your husband is useless. If that's true, why'd you marry him?

Posted by: nsenzee | July 16, 2010 8:12 PM
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Reading this today is perfect timing. I work in a primarily male dominated field. I told my boss about a contract award for a high profile project and got "constructive criticism" in return. If any of my male colleagues had walked in and told this same boss that we had won a contract we've been working on for a year, they would have gotten a congratulations and pat on the back, Instead I got a lecture disguised as constructive criticism on how I present a predetermined presentation. Something that corporate has developed and wants presented as is. Did I get any congratulations- no. Did I hear good job- not really. What I heard was you did well but you could do better. I am single and do not have any children. I do not believe in glass ceilings nor do I go looking for road blocks. However there are still situations like this that are the norm. And still times when we are judged by old standards.

Posted by: mmsq | July 16, 2010 7:59 PM
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I will tell a story I often repeat. When I first graduated from college in 1989, and I was working for a small magazine in Richmond, Virgina, I was on my way to work and was listening to a radio DJ take calls from bosses on the worst excuses they have ever gotten from an employee calling in to say he/she was not coming into the office. A man called in, and said he had a MALE employee tell him he had to stay home with a sick kid. The manager asked the male employee why his WIFE didn't stay home, and the employee explained that his wife was out of paid time off from caring for their kids in the past, and they couldn't afford for either of them to take an unpaid day off of work, so he was using his leave to care for his child instead of his wife.

After having a good laugh at the outrage of having a male employee expecting paid time off to care for his child, the manager said to the DJ, "Of COURSE I fired him immediately!" and the DJ and the manager on the phone had a good belly laugh over the entire incident.

I was appalled then, and I still can't believe that I heard that, even in Richmond in 1989. But I've never forgotten that radio exchange from that morning on the way to work when I was right out of college and starting my career.

Posted by: CAC2 | July 16, 2010 7:02 PM
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The interesting thing is that this conversation misses a fundamental point, which is that our world of work is skewed toward a traditional male-at-work/female-at-home lifestyle. Women will never receive much of a fair shake, not only because of perceptions, but because those perceptions occur within a system that wasn't set up to reward the lifestyle of parents (female or male) who wish to engage with their children. Until we can figure out how to get past the 1950s Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (who works long hours, barely knows his kids, and dedicates all to the company), both women AND men will suffer.

A good place to start making those changes would be to stop rewarding the person who dedicates 16-hour days to the job (seriously, one cannot do that for a lifetime without paying an enormous price in both health and relationships) and begin rewarding other aspects of employee productivity. As one whose part-time productivity exceeded that of full-time workers for several years, I'm convinced that time-on-task is a poor gauge of output--either quantity or quality. Hours of face time never has and never will be equivalent to actual output.

Posted by: HSerof3 | July 16, 2010 6:45 PM
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Employers don't want Employees to get to 50/50 they want them to get to, say, 40/40, as it makes them easier to control. In some cases, 20/20, best case 49/49. Sadly, women and men, not all their biological (human) talents are of value to a Corporation. When "Big Brother" is babysitting we are all in potential danger. Competition between Professional Peers is healthy and creates Equity but: Don't bring the peer gender wars to work, and
above all, be a responsible babysitter to subordinates.

Posted by: gannon_dick | July 16, 2010 6:38 PM
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I attended a women's forum and we were asked how many of us counter-offered when we received our salary offers at our current employment. MAYBE 10% of us raised our hands. Something like 75% of men counter offer. That plays a HUGE role into why we are paid less - the lower your first salary out of college, the lower your salary will remain over your life. And if at every opportunity to adjust it during a job change you choose to accept what they give you, it only adds to your woes.

STEP UP, LADIES! If you're not willing to fight for yourself, no boss is going to believe you'll fight for him or your company.

Posted by: em71 | July 16, 2010 6:33 PM
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I'm a woman who has chosen not to have kids. My significant other and I talked about it, at the end of the day we decided we liked vacations that didn't revolve around kids activities and school holidays, having a big savings account rather than a college fund, and having the freedom we want in our life. Neither of us can think of a good reason why we would ever want kids. We are both professionals, with Master's degrees and good jobs, and we really enjoy our life as it is and have very fulfilling careers. I work really late on deadlines sometimes (often!) -- sometimes until 2 or 3 a.m. I come in on weekends. I am available at a moment's notice to do so, when a last-minute issue or emergency arises. I don't have to make arrangements to pick up my kids. I can stay at work until all hours of the night without blinking or worrying about someone else. But women in my office with kids cannot. So, they make less money than me? Why shouldn't they. I actually had a co-worker with kids dump work on me at 5 p.m. once, telling me she had to pick up her kids and it was my JOB, because I didn't have any, to cover her work. She actually believed that! I took the work to my boss. She was not with the company much longer after that. If you want it all, you have to do it all. But when I'm burning the midnight oil, and you're at home in bed after tucking in your kids, you BET I better be making more than you. It has nothing to do with gender. Not all women choose to have children. But the minute you do, your priorities change from work to family. That's just the way it is. Why should a company pay you the same as someone who still priotizes their career over a family?

Posted by: CAC2 | July 16, 2010 5:58 PM
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If a quarter of them felt they were bullied, they don't deserve equal pay, now do they.

It couldn't possibly be because of the expectations women are made to feel that men aren't in our society could it? This comment is straight sexism and wrong.


Just as there are professional women whose careers have suffered because they chose to have a family, there are professional women who chose the opportunity of having a family to leave the career track. Men typically don't have that choice.

Why? Poster needs to back this up. Men do have a choice; as another poster indicated, they just don't avail themselves of this choice. Especially if women were to recieve the parity in pay we deserve. It's just part of the "societal norms" the author is speaking too.

Good original post!

Posted by: Lizka | July 16, 2010 5:25 PM
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"Over a quarter felt they were bullied into ceding ground."

If a quarter of them felt they were bullied, they don't deserve equal pay, now do they. Attorneys are supposed to be able to defend their clients and not be cowed by other attorneys. If they can't even defend themselves within the firm, I've no sympathy.

Posted by: AZrls | July 16, 2010 4:48 PM
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Men typically don't have that choice.

Posted by: ninefoursixfour | July 16, 2010 4:14 PM

I doubt it's not because it isn't a choice available, it's a choice they don't avail themselves.

Posted by: Skowronek | July 16, 2010 4:17 PM
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Just as there are professional women whose careers have suffered because they chose to have a family, there are professional women who chose the opportunity of having a family to leave the career track. Men typically don't have that choice.

Posted by: ninefoursixfour | July 16, 2010 4:14 PM
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But why must the mother be the one disadvantaged in the first year? If mom chose to stay home only for a short period and then dad took over the duties of child care, or an alternative arrangement were reached, what would be wrong with that? The problem we have as a society right now is that if a woman rushes back to work after she has a baby, she is a bad mom, but if a dad rushes back to work, he is a good provider. That just doesn't seem right to me.

Posted by: Momlawyer

I'm guessing that it's because much of society hasn't caught on to the fact that anyone can give a baby a bottle and that breast pumps are MUCH better than they were 15+ years ago. I loved the Medela I was loaned, I loved the Avent I purchased for myself with child #2. I was able to nurse them "in person" plenty AND go to work. I was happy, they were happy. I was fortunate to have family in the area who could care for them when they were little. My father. Who knows how to use a bottle, change a diaper and manage babies. My mother can too, but her workweek is M-F, his is 40 hours over the course of 3 days (F-Sunday).

Posted by: Skowronek | July 16, 2010 3:57 PM
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From the article: "While researching our book, Getting to 50/50, I talked to the retired CEO of a large publicly traded company. "In my experience, women get unreliable when they become mothers and often aren't good workers," he told me as he listed behaviors that were undeniably flaky."

I'm disappointed that you did not call this CEO on the carpet. Often, people in power draw conclusions based on nothing but their own perceptions. Did this CEO have data to back up his views? I doubt it. It reminds me of the recent comments circulating about Title IX, that everyone "knows" that college-age women are just less interested in sports than their male counterparts. Really?

As a young mother, I remember many men I worked with did not get that my husband shared many of the parenting responsibilities. One man, a dean of engineering asked me why I came into work on a school snow day. He had no idea that my HUSBAND could have taken the day off to be with our child, because as a career-first parent himself, he would never have done such a thing.

I think it's about challenging perceptions, not just making the argument that women are really good enough.

Posted by: readerny | July 16, 2010 3:55 PM
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But why must the mother be the one disadvantaged in the first year? If mom chose to stay home only for a short period and then dad took over the duties of child care, or an alternative arrangement were reached, what would be wrong with that? The problem we have as a society right now is that if a woman rushes back to work after she has a baby, she is a bad mom, but if a dad rushes back to work, he is a good provider. That just doesn't seem right to me.

Posted by: Momlawyer | July 16, 2010 3:50 PM
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I do think the balance of child rearing should be equally balanced for most of the life of the child. However, there is no getting around the fact that women have the babies. Instead of seeing that as a competitive disadvantage, I think women should just view it as reality. For the first year, women are disadvantaged in the workplace relative to men. And parents in general are disadvantaged in the workplace relative to those who are childless.

I agree with joejoeknows. Choices have consequences. If the child/work tradeoff is not worth it, then don't have kids.

I do want to reiterate that having a child should, after about a year or so, be equally disadvantaging for both father and mother. Not the mother alone.

Posted by: cmcm1 | July 16, 2010 3:32 PM
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The thing that irks me most about Greatgran1's post is that it assumes that the mom should be the one to stay home with the kids. Even if having a parent stay home is the right answer for your family, nothing requires it to be the mom. I work, and my husband stays home. I'm happy, he's happy, our kid is happy. That is what the women's movement is all about. Now I just want to be paid what I am worth, just like a man.

Posted by: Momlawyer | July 16, 2010 3:21 PM
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I agree with many of those who posted here. I am guessing "Greatgran1" is either really believes the terrible things she has written or jealous that she missed out on being able to decide for herself the course of her life. Thankfully, her generation is dying out and we can move onto discussions about people being treated fairly in the workplace -- not based on gender or perceptions that ought to go away.

Posted by: commentator3 | July 16, 2010 2:59 PM
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Interesting that GreatGram1 says that children, "deserve that special care that only a parent can provode." My Mom was a SAHM and there was no doubt she hated it. She was mean (and would hit us on occasion), rarely played with us (she was cleaning or volunteering) and had no patience at all. I don't have good memories of my childhood and still don't have a great relationship with my Mom.

Women do need, and deserve, to be happy. If it means working out of the home, great, if it means staying home, great. I think that if my Mom had worked, she would have been happier and had more patience for us. Our relationship would be better.

I think that if GreatGram1's grandkids are tired, she should speak to the parents about a proper bedtime. My friends kids who are in DC are not weary looking. They are happy and playful. Sleep helps!

Posted by: thought4 | July 16, 2010 1:48 PM
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Some smart women should capitalize on this clear market inefficiency by starting a business staffed entirely by dramatically underpaid women who do just as much work and then donate the obscene profits that result from this strategy to programs designed to educate and inform the population about this injustice.

Posted by: JoeJoeKnows | July 16, 2010 1:35 PM
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My children were "warehoused" as noted by greatgran1, in a quality childcare center with caring and nuturing women. I was confident that they were in excellent hands which allowed me to continue in my profession. Today they are both in college and have wonderful relationships with their peers, family and freinds. Let's not sterotype, unless you want to debate the "stay at home moms who plop their kids in front of the TV all day" argument..

As JoeJoeknows indicated, it's all about choices. But no one has the right to be paid less or respected less for the same amount of work on the job. Let's all work to breask down that glass ceiling.....

Posted by: bonbon1 | July 16, 2010 1:26 PM
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A young women once called me for career advice. I was honored but surprised when she showed up with these questions: "How do I tell my husband that I have to work late more often? That my job counts too? That he needs to pick up the slack with the kids?" She didn't want to work less, she wanted him to understand more.

My mother addressed this issue with my father more than 40 years ago. She made a spreadsheet/wall chart with a list of responsibilities, how often they had to be done and how much time it took to do them (pencilled in). Then she went through and marked off who was doing what.

My father fiddled with the amount of time it took to do things a little, marked off what he did, noted what she did, and they totted it up.

He swallowed hard and stepped up.

Posted by: Skowronek | July 16, 2010 1:10 PM
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This article rightfully identifies the fact that working fathers suffer less in the workplace for things like leaving early to partake in school activities or staying home with a sick kid or on a snow day than working mothers do. And familes should use that fact to even out the parental burdens and foster parental workplace success. Part of that is ensuring that both parents are expected and competent to deal with kids needs. All too often, perfectionist expectations (usually by the mom -- I should know!) undermine this; as in "Joe can't be the one to take the afternoon off for Susie's Brownie Troop outing -- he doesn't know what to do." Parents should come together to work the system as we also work to change it.

Posted by: conchfc | July 16, 2010 1:02 PM
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Most sensible and realistic people in the corporate world recognize one immutable fact early in their careers: if you are taking time for anything other than work, somebody who isn't will eventually get ahead of you. Most of us conclude that is ok, and find a balance that works for us, electing to value some things in life more than getting ahead at work. This is true whether the other thing is childcare, competitive bridge or sleeping. Men or women who elect to have children and devote reasonable time to parenting them will inexorably lose out in the workplace to those who don't. That's ok. We make choices in life. Demanding that everyone receive identical outcomes when they've made very different decisions about how to approach life and work is unreasonable. That is not what fairness means.

Posted by: JoeJoeKnows | July 16, 2010 1:01 PM
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When I look into the eyes of my weary daughter, I am not sure how helpful the movement to push women in the workplace is for the American family. When I view little children who are tired from being at school all day who must sit in extended care waiting hours to be picked up, it makes me want to cry. As a grandmother, I find this so call women's right movement has done far more harm than good. We have created an atmosphere that has little babies warehoused in day care centers so their mothers can work to pay for their babies being warehouse all day. I am disgusted and quite frankly could care less if this woman thinks women are not getting paid enough. I think our children in this nation deserve better than what they are getting.
They deserve that special care that only a parent can provide.
That is where our concern should be focused.
This women's movement is a selfish myopic one. Somewhere this nation has lost focus on the importance of the family and especially the children.

Posted by: greatgran1 | July 16, 2010 12:46 PM
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