Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ladders, Lattices, Mothering, and all that shit

Pardon me, but I'm in a bit of a mood right now. I've been following the discussion at 11D that is a spin-off of two Mama PhD posts about balancing an academic career and family and off ramps and on ramps to such careers. The second Mama PhD post references this article in the NY Times about career lattices, about providing a variety of opportunities for not just climbing a ladder, but pursuing other opportunities that may be lateral moves, part-time work, etc. As the post points out, such opportunities seem unavailable in academe.

All of this is resonating with me, of course, as I'm in a bit of an off-ramp at the moment. I have no idea what I'll on-ramp to in a few months--could be the academy, could be my own business, or it could be the right job at the right place. I have a feeling, though, that what I'll put together will be not quite full time. Because honestly, doing the parent thing is a shit-load of work and I really, really don't want to short-change that. But I also have to say that I'm a little disappointed that we couldn't make the dual-career family work. There are a lot of reasons for that. A flexible, intellectually satisfying job just isn't to be had at the moment. So I'm making it up as I go along and despite some frustrations in picking up the pieces of the household maintenance that got left behind as a result of the dual-career thing, I'm much, much happier than I was a few months ago. And I think I'll be happier still one my career does start to take shape and once the house gets to a point where I'm not digging out from under a bunch of crap. That's taking retraining not just myself, but the whole family, which is a long road, let me tell you.

Although Laura and the other professor moms lament the strictures of the academy in terms of career movement, things are not much different on the corporate side either. Even though things are changing more there than in the academy, there's still the same assumptions about what a career means: "For some, a career that isn’t going steadily upward is a career going nowhere" (NY Times). This was the attitude of the man referred to in the article, and I think it's telling what the wife's response is:
You were successful because you worked really hard at one thing — your career — while my role was to carry out all the noncareer elements of life, from child-rearing to household projects to community involvement and so on.
It's that focus on one thing that leads to success both in academe and in the corporate world. Women more so than men, don't have the luxury to focus on one thing for such an extended period of time. My own career is a testament to that--graduate school, lose funding, get corporate job to put hubby through grad school, have kid, move across the country for hubby's job, go back to grad school, have another kid, move across the country again for hubby's job, adjunct for a while, get full time job because adjuncting doesn't pay the bills, finish Ph.D., quit job, start a business. And honestly, that timeline isn't that unusual regardless of what the husband does. I saw women whose husbands worked for a large corporation get transferred every couple of years. How the hell are you supposed to maintain a career with all that moving and all those life changes. And throughout that whole thing, it was Mr. Geeky who was focusing on his career, not so much with a careerist kind of attitude, but just pursuing interests and opportunities. Meanwhile, I was trying to juggle both. And as I've said before, it's not that Mr. Geeky was uninvolved, it's just that I probably thought about my career and the kids about equally not in terms of everyday tasks, but in terms of long-term goals, etc. and Mr. Geeky did the day-to-day stuff equally, but wasn't really thinking long-term about the kids. At least that's my impression of things.

And then there's just the feeling of being discounted because you do have a family . . . but only if you're a woman. From Leslie, at Clutter Museum, comes this nugget in response to Ed Rendell's microphone blunder:

Some of the commenters at 11D expressed frustration at having to have this conversation so many times. I'm frustrated too. And I think partly it's because I have no idea how to fix the problem and of course, those of us who are frustrated are the ones without any power. It'd be great if we could all band together and do something about it, start a think tank or something. As Laura said, there's an awful lot of talent volunteering at school because they can't find satisfying flexible work. How stupid is that? In my ideal world, here's what life would be like:

1. Husbands would do as much housework as wives.
2. Good, part-time work would be readily available, with pro-rated benefits.
3. Schools would come up with a schedule that makes sense for working families and/or provide services and programs when 1/2 days are scheduled.
4. In the academic world, adjuncts would be paid a decent salary (see #2).
5. Women would not be seen as less desirable employees because they took time off to care for children.
6. Employers would offer leaves for women (and men, if they want) that are longer than simply the physical recovery time from giving birth. And leave doesn't just have to be taken right after the baby is born. Got a kid struggling with school? Maybe take some time off and then come back part-time.

That's just a start. It frustrates the hell out of me that employers can't get more creative about work schedules and that if someone presents a solution like one of the ones listed above, they're seen as not as committed to work. Ugh. So, how do we fix this? Are there opportunities with the new administration to encourage employers (including colleges and universities) to adopt better policies? Or is this a lost cause?