Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Opting in and onramping

Apparently, I missed the memo. I wasn't supposed to quit my job; I was supposed to be rejoining the workforce. Last week, Judith Warner wrote about the media frenzy of covering the opt-outers having to return to work and give up their 9 a.m. yoga classes. There was actually a Blogging Heads conversation between Rebecca Traister and Emily Bazelon that started with a discussion of the wives of Wall Streeters who were disappointed that their lives weren't living up to their expectations. Both Warner and these two women point out that at the lower end of the income scale, the pain is worse and the cooperation between the spouses is greater. As Warner says of working class women's spouses:
But their husbands, very often, are holding their own at home just fine. For while the stereotype has long been that working class men won’t do “women’s work,” Coontz said, the truth is that in recent years they’ve had a better track record than the most high-income men in sharing domestic duties. Twenty percent of these men, in fact, actually do more housework and child care now than their wives. “These people have been doing it for some time and they’re much more ideologically committed to doing it,” she said. “I think your worst offenders” (dirty coffee mug-wise), “are in that top 5 percent.”
That rings true with my own experience in a working-class/middle-class neighborhood where I routinely see men at the grocery store, at parent-teacher meetings, at the soccer field (we have soccer dads too!), and doing their fair share around the house. The Bloggingheads conversation ends with hoping for more equity in the home, but also points out that there's still a huge pay gap between men and women, which families are going to feel even more of if it's the woman in the workforce and not the man. Hello? When is the excuse that the man has to support a family and therefore needs a bigger salary going to be shot down. Warner also points out that the focus on the wealthy's problems takes away attention from the problems of the majority, problems that need to be addressed:
There’s a deeper reason, too: paying attention only to the – real or perceived – “choices” and travails of the top 5 percent hides the experiences of all the rest. And this means that the needs of all the rest never quite rise to the surface of our national debate or emerge at the top of our political priorities.
One can't help but see a connection between this and the greater debate over bonuses and protecting banks from collapsing. Think about how AIG bonuses are being treated and how the banks are being treated compared to the UAW and the automakers (hat tip to rzklkng).

Yesterday, I listened to this show segment from NPR's Tell Me More, where several returning to work mothers told their stories of how and why they returned to work. Not all of them fit the label Economommies (bleh, what an insulting term). One mother, for example, had always determined that when all of her kids were school age, she herself would return to school. The story didn't really add much to the conversation, in my opinion. Sure, it shows how adjustments need to be made, how the spouses and the kids have to contribute more to household work, but this, to me, is an old story.

The Time story (linked to above), on the other hand, is a little more interesting and a little more creepy at the same time. On the one hand, it highlights many businesses that have cropped up that seek to help women onramp back to work by matching them with jobs that have flexible hours and/or providing training and networking opportunities. What shocks me is how out of it some women are in terms of technical and other skills. Even though I'm currently off-ramped, there's no way I'm letting my skills deteriorate. I didn't when I was home before and I won't do it again. I always want to be able to jump back in whenever I need to.

When I was reading the article, I was actually thinking about the middle school PTO committee meeting I went to the other day. Working with the PTO or other volunteer organizations is one way to keep up your skills if you do it well. The thing that happens to some women when they're at home moms is that they get into a comfortable groove of hanging out with certain people and doing certain things. The same people always seem to be running the PTO, for example. They not only do PTO together, but they go to the same church, eat at the same restaurants, and their kids are on the same soccer team. Everone and everything is always familiar and they think that it's like this for everyone. So, when a new person shows up at their meeting, they don't think to introduce everyone. Also, they don't think that people's time is valuable and they don't have an agenda for the meeting. Both of these skills (and non-technical ones at that) are ones that one learns in a business environment. A meeting that could have taken an hour at most turned into an almost two-hour nightmare. I'm also participating in an after-school activity at my daughter's elementary school that is equally disorganized. Also, no introductions at that meeting either. Ugh. Obviously, these women (and they were all women) are smart and capable, but if they were to take these events a little more seriously, a little more professionally, they'd really up the quality of them and be able to chalk this up as good experience should they need it on the job market one day. If they did that, I'd write them a Linked-In recommendation or a paper one to help them out.