Work-Life Balance

In late March, the White House hosted a symposium on workplace flexibility. Of course, I could not watch it live because I was at work, but I did watch the opening session online that evening. (They’ve since added all the breakout sessions to the blog.) That the White House was even having a public discussion about this stuff is pretty compelling to me. 

The work-life question is a popular topic of conversation among my friends and peers, whether our primary-waking-hours job is employment outside of the home or caring for our own children. Truthfully, I know very few people who work full-time or stay at home full-time who are 100% happy with that. SAHMs long for more intellectual stimulation and/or some financial independence. Working moms long for more flexibility and/or time to themselves and/or time with their children.

Back at the White House in March/April, Michelle Obama spoke of how she brought Malia in a stroller to a job interview because she didn’t have adequate childcare at the time. That she brought a sleeping toddler to a job interview in the late 1990s is no less shocking to me as is the fact that they gave her the job

Obviously, Mrs. Obama’s interviewers recognized some quality in her that would let her perform well in paid work despite a small child. Was she lucky? Or is that kind of workplace flexibility and work-life balance a common occurrence? In a world where women earn only 70-80% of what their male colleagues earn, I’m fairly confident that Mrs. Obama was lucky, or magnetic, or both.

The 1970s manifesto of equal wages, equal treatment, and fair valuation of housewifery is yet to be realized in 2010. That SAHMs have intrinsic value is somewhat recognized; that their work should have a monetary value is decidedly not. To wit: a 7-year argument I’ve had with my husband about whether childcare necessarily involves (or should) housecleaning. After all, when modern couples outsource these tasks, they are generally to different service people. While both can be (and often are) mind-numbing, busy-work tasks (and to be fair: so can any job in corporate America), they do require different skill sets.

After nearly a year of full-time work after 6 years of very, very part-time work, I can firmly say that I wish Chicago was a more flexible working town. Although I do know people with flexible working arrangements (some of them even in my company), it seems that most of them paid their dues as full-time workers for a period of time before negotiating their time down to 2/3 or 3/4-time. This would be the difference between reported flexibility arrangements between employers (one half) and employees (one third), as cited in the Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility study.

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