Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Flexibility: Pay It Forward

A couple of years ago, the American Association of Law Libraries published profiles of several librarians as a recruitment tool for the profession. I was among the librarians profiled in a piece entitled, “Change is Good . . . Even if You Love What You Do”. In it, I described my decision to balance my family and career by switching from a full-time law firm career to a part-time academic one.

As a result of this profile, other librarians contact me for advice on this option. Clearly, this is a very personal decision working women need to make with their partners, but I’ve always encouraged those who call to at least consider trying meaningful part time work for one simple reason:

Whatever we do to increase flexibility in today’s workplace will make it that much easier for our daughters and sons facing these decisions in twenty years.

In last December’s American Prospect, Linda Hirshman published an article, “Homeward Bound,” in which she revealed the results of her research on couples whose weddings were announced in the “Sunday Styles” section of the New York Times in 1996. To her horror, she discovered that the vast majority of these highly educated, elite women were home raising children. She criticized this “opt-out phenomenon” and set off a firestorm that continues to play out in the media. (See Judith Stadtman Tucker’s “Everybody Hates Linda”, “A Working Girl Can Win” by Meghan O’Rourke, and Ms. Hirshman’s own account of the last few months in “Unleashing the Wrath of Stay-at-Home Moms”) The original research is now a controversial new book, Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World.

I’ll be taking this book to the beach with me, but from what I’ve read so far, some of Ms. Hirshman’s real message may have been lost in the backlash. The choices educated, wealthy women make have repercussions beyond their own circles. They have the power to serve as role models for their less-privileged peers as well as for their successors. By opting out, these women diminish the contribution women can make to improve the world.

That sentiment is, in part, what motivates the advice I give the librarians who contact me. I believe that the workplace can change, but not without guidance and definition from the women with the most at stake. Those of us who reach certain professional levels have the power to negotiate for flexibility, and although it means endless juggling and constant vigilance, I feel we owe it to the past and the future to do so. These small contributions can have a profound effect over time because they set precedents in individual workplaces.

Ms. Hirshman is not enthusiastic about part-time work, stating, “If my interviewees are working, they work largely part time, and their part-time careers are not putting them in the executive suite.” However, she acknowledges that many women had become so alienated by a workplace designed by and for males, that “[n]ot surprisingly, even where employers offered them part-time work, they were not interested in taking it.”

I think that’s where librarians are lucky – and why we should work toward creating meaningful part-time library employment. We really like what we do. Yes, there are difficult bosses and colleagues, threats of downsizing, and incursions from other professionals, but most of knew we were choosing careers burdened by such problems. We did so anyway because librarianship is fulfilling, and it is that fulfillment that can support the creation of small, but satisfying, work along the entire continuum of a librarian’s career. If we embrace the notion that flexibility in the workplace is for everyone – parents of young children, children of aging parents, women, men, old and young – we can have the opportunity to do good now and in the future.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Less Money + More Time = Happier Working Moms

If you've watched any NBC news program in the last 24 hours, you probably saw the story by Dawn Fratangelo on what working women want - more time! The piece is based on a Career Builder survey released in May that reveals that fifty-two percent of working moms would take a pay cut to spend more time with their children. That figure stood at 38 percent last year. Dissatisfaction with the work-life balance seems to have taken a marked leap up this year!

According to the survey, more than half of the women interviewed said their companies offer flex time, but as one flex-time taker in the NBC piece pointed out, "Not a day goes by that someone's isn't saying ‘Oh, nice of you to show up today’ or something." Implementing company policies that support a more sane work-life balance is only part of the solution. It's going to take a paradigm shift in attitudes to ensure that our kids don't face the same insanity we do!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Scant Research on Work Life Balance

The Career Journal, the executive career site of the Wall Street Journal, has released its 2006 Best Careers report, which identifies eight careers that offer high job satistfaction. The top attributes of winning careers include:
  • Good intellectual stimulation;
  • Strong job security;
  • High level of control and freedom in what to do;
  • Extensive direct contact with customers/clients.

Think librarianship rates inclusion? Join a discussion on the topic.

In a subset of the report, Career Journal editors list careers by the qualities that matter most to employees, such as autonomy and work-life balance. According to the editors, there is insufficient research on careers that offer a work-life balance to recommend any one in particular, however, they do advise avoiding law firms. Carol Evans, founder and chief executive officer of Working Mother Media Inc., says few law firms have made her "Working Mother" annual list of best employers because, "They don't have the policies in place, they don't do the work, and they stop trying after a while." Ouch!