Reflecting on priorities of family & work
Last week, Katharine Zaleski, former executive at the Huffington Post and Washington Post., made headlines apologizing to all of the working mothers she used to work with. She did not provide them with the same opportunities she would for working women without kids or men. In the article, she highlights several infractions she now feels ashamed of – now that she has kids of her own. I don’t want to downplay the reality of this all too common woman on woman bias and also recognize that such bias is probably even more prevalent for male supervisors. I also don’t want to go on a rant about potentially ulterior motives for Katharine Zaleski (although I do at the end of this post – so read on). But, what about dads?
Should Katharine apologize to them for assuming they would want the “opportunities” she passed moms working up for? Once again, I do understand the argument – well, at least the dads are given the chances. But do they have the ability to say no or does only the expectation of always saying yes persist? Do we all assume that working dads, like myself, don’t want the same flexibilities we expect working moms to want? I want to Skype into a meeting instead of attending in person so that I can go to my kids’ school musical performance in the morning (actually happening tomorrow). Additionally, I don’t want all of the plum assignments that require additional hours on top of an already 50+ hour work week because I want to be home for dinner as often as possible. I also want some of those projects – I want choice and that is what all employees should have, free of judgment and repercussions.
Some working moms want to continue to cultivate their career and will hire helpers or enlist family members (shout out to stay-at home dads!!) to allow them to work late, travel more, and do what it traditionally takes to impress their bosses; others want to slow down; still others want to try to keep the status quo at work. Dads working are the same way, but with an added expectation in our society that working moms slow down or step out while working dads continue towards upward mobility – both harmful stereotypes. Working dads who slow down or step down are still looked at questionably. I’ve been able to read a bunch of fellow blogging dads who stay at home and better understand their challenges. Take this episode of Cougar Town I watched last night (don’t judge). Here’s an interaction between a recently turned stay-at-home dad whose wife became a high-powered lawyer and his friend who owns a business and has no kids:
Friend: Look at you, stay at home dad just sit around on your ass all day while your wife works to support you. Must be quite a blow to your manhood.
Stay at Home Dad: All this lounging is awful, miserable, but you enjoy work.
You can check out the actual scene (it’s the first scene) in the latest episode (Season 6, Episode 9 – “Two Men Talking”).
It made me wonder why don’t more dads put their career trajectories on hold to support the careers of working moms? Is it because of those societal expectations? Or, would spending that much time with kids, particularly young ones, drive you insane? I altered my career path in order to have greater flexibility and time with my family, but did not do so until recently – as my kids entered an age where I really enjoyed engaging with them for prolonged periods of time. Maybe things will change as my kids – particularly my daughter hits puberty. 9 years working as a middle school teacher make me fully aware of what is to come.
It was difficult for me to move from running an organization and being center-stage to supporting someone running an organization, albeit a much larger, national one. Now, I relish the role but it took some time to fully come to terms – it was a bit of a blow to my manhood.
So Katharine Zaleski has been able to parlay her new found fame as a means to promote her new found company that creates work opportunities for moms working in tech through a media circus by apologizing for her pre-mom self (Cynical? Maybe). At least it has elevated the conversation for moms working in America. Hopefully, there will be a second order effect in thinking about dads working (like me) and the role we may play at both work and home.
Note: My career move wasn’t to support my wife’s career. We both have flexible arrangements. However, if my wife is reading this (and she reads all of my blogs): I’m ready to step backwards if you ever have a strong urge to prioritize your career more – you have much higher earning potential anyway. I’m not holding my breath.