I read your article "Where Are The Women?" and believe that it's the first time I've read something on the subject that was truly balanced and thoughtful. An article where the author really tried to figure out what is happening, researched the subject matter, and didn't struggle to promote any particular personal agenda. Way to go — that is the way to write!
My wife and I have both struggled with a corporate America that demands way too much from its higher-level workers. I have been an engineering project manager and also once was on the track to partnership in a very large law firm. In both cases, I turned down a managerial role. I couldn't see any reason why giving up that much of my family life was worth all those hours. Let's face it, no amount of money can buy that time back.
They say that when it comes to your wife and children, love is spelled T-I-M-E, and I think that's right. This stuff about "quality time" vs. non-quality time is baloney. That's the excuse people make because they can't spend the time they would like with their loved ones. In this working environment, it's up to the workers to get their time back. If you don't take it, then no one is going to give it to you. For my part, I now work out of my home as a patent attorney and see my kids go off to school (and come back home) each day. I don't have to work on weekends. Of course, I'll never be a partner in a big firm now, but that's OK. I won't be divorced either or wonder what happened to the time when my kids leave home.
My wife was employed as an engineer at the beginning of our marriage. After the first child was born, we did the daycare thing. What a hassle! Always having to rush here and there, constantly splitting up the housecleaning, washing, cooking, and transportation chores. Kid always sick from being with so many other kids. We did that for a little over a year, until the second one was born, and then she quit working. What a relief, for everyone. The tension level of everyday living went way down. And it's been that way ever since. But it was a struggle for my wife. She even suffered the hostility of other women who thought she should be working.
That was about 15 years ago. Now our kids are in high school, about to enter college. We've received many compliments from others on their good behavior. They relate well to both of us, and are at the top of their classes. I don't have to worry about the kind of adults they will turn out to be.
I still struggle with the corporate mentality every day — at least as it exists in the minds of others. Most of the time, I can fend them off. But I can't wait for retirement. I want out of this rat race. Most of the time I "gut it out" because the rules are in place, and you can't change them. I really don't think the fact that the number of women in leadership roles has peaked is a "moral and competitive" shame, as observed by Mr. Byrne. I think it (hopefully — but there's not much sign of it yet) will serve as a wakeup call to corporate America. The women that turn down the higher-level jobs are just smarter than those people, men and women, who don't. Instead of working harder, they're working smarter. In the end, they will live longer and more satisfying lives. Imagine what would happen if all vice presidents and junior officers simply refused promotion until they received guarantees of reasonable hours and backup staff to handle off-hours labor? Then we might actually have some corporate change in this country. But the materialistic culture of America appears to be winning out for now — many folks are simply too greedy to quit.
(There is some hope though. I understand the medical profession is moving toward a 9-5 "corporate" model. Each doctor will eventually belong to a large company and work a straight eight hour shift — no more of this 40 hours on-call stuff. Now, lots of doctors and potential doctors don't like that much. It cramps their earnings. Maybe patients don't either, for various reasons — they may not get to see "their" doctor. But your article lists the hours worked by doctors — worse than for lawyers! And it makes you wonder how many mistakes are made by overly tired physicians. They certainly suffer a high level of divorce, etc. So perhaps things will get better for them in the future, too.)
Thanks again for doing such a nice job, Linda. I appreciate the selection of this article as a focal point for the monthly issue.
Mark V. Muller
Schwegman, Lundberg, Woessner & Kluth, P.A.
Our Readers Respond
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A version of this article appeared in the February 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.