Sunday, May 31, 2009

Obama-like Hope

"Bring back the hope." A fellow working mom gave us that charge as we embarked on writing our book Getting to 50/50 a few years ago.

So we were duly flattered when The Huffington Post recently called Getting to 50/50 "Obama-like" saying that we'd taken a "clear-eyed" look at the research and laid out a game plan that was "refreshingly upbeat" for working parents who want to change both their own lives and the places they work.

But no one can succeed in bringing more hope to working parents until we re-think the very way we talk about this topic. Let's start with what we put in headlines.

This week, David Leonhardt of The New York Times wrote a great piece about both the promise of change and the cost when we don't make change happen fast enough.

Citing new research by Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, the piece points out that when women set the standards in a profession, innovation occurs in how people work. Goldin points out how much obstetrics -- a 24/7 job if there ever was one -- has evolved as women have become a large part of the leadership in that field. Group practices are now the norm and the sharing of work allows OBs to address two kinds of needs: both those of their patients and those of their own families.

But this useful news -- that changing your workplace is possible -- is in the last half of the article. It is buried behind a lot of discouraging data on how much your income will suffer if you don't change the way you work and feel compelled to quit your job for a while. And the headline? Financial Careers Come at a Cost to Family, implying that people who want families should avoid finance and other un-reformed fields - rather than sticking with them, leading change and altering the way demanding work gets done.

In Chapters 4-6 of our book, Getting to 50/50, we profile many forward-thinking parents and employers who've re-engineered work to produce both top-quality results and time for family. On our book tour, we've talked to over 2,000 men and women at companies and campuses across the country. We see lots of evidence that jobs can be made family-friendly enough so that men can be full parents and women can have full careers. Let's focus our eyes -- and our headlines -- on that.

By Sharon Meers