Monday, February 22, 2010

Why Girls Need to Put On Their Running Shoes

Yesterday, I got an email from my high school track coach -- he asked if I’m still working on my 400 meter dash (let me tell you, it needed work.) I wasn’t a natural athlete. I was a bookish girl who liked ballet and chorus. For most of my childhood, no one seemed worried about my non-participation in sports -- I wasn’t a boy so, the message seemed to be, it didn’t matter so much. Thank heavens for track!

I’ve always been grateful that my broadminded coach took weak raw material and turned me into a passable runner. But, I had not fully considered all the positive knock-on effects. According to the New York Times, a new Wharton study says Title IX (which stimulated a six-fold jump in girls sports participation) can also be thanked for 40% of the rise in female employment. Looking at state-by-state data, the Wharton study says encouraging female athletics is associated with dramatic leaps in female achievement.

So when work is tough and I feel like throwing up my hands, maybe it’s the experience of prevailing over shin-splints and aching muscles and dehydration that helps me hang in there. Maybe part of leveling the playing field for women is realizing that competitive athletics are no more optional for girls than for boys. Some of us may not “like” sports (due to both nature and nurture - for people like me), but then how many kids “like” vegetables? All girls need the same push into the fray, into glory and the grit of physical competition, that boys get.

By Sharon Meers

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"It's the babies, stupid."- Find out what GigaOm has to say

“It’s the babies, stupid.” In this week's GigaOm peice,

Silicon Valley Has a Woman Problem, But Women Still Have a Baby Problem,Stacey Higginbotham, points out that it’s our wildly-out-of-date ideas about women, men and babies that keeps leadership in technology (and elsewhere) skewed heavily male.

Higgenbotham herself took a more demanding job after having a child - like plenty of women we interviewed in Getting to 50/50. She says that “women shouldn’t have to choose between raising a family and building a startup any more then men should” - and to fix that “we’re going to have to discuss the lack of parity between men and women when it comes to raising children.”

Let’s get that conversation going everywhere! It’s really quite fun -- as we’ve learned from our 50/50 book talks where often half the crowd is male.

By Sharon Meers

Friday, February 5, 2010

Never Enough Hours In the Day

I just finished reading "Equally Shared Parenting: Half the Work....All the Fun" by Marc and Amy Vachon, and I really enjoyed it, in large part because they say so many of the same things as Sharon and I. I especially love the fact that the book was written by a couple, and they seem so confident with their decisions.

The main difference between the Vachons' and our views in Getting to 50/50 is that they strongly advocate both parents taking down their hours and becoming independent contractors in order to gain more flexibility, while we grapple more with how to work full time and make 50/50 work. But in the end, for all of us, it is hard to deny that it comes down to hours: there are never enough in the day, and how can we do everything in the ones that are available.

I think a lot about a blog that I read (and we quote) by a woman who believes that her family can survive 80 hours of work: split 40/40, 70/10 or 30/50, but that her life falls apart when the total work hours exceed 80. In our family it is probably closer to 90 hours, but it is true that when we are both really busy, important things start to slide. It is hard to figure out 50/50 when one person has a job that requires 100 hours a week, which explains why many women married to investment bankers feel pressured to quit.

Many of us believe that our jobs cannot be completed in less time. But the most interesting counter to that are the studies of divorced dads. Those same investment bankers who believe they need to work 100 hours/week when their wives stay at home, once divorced, somehow manage to do their jobs in less hours and show up at school and at home a lot more often. Somehow they find the time and figure out how to be more efficient so they can spend time with their children.

I think both Equally Shared Parenting (the Vachon's term) or 50/50 (ours) are possible with big jobs and small, full time and part time. But either way the jobs require some flexibility so we can split the hours, split the housework and kidcare, and come home for dinner. In this I think we are 100% in agreement.

Joanna Strober

Monday, February 1, 2010

Closing the Gender Gap- 4 Ideas That Make Sharing Easier

At 2AM last Friday, Roseanne Roseannadanna (1) was keeping me company. My head kept trying to sooth itself with her famous SNL mantra: “If it’s not one thing, it’s another“ followed by her wonderful laundry lists of foul items. Mine: fluids of many sorts -- gallons of liquid from our burst water heater into my son’s room, spare room, walls (leaving the flood refugee sleeping with his parents); then, geysers from my daughter’s stomach sending partially-digested dinner all over the place, all night.

Times like these remind me why negotiating our way to more equality often seems so daunting. Like there’s never a sane moment to stop, consider, discuss how things work with our spouse.

Recent weeks have featured lots of talk about co-ed sharing and why it is or isn’t happening.The New York Times piece pointed to research on today’s couples saying that more sharing yields less divorce (and that female laissez faire gives men more space -- which, in turn, yields more sharing). With overwhelming evidence that more sharing is good for families, it’s amazing to me how hard it is for people to talk about this.

One NYT quote reveals a key reason there’s so much discomfort with this topic: “You can’t just reverse the genders.” Yes, if my husband thought he was going to have to wear a skirt to do his half at home, I don’t think he’d sign up for that. But that’s a canard - do dishes, cooking and laundry really alter how male or female you are?

The Huffington Post said this week that “When the issue is division of labor between dual career couples, often it's all out war.” And the statistics would lead many of us into battle: According to a great new book, Equally Shared Parenting (by Marc and Amy Vachon) women working fulltime still do an average of 28 hours of housework per week versus the 16 men do. The double-duty still seems to apply when women/men split caring for kids -- 13 “she” hours to 7 “he” hours per week (see Getting to 50/50). But from what we learned from our research and book tour is that there are perfectly peaceful ways to get more equal sharing -- and the fear of conflict is what keeps many of us from even looking for them.

In The Economist last week, Stanford professor Londa Schiebinger makes clear how burdening 50% of our most talented people with 2x the housework is a big economic tax. Apparently even women scientists fall prey to the 2-to-1 rule, through using their heads (triage and outsourcing about 15% of the labor) they report doing 10 hours of housework (versus 5 hours of housework for the average male scientist).

From the data I’ve seen, women scientists have the lowest absolute gender gap on hours of housework versus their male peers, a mere 5 hours per week. What would it take for that gap to go to zero? A few hypotheses:

1) Real Men are Real Dads. What if all us women did a great job communicating that belief to the men around us? Social science data says only 20% of men still believe in “women’s work,” that men and women were really meant to play dramatically different roles. What if we help the other 80% of fair-minded-enough men find strength in their actual numbers? Some of the best parenting advice our family gets is man-to-man: Successful guys with busy careers who trade information about raising kids -- while clearing up the kitchen with their wives. It does take some social engineering -- a good first step is for women to know in our bones that equality is really very good for men (for the research on this, see Why Guys Love 50/50).

2) Guys Can Multitask. What if women dropped the negative (but funny!) banter about how supposedly unable men were to do their parts at home? What if we looked at the data that says men are naturally able enough to do a great job with kids and home and leave it at that?

3) No One Wants a Boss At Home. What happens in households where men get equal say what’s on the to-do list and when it gets done? Marriage experts say that when wives are open to the male innovations in family management (vacuuming once a week, not twice?) men are far more likely to do their part.

4) Typecasting is Good for No One. If you have no assumptions, is it easier to run a happy home? Couples who freed themselves from the “girls do this, boys do that” mentality had an easier time planning ahead about what work was to be done and who was going to do it. They had to. If you can’t assume mom stays home when kids are sick, if you can’t assume that dad is responsible for earning more money to buy the new car this year, you have to do a lot more thinking ahead.

Families do generate endless curveballs that are hard to anticipate. And mortal working parents like me don’t get it just right very often. But the practice of looking ahead and figuring out what’s manageable for mom/dad means that when you need to say “I need your help,” you have a better shot of using a calm, friendly voice.

What if more of us tried harder to test these hypotheses? It’s often 60/40 or 90/10 and it’s unlikely that the gap in male/female household labor will really be zero for a while. The point is that mis-allocated household labor should not be the reason women have to bow out of jobs they train hard to get. It shouldn’t be the reason that men get stuck fearing their bosses if they go home for dinner with their kids. 50/50 is a mindset that says women need their jobs and men need their kids - that moving toward more common ground will bring us a lot more peace.

Our family was still fighting soggy carpets and the threat of mold when my daughter's bug migrated to my stomach -- as Ms. Roseannadanna said, “its always something.” And, having just written the above, in the nicest voice I could muster, I asked husband to take our kids to school so I could sleep another hour and make it to the office looking less green.

By Sharon Meers