Derailed Mommy and Daddy Tracks

RECENT debates on the wisdom of Felice Schwartz's advice to corporations about their women workers are missing the point. In the Harvard Business Review, Ms. Schwartz points to the differences between men and women workers and to the fact that women ``cost more'' because of their mothering roles.

Furthermore, she states, this ought to be taken into consideration in business planning, and a separate track should be created for ``mommies.''

Despite heated debate in recent weeks, no one is saying what really needs to be said. We have a major societal problem right now: Both men and women are working much too hard in demanding careers whose standards were set when the society was quite different. In the past, one of the pair usually dedicated their life to work at home and the other to work outside the home.

The strains of that system are obvious to those of us who hear life stories on a regular basis. In many talented families, this system means very little time with the busy father, and a mother being saddled with both housekeeping and child-rearing chores.

In an effort to maximize fulfillment, women have entered the heated workplace, finding equality but not necessarily happiness. The current situation may make the children lonely for both parents as they both go about chasing their goals in the rigid systems that were created for them.

One example of current problems is the finding in a study of women residents in the Harvard medical system that the average workweek of the pregnant resident was 95 hours a week.

In addition, these women worked this schedule right up until a week or two before delivery, and did double duty to cover what would be missed while on maternity leave. While they had no difficulty proving that they could ``carry their weight'' at the workplace, they were at times so guilt-ridden that they were unable to leave their responsibilities at the hospital when they were placed on strict bedrest because of a prenatal complication.

While medical training has always been extreme in its rigor, recent expos'es of life in the law firm, the statehouse, or the financial world reveal similar pressures. It seems that women have often historically served as gentle reminders to all of us of our need to consider our humanness when setting goals for productivity. Pregnancy doesn't fit easily into the corporate mold, and it is thankfully not changeable.

It is likely that women are not the only ones who mind the current drudgery. So much focus is put on the workplace and income that we try desperately to eke out ``time for the children'' at some end of the day when they are likely not fresh. What about time for oneself to exercise, read, have fun, or relax? The price of a 50- to 95-hour workweek is too high for both men and women, especially if they plan to be actively involved in the rearing of their child, and something needs to be done about this.

Our focus should be on how to decompress the current pressure cooker that we find ourselves in. In medicine, this means decreasing the number of hours on call, both for those in training and in practice. It means options for a slower track for both men and women while they complete other life goals such as parenting. It means providing centers where those who do decrease their hours can maintain skills to keep them in the forefront of their fields.

In business, it means solutions like the one that Arthur Andersen & Co. has devised, which allows those who wish to slow down to do so, but with the same goal of partner achieved no matter how fast one goes.

It is time we focused our energy on these kinds of solutions. Otherwise, social historians will record our times with bemusement - those years when everyone worked much too hard for unclear gain or reason as many parts of life passed them by.

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