Joan Williams, the director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law, has long worked in the work/life balance trenches. She's written a new book, Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter.
Recently, I talked to her about what makes her book on this well-trodden subject different.
You talk about reframing the work/balance issue to include men. Is the idea of enlisting men really new?
I'm not talking about enlisting them, but opening the discussion about the pressures on men.
What kind of pressure do men face?
In law and other professions, it's expected that you make work the centerpiece. The presumption is that men will put work above all other demands, which means they need stay-at-home wives or women who work part-time. . . . The old-fashioned idea of being the sole support of a family is pretty daunting. The exquisite privilege of working 60-70 hours a week is not something that men treasure.
But are men really complaining about the all-or-nothing workplace? How do you know they care about this issue?
Men come up to me to talk about it all the time
But aren't those men a self-selected bunch?
There's a groundswell of men who are interested in the issue. And a growing number of younger men who are insistent on more work/life balance, who want more involvement in their children's lives.
So what can men add to the discussion?
The focus had been on women. But you can't [succeed] unless there's change for both men and women. Flextime and part-time are stigmatized until we open the conversation about what we expect of men.
Speaking of expectations, you make an interesting point in your book that white- collar men prove their masculinity by working long hours at the office, rather than getting dirty and sweaty like their blue-collar brothers. So is asking men to slow down and share the housework threatening the male ego?
Newsweek recently had an article that was a response to "The End of Men" [an article about the rise of women in the workplace] in The Atlantic. [Newsweek] used the term "re-imagining masculinity," which I wouldn't use. Our idea of a successful man is not someone who's wearing a Snugly. So long as we define success as constant devotion to work, change will be difficult.
Do you ever get pushback from lawyers about your ideas to change the workplace?
The more traditional ones will sometimes say, "This is la-la land." But the younger ones have a different view; there's already a generation war in the law firms.
How long do you think it'll take the workplace to change into a more balanced environment?
We are in the early stages of the conversation about pressures on men. It took five to six years to change the conversation about women. People use to say that [professional] women were cheerfully opting out; now we know that they were pushed out.
Readers--especially men: Is work/life balance a major issue for you? Would you ever consider going part-time? Do you think you'll pay a price if you do?
Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.