An annoying little fact that might explain (at least in part) the gender gap: Men logged far more hours than women at work. Joan Williams, a professor at Hastings College of Law, writes in the Harvard Business Review blog:
How many employed American mothers work more than 50 hours a week? Go on, guess. I've been asking lots of people that question lately. Most guess around 50 percent.
The truth is 9 percent.
In contrast, fathers who work more than 50 hours a week stand at 29 percent. (For parents with at least a college degree, 37 percent of fathers versus 14 percent mothers worked 50 hours or more per week.) This gap in hours "is a key reason why the percentage of women in top jobs has stalled at about 14 percent, a number that has barely budged in the past decade," writes Williams.
Why the sizable gap? Williams suggests that the American workplace—particularly in the elite circles of law or finance—equates working long hours at the office with virtue and masculinity. The other side of the coin is that work arrangements that offer more flexibility and controlled hours—the type of arrangement that women and an increasing number of men want—are disparaged.
In fact, working insanely long hours (and broadcasting them) have now become elite, macho status symbols. "Not only is work devotion a 'class act'—a way of enacting class status—it's also a certain way of being a 'real' man," writes Williams.
Just 50 years ago, elitism was defined very differently, says Williams: "Americans signaled class by displaying their leisure: think bankers' hours (9 to 3)." Well, so much for the good old days!
How do women fit in this current scheme? They don't. Women want to work; they just don't want to work insanely. What women also want/need is some control over their work—namely, in the form of flexibility.
But even flexibility—a hard-earned option—is increasingly under attack. Despite the research that supports the business benefits of flexibility (increased efficiency, lower turnover, better morale, etc.), there's been a backlash recently. Yahoo! Inc.'s elimination of off-site work is, of course, the most notable example.
If it's any comfort, flexibility is one area where firms tend to be somewhat progressive. I don't think most firms care where or how you bill these days—just as long as you get it done. That said, big law firms glorify those with the most billables.
So where does this leave us? I'm afraid nowhere. Williams suggests that the value placed on the masculine model of working is entrenched in our belief system:
If institutions are serious about advancing women, they'll have to address the hours problem—that's the only way to get a critical mass of women poised for leadership. But we'll never address the hours problem until we open up a conversation about what drives it.
It's not productivity. It's not innovation. It's identity.
Ah, that elusive thing, identity. I don't know about you, but I'm not holding my breath that change is coming anytime soon. (Let me just say that I'm not sure Williams is that flexible on the identity issue either. She basically says that women can't or won't put in the grueling hours that men do: "We can't expect progress when the fast track that leads to top jobs requires a time commitment that excludes most mothers—and by extension, most women.")
In the meantime, let me ask you this: Do you believe Big Law will ever become saner? Is it the male work culture that dictates the hours—or is the job just inherently crazy?
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