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Do Men Give a Hoot About Work/Life Balance?

Vivia Chen

November 12, 2012

© apops - Fotolia.comI want to be a believer, but I'm skeptical. I keep hearing that men secretly crave work/life balance, but I'm not sure that I buy it.

In a new article for The Atlantic, a Princeton professor and former head of policy planning at the State Department, Anne-Marie Slaughter, writes that men are reluctant to voice their desire for work/life balance. The reason: It's still regarded as a women's issue. 

In "Work-Life Balance as a Men's Issue, Too," Slaughter recounts a dinner she had with a group of Princeton undergraduates in which only the women vocalized concerns about juggling work and family:

When I commented on the suddenly one-sided nature of the conversation, one young man volunteered that he "had been raised in a strong feminist household" and considered himself to be fully supportive of male-female equality, but he was reluctant to say anything for fear he would be misunderstood. A number of the other guys around the table nodded in agreement.

Slaughter argues that men are trapped by stereotypes just as much as women. A man who asks for flextime or paternity leave, or who passes on a job with too much travel, "is regarded as  insufficiently committed to his work or else just "not one of the guys.'" (Slaughter and Hastings law professor Joan Williams also wrote about the "flexibility stigma" that attaches to men for the San Francisco Chronicle.) Moreover, Slaughter notes that our language reinforces gender stereotypes by using labels like "working mom" but almost never "working dad."

I find Slaughter's latest piece a refreshing departure from her famous "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" article, which, to me, overplayed women's biological need to nurture children. This time, she focuses on men's role in the family unit and how our notions of masculinity hinder their participation. And she's right that it's essential "to have men join the conversation—publicly, candidly, and loudly" if we want real change.

But what I'm not convinced about is that men are drumming for change. In the world of Big Law and Wall Street, I haven't seen much evidence of it. While I know plenty of men who have dropped out of pressured professions, there also appears to be a surplus of men eager to replace their vacated spots in the rat race. I often hear about how promising women decide to get off the partnership track, but promising men seem to stick it out.

I know what you're about to say: Some of those men are sticking it out because that's what they're expected to do. Maybe so. But the point is, they don't seem to feel an urgent need to change.

Toward the end of her article, Slaughter urges male readers to chime in on the subject. She also asks

Do you secretly long for the mythical days when you would come home and have your wife greet you at the door with your slippers and a martini, with a gourmet dinner awaiting and your kids all bathed and in their pajamas, waiting for a roughhouse or a bedtime story before drifting sweetly off to sleep?

I hate to say it, but for many men on the fast track, that's more or less their life now. And guess what? They're not complaining.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at [email protected] Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist


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Vivia, this doesn't make any sense. The example Slaughter uses is how a bunch of men were uncomfortable even voicing a desire for more flexibility and more balance, even though they wanted it. And you say you don't buy it because men don't say they do?

The issue is not neccessarily craving a work/life balance but the ability to ATTAIN one in this ultra-competitive job market. Many men and women work probably crave a work life balance but may believe it is hard to ATTAIN one in this job market and because their bosses and/or culture of the firm is not geared to that possibility

If you really want to see what men do when they don't have to live with the contrast between their own lives and the duties and expectations imposed on women, then look at same-sex couples.

I know lots of lesbian or gay couples who are raising children. Some have one job, some two. But regardless, they are not all that different from different-sex couples of goodwill who struggle to balance fairly, and end up (if they're lucky) with each working hard in the different ways that are their personal forte.

If an opposite-sex marriage isn't working out that way, then it ought to look to same-sex couples for guidance as to what sacrifices and favors a spouse needs to accept for it to work.

For the last ten years I have regularly counseled male associates at firms (and a few partners as well) on career options that allow for a better, if imperfect, work/life balance.

British male speaking.

The issue here is often - and this may be the same with you - at a lower level of employment than Big Law. Where the nature of the work is such that regular weekend or night work is involved it causes deep and proper resentment if people, mostly women, with child- or elder-care responsibilities are not required to work their equal share of them.

It used to be said that men should get more for the same work than women because "their pay feeds more mouths". Now we need to grasp that everyone's private life is of equal value, however they spend their leisure hours.

I am in my mid 50s. Our child is now 25. We tried the dual income route but it proved impossible and lacked any quality. We made a decision after 2 years that I would be Ozzie and she would be Harriett. We drove old Hondas and lived modestly. For us, it worked well but as a result I was never the one to seek a "work/life balance." Today I am not sure it is possible for most to survive on one person's income unless a drastic change to lifestyle is accepted.

This is a fascinating issue. Speaking from my own experience, I can only say that on the one hand, en with children do, like women, want to spend more time with their kids. On the other hand, many men, myself included, also have a built in "hunter gatherer" instinct. This dates back thousands of years, and the changes in society in the last 30 years are taking time for both sexes to adapt, and humans don't generally adapt that fast in evolutionary terms.

Many men in my family assumed I had him "whipped" until I explained that I'm out of the house 12 hours day, and that this was the best way for us both to enjoy clean clothes and a full pantry. A man who chooses to do the housework is still looked upon with suspicion.

Some of it comes down to dollars and cents. I work in the public sector in a job that pays much less but has a much more flexible take on work life balance than when I was at a private firm. Why? Because when it came time to have kids my husband's income outpaced mine by more than 25%. He would have loved to be more available, but financially it just was not possible. Had I been the one making more money, then he would have been the one home more with the kids.

I have found that public sector attorneys are just as dedicated and hard working as those in the private sector. Maybe even more so because they appreciate being able to be at school events, family dinners and actually be active participants in their kids lives. They give 150% when they are working. Plus without the pressure to bill; just to get the work done... they are often more efficient than their private sector counterparts.

As a legal recruiter from a well-respected firm in NYC, I can tell you with complete certainty that most men do, in fact, crave a work-life balance. Women do, too - because they're also human.

My husband and I have both have busy careers, and we share the household work equally. I tend to run all the errands because he hates them. He does most of the cooking during the week, although I plan the meals and do the grocery shopping. He is the kitchen clean-up guy and deals with the dishwasher. We have to coordinate our schedules and travel to make sure one of us is home by 6:00 p.m. each night to let the dogs out. We take turns working from home or taking time off if we are having work done at the house. Work life balance is easily as important to him as it is to me.

I can't speak for men, generally. I haven't conducted a survey. But I can tell you that I crave work/life balance and quality time with my family. I have had to make sacrifices at home and at work. My family has been understanding and supportive, my employers less so.

A couple years ago, I used to leave work twice a week at 5:20 p.m. so I could attend my son's baseball games. My boss was incensed by my "lack of commitment," and I suffered professionally for it. Eventually, I decided that for the sake of my career, I could no long take my kids to after-school sporting events. Since my wife also works, that meant the end of after-school sports for my kids.

I try to make it up to them on weekends and before and after work. For example, I help my daughter practice piano for 10 minutes every morning before her school bus arrives. My wife and I help her with her homework whenever one or the other of us can get home before her bedtime (sometimes neither of us can).

My career and my wife's career have suffered as a result of our commitment to work/life balance. We recognize that that's not anyone's fault--it's just the way the world works. We all make choices, and then we live with the consequences.

I miss the majority of my children's plays, open houses, etc. due to work demands. But I go when I can. Years ago, someone asked me, "At the end of your life, which are you more likely to regret, that you didn't spend enough time with your family, or that you didn't spend enough time at work?" For me, the answer is easy. What I find difficult is the thought that I could spend more time with my family if I only had the imagination to know how.

I am a junior associate at a big NYC law firm and I will be able to take a full paid month of paternity leave (baby on the way). This was a perk we were strongly urged to take advantage of by partners. I know it's not standard everywhere, but it is happening more and more.

"Slaughter argues that men are trapped by stereotypes just as much as women." Can't agree more. My husband works from home and has less demanding hours than I do. He does all the housework, shopping, yardwork, laundry, and cat care. Many men in my family assumed I had him "whipped" until I explained that I'm out of the house 12 hours day, and that this was the best way for us both to enjoy clean clothes and a full pantry. A man who chooses to do the housework is still looked upon with suspicion.

In 1994, I took paternity leave because our third child had a medical problem and had to be cared for at home. It was the year before the firm's vote on whether I became a partner. I made partner without a delay, but only one man (his wife had triplets) out of hundreds has taken paternity leave since (he also made partner). My routine before being an empty nester was to be responsible for the kids in the morning (my wife had to be at the hospital early most days (and home by 6:00, often working after the kids went to bed or while they did their homework. Men can do it, but I guess most either don't want to spend that much daily time with their kids or are not willing to be different.

Hear hear. Couldn't agree more.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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