Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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Here's where we keep you updated on news about parenting as it relates to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions, work/life balance, and legislative and grass-roots movements toward equality or better choices for families. We'll also throw in our opinions of life as equal parents in a nonequal world, regardless of what's in the news.

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Equality Blog

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Little Perspective

Sometimes it seems like we're so far from a world where equally shared parenting is commonplace. We're getting there, little by little, but women are still considered the default nurturers and most men's identities are still wrapped up primarily in their ability to provide financially for their families. So it is good to step back every so often and realize how very far we've actually come in a few short decades.

Take this piece of history emailed to us by ESP dad, Carl. It's a 1955 newspaper clipping from Clio, Michigan. The newsworthy item? A man (in this case, Carl's sister-in-law's grandfather) actually stepped into an elementary school classroom to talk with the children!

In those days, such an event was worthy of stopping the presses - or at least sending in a reporter and photographer to capture the moment. Kinda makes you think...maybe in the quest for gender equality, the good ol' days may be quaint and sweet, but life just keeps getting better.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On the Front Lines

We often hear stories about market trends, sociological studies, or government programs aimed at addressing the current workplace and how it deals with work/life balance issues. However, I found it quite interesting to get a glimpse recently at how individuals are making an impact in this arena. A fellow ESP parent shared with me the following e-mail exchange with her CEO.

Employee: I wanted to plant this seed of an idea: if we ever get to the point of having to do layoffs, what about reducing peoples' hours instead? I know that we are actually doing quite well these days, and that our business is relatively strong. I'm really glad about that! However, if things change, and we find ourselves having to consider letting people go, there is another option: we could reduce peoples' work hours instead. For example, if you have 4 people, you could lay one off. Or, you could reduce them all to 30 hrs/wk.

As you know, I have worked here 30 hrs/wk for almost 9 years, and it has worked out quite well, both for the company and for my personal life as a parent. We have so many new parents here now, and some might actually rather reduce their work hours and therefore spend more time with their new kids. So instead of creating a huge problem for one person by laying them off, you could possibly improve the quality of life for 4 employees instead.

CEO: Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I appreciate your sentiment even though I disagree with it.

Let's take your example involving four people. Say we need to cut expenses by 25%. From a cost perspective, it is significantly less expensive for the company to employ three people working full-time than four people working 30 hours/week. There are certain fixed, overhead costs associated with each separate employee. Each employee receives their own health/dental benefits, retirement benefits, and tax withholdings. Each employee needs a computer, a phone, numerous accounts, IT support, etc. Each employee has individual needs and issues.

More importantly, it is unlikely that all four employees will agree to reduce their hours to 30 per week. A more likely scenario is that the strongest of the group will leave to join a stronger company.

We decided to offer you employment at 30 hours/week because you are a unique individual with uncommon skills (plus we and your co-workers like you a lot). If all employees were interchangeable, then it would make much more economic sense for us to employ someone who could work 40 or more hours/week.

I hope my response isn't too harsh, and I don't want to discourage you from making suggestions regarding HR or any other matters in the future.

Marc: Nobody asked for my opinion but I can't resist...

This was one of the more reasonable responses from an HR perspective that I have read. He makes some excellent points but as he says, "I have to disagree" with others.

First, I fully expect that reduced hours employees should receive similarly reduced benefits. Each person's hourly cost including salary, health and dental, retirement, and tax withholdings can all be reduced by the same percentage as the reduction in hours. Yes, it's true that many companies don't have the systems in place to do this but I think that is a weak excuse.

His fixed costs argument is a good one, although I don't believe it is a significant factor in the decision. In this example, phones and computers probably already exist but spares need to be available for more employees, granted. As far as other ancillary costs, IT support, HR accounts, etc. I expect we are talking about minimal dollars. In fact, I expect that employee retention benefits along with reduced salary over time due to the great schedule offerings may easily offset these ancillary costs and may even dwarf them.

Of course, much of this hinges on whether or not the employees want it. I agree with him that reducing employees hours and pay when the employees are trying to maximize their income may cause the best performers to look elsewhere. However, if the best employees want reduced/flexible arrangements, companies should capitalize on this fact and utilize a more diverse compensation package. I have spoken with numerous people who are happy to take a reduction in their maximum market value in exchange for an optimized life.

One point he didn't make that would support his argument is that when reductions in workforce are necessary it is a prime time to eliminate under-performers. In the example, it presumes that all four employees are equally valued whereas that is often not the case. Getting rid of a chronic problem worker has tremendous value on a variety of fronts. With that said, a company that is able to retain a stable of flexible, loyal, and qualified employees at any level of hours paid is in a position to utilize the brainpower of these individuals which is far more valuable than mere time on the clock.

Also, if any of these suggestions have any value to a company they can take advantage of a little-known unemployment law in Massachusetts . In the example of 4 employees below, reducing each to 30 hours in lieu of layoffs, allows the employees to claim prorated unemployment benefits which I expect will greatly reduce the likelihood that the best employees will leave for more money. This option nets a rather small reduction in salary for employees for many months, increases their time for the rest of their life, possibly reduces their childcare costs, creates energized employees willing to go the extra yard for the company (possibly producing full time work at reduced hour pay), and can allow a company to utilize the pool of money they have been contributing towards unemployment for years to meet a portion of their payroll expenses.

I realize that I'm painting a rosy picture but I truly believe that companies have not fully appreciated the power they wield when it comes to compensating employees. They have evolved in many instances to a one bullet revolver. However, if they ignore what essentially all sociological studies of the younger generations conclude, namely, that equal relationships and balanced lives are desired, companies will continue to have to pay higher salaries for certain skills if that's the primary benefit they offer.

Especially now, before a more diversified compensation package becomes commonplace, companies have the opportunity to differentiate themselves in the marketplace to attract and retain the necessary employees to drive their business.

I hope, and fully expect, that these quiet discussions are taking place in an ever-increasing number of instances across the land.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Go, Daddy!

Here we are - Father's Day! The national spotlight is on Dad at the grill, Dad getting his 100th new tie, Dad opening up his homemade cards. And, with a growing sense of authenticity, Dad simply being recognized and celebrated for his hands-on, equal status to Mom. We aren't completely there yet, of course, but the drumbeat of change is getting louder by the year. Fatherhood is becoming understood as worth something akin to motherhood.

Can't you just feel the gender convergence? It is hard to read a newspaper these days without seeing a story of involved fatherhood, or laid-off-Dad-becomes-full-time-father. While some of these portrayals are still focused on how amazing it is that dads are doing so much caregiving, many simply feel as if they are reporting on a trend. Yes!

But something even bigger is afoot than Dads punching the clock at home more often. We're seeing a wearing away of stereotypical gender roles in our society - at a pace that I'd bet hasn't been witnessed before. It's becoming easier for men to be nurturers - not just for the short-term while they wait for their wives to come home to take over - but as a part of their everyday lives. Masculinity is gearing up for a long overdue makeover.

Mother's Day started many centuries ago as a way to honor and appreciate motherhood and mothers. Father's Day, on the other hand, is a relatively recent creation - beginning in the early twentieth century. While Mother's Day has enjoyed generally universal high regard, Father's Day has often been anything from a cheap imitation to a parody that highlights the very unequal role that men have played in childraising.

But how many people are laughing now? Today is a dad's day in the sun. Even though it rained all day here in Boston, somehow it feels warm and bright.

Happy Father's Day, world!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Local Coverage

Marc and I, and the kids, are on the cover of our local Boston parents paper this month - Parents + Kids. It has been fun getting calls and emails from friends who picked up the paper and then realized they knew the people on the front! Inside is a nice article about equally shared parenting (you can read an online version of the story here, with less photos).

Meanwhile, we've been busy writing. I swear I would not ever be one of those bloggers who says, "Sorry I haven't been posting very regularly, I've been SO busy but now that will change." Mostly because I know from reading these things myself that readers gain nothing from this type of confession - they just want to read good posts whenever they're available. So I won't apologize or make promises. But we can't wait to get back to our regularly scheduled lives! We just turned in our manuscript last night, and are reveling in a big, calm sigh tonight. It feels good to blog!

I'll leave you with another batch of parenting photographs. Unlike our homey photos of fun with dad in Parents+Kids, this high-end batch of posed photos from the July issue of Harper's Bazaar is designed to push buttons. Can't you just feel the power shift? Gag. How about sharing that power and maybe both parents can skip being either disinterested or overwhelmed by their kids?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Womenomics - Why?

I recently came across a Salon.com interview with Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, the authors of Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success. The premise of this just-released book is that highly successful women should stop gunning for top-level careers to create a more balanced existence.

I haven't read the book. But, based on what I can glean from this interview and other web discussions, I'm not sure I'll love it. The reason is not that I disagree with much of their message. In fact, early in the Salon piece I was excited by this quote describing what the authors call the "New All -- enough professional success, balanced by time and freedom." That fits right into the ESP playbook. However, the title of the book gives away their perspective.

The article goes on to quote them in the next paragraph as saying, "We know the solution isn't longer hours at daycare or hiring more babysitters or asking our husbands to stay home. Because we're the ones who want more time -- for our children, our parents, our communities, ourselves."

Of course women want these things...but so do men. If our culture decides to solve the work/life time puzzle by re-enforcing stereotypical gender roles, I'm afraid the promise of the "New All" will ring hollow. Many couples have this arrangement now, but both partners may be missing out on just what the other has plenty of: either time with the kids or a rewarding career.

Now maybe Shipman and Kay don't actually believe their message doesn't apply to men. Maybe they just don't want to bother addressing us guys because, well, we don't tend to buy books. But somehow I think men need to hear their messages even more than women; it is men who have the biggest cultural barrier to stepping back their careers to make time for being with their families.

Let's not sell ourselves short. I'll be the first to wave my flag for careers that fit into our lives. Go for the lives you want! But why do we have to step backward to direct this to women only? And while we're at it, why does this apply only to top-level professionals?

Has anyone else read Womenomics yet? If so, let me know your perspective.

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