As someone who writes a column for Forbes on the concept of how to have a high-achieving career and a joyful life, I love the theme for International Women’s Day: Balance for Better. And, of course, I’m very proud of the work we do at Path Forward to help so many people achieve their own balance and in helping companies work toward better gender balance on their teams.
The reason I like the concept of #balanceforbetter is because I think we can use it to open up a deeper, more positive and more meaningful conversation about what “balance” can and should mean. Too long the word has been, in my view, misused to convey the narrow idea that women (and yes, only women and really only some women) are meant to curtail their career ambitions in some way to achieve a perceived holy grail of “work-life balance.” Let’s bust out of that restricted view and ask three important questions:
What would it mean for companies to fundamentally change the structures of work to accommodate balance for all employees? Work/life conflict is experienced by men and women without children, too. And yet we have very few conversations about the concepts of workplace flexibility that don’t start by talking about what moms need. This stigmatizes moms as the only needy ones, and unnecessarily restricts the conversation. Let’s start to talk about how we can structure work so that everyone can have a rich personal life and achieve their goals at work. Let’s begin to take it as a given that everyone has a life outside the office.
What would it mean for men to be equal partners in caregiving? While it’s true that fathers today do more domestic labor than their fathers did, it is still disproportionate to the work that mothers do — and yes, this is true when both spouses work. But to me the conversation here could be a lot broader and far more positive. Both fathers and children benefit in enormous ways when that bond is strengthened through the day-to-day work of caretaking. Sure, men need to do their fair share, but men also need to be encouraged and then allowed to participate in domestic life on equal footing with women.
What would it mean for women to shift how they think about balance? As Laura Vanderkam has helpfully pointed out, if you theoretically wanted to perfectly balance personal and family time with time at your job, you’d work 56 hours per week. (Do the math: if you sleep 8 hours per night that’s 56 hours which leaves 112 hours that you are awake. If you divide 112 in half — perfect balance! — you get 56.) Life isn’t perfect, for sure, but there is plenty of time for meaningful and challenging work and a rich family life. Again, I think we can make this a positive conversation. Just as I believe men and children benefit when men are equal caretakers, I believe women and children and men benefit when women view themselves as equal contributors to the family’s financial security.
Even these questions, while broader than the current conversation, take a relatively narrow view — they assume corporate work structures and heterosexual family structures. There is a lot more to work and life than that! But those are the two largest systems we operate in currently and they have changed so very little in the last 50 years, even while so much around them has changed. The opportunity to open up a bigger, broader and more positive conversation about balance within those two systems feels ambitious but has enormous potential for impact..
What are you going to do to #balanceforbetter in 2019?