Careers That Involve Working With Children

“SECOND SHRIFT” BIAS

In 1989, Arlie Hochschild, professor of sociology at UC Berkeley, published her book The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home. In it, she argued that what was holding women back from having success in their careers was that they were forced to work two shifts. The first in the office and the second at home. Men, according to Arlie, weren’t holding up their end when it came to caring for the children and the household.

She wrote, “One reason that half the lawyers, doctors, business people are not women is because men do not share the raising of their children and the caring of their homes.”65

It’s convenient to blame men, but much of this can be seen as a workplace issue. If, to succeed, someone needs to operate like an ideal worker, then someone else needs to be focused on the home front. Traditionally, as we know, it has been women bearing the weight of this burden. Add to this the reality that women are more likely to find their careers stalled once they have children and it’s no wonder many women have ended up privileging their husband’s careers by leaving the paid workforce to care for their families. In essence they are not only doing a second shift at home; they are short shifting their careers or giving those careers the “second shrift,” as one woman I interviewed called it.

A majority (55 percent) of respondents to the Women on the Rise survey revealed that having a partner whose career was demanding was influential in their decision to pause. In the comments section, many cited their husbands’ heavy travel and intense work requirements as the rationale for why they left.

We can argue that a woman who allows her husband’s career to take precedence wasn’t really committed to her own profession, but that ignores the reality that her husband was likely already making much more than she was. Many of the women I interviewed had met their husbands in college or graduate school. They expected to move ahead in equal measure both in terms of their professional advancement and their pay, but they were dismayed when they came to discover their husbands were consistently paid a higher salary and were being promoted faster even before kids came into the picture. But as we have seen, women (and mothers in particular) are paid less than their husbands. So, what’s a smart woman to do when she is faced with the challenges of work and family?

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I believe women who put their husbands’ careers first for a period of time while they pause to care for the needs of the family aren’t lacking ambition; they’re being strategic. If the couple both agree that having one partner at home caring for the children while they are young is a priority, it makes sense to have the partner with lower lifetime earning potential be the one to downshift temporarily. The dream of the two-career power couple who are both all-in, all-of-the-time, remains elusive for most of us. If both partners are forced to operate like ideal workers to be successful, then who is there to care for the family? Sure, you can staff it out as some have chosen to do, but for many that is not an optimal solution. As a result, women often are forced to privilege their husbands’ careers.

That was true in my case. Bill was making more money, loved his job, and was on a faster track to the top than I before we had kids. Once we had kids, he made even more money and was on an even faster track. Meanwhile, there were few two-career couples showing us the way. There are more today, but certainly not enough.

Getting men to co-own the home front duties is one answer, as Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober argued in their book Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All. They believe we’ll see more women stay on track with their careers if more men engage at home. In their chapter entitled “Women Don’t Quit Because They Want To,” they wrote,

As we watched our female peers leave the workforce, it rarely looked to us like they were choosing to quit. Yes, some were drawn by a desire to focus full time on kids, but more often, the women weren’t leaving because of a deep desire to spend all day, every day with their children. Instead, these new moms were caught in a vise-between husbands who weren’t doing their share at home and bosses who didn’t give an inch at work. Overwhelmed and disillusioned, these women made the seemingly rational decision to stop working until the storm passed.

I wish all of us could live lives in which we shared the responsibilities of the home front on a 50/50 basis. Like Sharon and Joanna, I truly believe both women and men would benefit by being able to be fully engaged at home and at work. Men benefit by having a more fulfilled partner who shares the financial burdens. Women benefit by being able to share the home burdens and being able to stay on track professionally.

Sounds great, but I believe that even if we try to share duties 50/50, the modern workplace won’t allow for it. If we want to be successful, we need to be ideal workers, which means we aren’t available to do our 50 percent of the caregiving and housework. As result, many couples unintentionally end up reinforcing traditional gender roles. No fun for men who carry the monetary burdens and are kept from having the time to be deeply engaged with their children. No fun for women who carry the household and parenting burdens and whose careers get “short shrifted” in the process.

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