So, part 2. (Triggered by this Mad Momma post, but mainly connected to this one, linked by PP).
I also hear a lot of women complaining about how when they have children they are forced to take the slow track at work or drop out altogether. I agree that it is extremely hard to be a high performer in the office in the year you’re pregnant and give birth. V’s office has examples of women who have done it – keep up high-powered jobs while being pregnant – but I think doing this involves pushing oneself to an extent that I do not have an appetite for.
Because many women choose to drop their careers when they have children, we see less women at the top of the corporate ladder. Those who have made it to the top in India, often cite the incredible family support system as well as the availability of affordable (cheap?) domestic help. Nevertheless, I’m sure it takes a certain amount of grit to have children, raise them well, and power one’s way to the top of one’s field.
Abroad, where such family and domestic help support, doesn’t exist or is very expensive, it is becoming more common for husbands to assume the stay-at-home role. Again, I have seen examples in V’s office and the women in these cases were Asian women, dealing with the same Asian male ego and societal pressure as Indian women do. But Indian women often say that their husbands won’t stay at home because of social pressure.
Like with the previous post, I wonder if this is a good enough excuse.
If the arrangement that works best for your family is for the husband to stay at home and the wife to go to work, I don’t think “oh people will talk”, “our families will raise their eyebrows” etc. are good enough reasons to moan. Again, sometimes making the best choices for your life is not going to come with no pain.
And the decision need not always be taken based on who earns the biggest paycheck. If a woman is extremely career-driven, enjoys her work and earns enough to support the family, why shouldn’t she be the sole earning member even if her husband earns more. Hasn’t the reverse been normal practice for years? That is, women giving up jobs that pay more than men to stay at home with the kids simply because it was more important socially for men to go to work. I think who stays at home should be decided on the basis of who would be happier and more capable staying at home, as long as the one who goes out to work earns enough to cover expenses even if it involves some lifestyle cuts.
Take V and me, for example. V dreams of the day he can quit and do something idyllic. He is much better than me at housework. So, although he earns much more than me, it would make more sense for him to stay at home. Right now, that is not possible because I don’t make enough to cover both of us and our expected baby. But if I did, I don’t think “what would people say” would be a factor that determined our decision.
One valid point is that it might be harder for a man to get back to the workplace – if the intention was only a hiatus from work – after a childrearing break than a woman. I am not so convinced of this either. Women do complain that they face difficulties getting back to work after taking time off to be with their kids. What might happen is that the woman will find herself a few years behind her peers in terms of seniority in the workplace. Or not. Some employers might see no skill set break and be delighted that a qualified woman is returning to the workplace. I assume that the same would be true of men returning after a break. In fields like investment banking, and especially in the current recession climate, people get redundant in cycles and are then rehired. I think saying you took a couple of years off to help with the kids would be no worse than saying you were fired. And as more men do it, it will become as normal as it supposedly is for women.
Though I think anyone who takes a break in their career, for whatever reason, can expect some setback in their career path. Again, I don’t see cause for moaning. You chose to do a rewarding thing and stay home with your kids. It’s natural that when you decide to join the workforce again, you might not be employed at the same level. But in exchange you got some great years with your kids… is that really cause for complaint?
I think it would differ from field to field. My sis is in technology and tells me that taking a break would be a no-no for her because technology moves so fast and the learning curve is so steep that if she steps off the path, she might never be able to get back on. I wonder about this… but let’s just assume it’s true. There might be some jobs where it’s impossible for both men and women to take a break because of the nature of the job. Just like the nature of some jobs – say being a gynaecologist or a surgeon – might make insane working hours mandatory.
(By the way, I don’t think investment banking and law are jobs which by their nature demand insane working hours; I think that’s just the business being exploitative and trying to buy people’s souls by throwing money at them. Maybe if enough people refused, companies would be forced get more realistic. Though then the payscale might get more realistic too.).
If a person, man or woman, wants to be part of a profession that by its nature requires long working hours, they have to understand that they will be sacrificing their personal lives for that professional satisfaction. And hopefully, they have understanding partners and, if they have children, partners who are willing to take the slow track in their own careers.
What I’m trying to say is, I don’t think it’s possible to have it all, unless you are very lucky, whether you are man or woman. I chose to be in a profession which I find interesting and which is not too stressful but in which I make less money because I value my peace of mind and being intellectually fulfilled. I make less money because newspapers and universities don’t make the kinds of profits that banks do.
I made a conscious choice to move out of journalism and into a slower-paced university job with no promotion prospects and slim chances of a raise because I decided I wanted to have a baby and I didn’t want any stress or running around. I do miss the admiration in people’s eyes when I say where I work.
Sometimes I go green with envy over V’s salary slip, bonus and perks. But as he points out to me, I could be making more money if I was working as a writer in finance or in one of the consultancy firms. However, for now, I’ve chosen to do what interests me and makes me happy, and I’m grateful that I make decent if not phenomenal money doing it.
On the other hand, my sister-in-law was offered and took a huge promotion the year she had her baby, and while her company was very supportive in some ways, her job requires a lot of travel and leaving her kid behind is something she has to do. She has a supportive family network in place, and her husband’s job is slower and since it’s his own business flexible. She does miss her daughter terribly, but I think she recognizes that being successful professionally is something that she has to do for herself. Again, she is making compromises too.
And if V decides to opt out of the rat race, he may make less money or none, and people may think he’s a loser, but he has enough sense of self and a clear idea of what he wants to do to ignore them. Again, does what people say matter so much?