On paper it sounds like a good idea. Working men and working women can participate equally in childrearing. Even better, men can take time off from the job to find work-life-balance and become more active parents.
Given an ideology that insists on the absolute sameness of men and women, the idea makes good sense. Why should a woman be expected to compromise her career opportunities by being chained to the home? Why should a man’s career take precedence over a woman’s?
By now, the issue has been somewhat adjudicated, not in the courts, but in the marketplace. As it turns out, more and more companies are willing to adjust men’s schedules in order to allow them more time at home with their children. But, of course, the small minority of men who do so fall behind in career advancement and are looked down on by their colleagues.
Rachel Silverman writes in the Wall Street Journal:
Many men choosing to work part time say they find themselves explaining and renegotiating their schedules or fighting the impression that they’re not committed to their careers, an experience that can be isolating and stigmatizing.
Mr. Good, 52, recalls friendly teasing from colleagues during the decade he worked part time, and even his father said he wouldn’t have made the same choice. His career prospects and pay slowed as his wife’s career flourished; she is now a division vice president of finance at Corning.
Mothers tend to value having a flexible job while men give more weight than women do to a high-paying role, according to the Pew Research Center. Some 47% of mothers described part-time as their ideal work situation; 15% of fathers said the same in a 2012 Pew study.
Naturally, everyone has learned to say the right thing. And yet, unsurprisingly, the men who run companies are not those who took time off to change diapers:
“The vast majority of men say they prioritize their families over work, but the workplace is itself caught in a vicious cycle. The men who do not prioritize their family, they are often in charge of the company,” says Josh Levs, the author of “All In,” a new book about improving father-friendly workplace policies.
Dr. Schumann, an internist, asked his bosses at the University of Chicago to put him on an 80% schedule, something some of his female colleagues had done already. His employer granted his request. However, working reduced hours also slowed his tenure clock and meant a reduction in benefits, he says.
He went back full time less than a year later.
“I felt somewhat marginalized, socially and psychologically and I felt like I wasn’t taken seriously,” says Dr. Schumann, now 46 and the interim president of the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa. In the decade since he went part time, he can recall only one other male colleague who has done so.
It’s not so much the rules or the legislation. It’s the culture. Men who leave meetings early to coach little league or who are not around at the end of the day are marginalized and looked down upon. Evidently, they have taken themselves off the executive leadership track. What would happen to the company if everyone decided to emulate the commitment of a man who is not fully committed to his job?
Silverman closes with the example of a man who bucked the trend and, with the help of his female boss, did not get knocked off the partnership track when he cut down his work hours:
Christian Tinder, now a partner at professional-services firm Ernst & Young LLP in Seattle, shifted to an 80% schedule shortly after his son was born, logging 35 hours a week and staying at home on Fridays.
His boss at the time, Kristin Valente, placed him on important assignments so that his part-time status wouldn’t hinder his path to partner, which he attained the same year he returned to full-time work.
Is Tinker a role model? Is he in the vanguard? In fact, some workers admire the example he set. At it happened, most of them are women:
Mr. Tinder still leaves the office early to coach his children’s basketball teams, even if it means leaving meetings early. Other colleagues have pointed to his example when considering similar work arrangements, although few of them are men.
It is good that the work world allows for exceptions, but, as always, exceptions do not make the rule.