Saturday, April 7, 2012

Work/Family Balance AGAIN!

It’s interesting that we did not hear a great deal of talk about “work/family balance” during the recent recession.  Maybe that’s because anyone who actually had a job was grateful and anyone who was at home with family was concerned about feeding them rather than balancing them.

Now that we are beginning to see some light at the end of the recessionary tunnel, W/FB is coming back in style.  Before it regains substantive traction, let’s call it what it is -- yet another ad slogan.  Like, “Be all you can be!” or “A diamond is forever” or “I want my MTV!”  Ads for “work/family balance” are designed to engender (an appropriate choice of word) ennui, anxiety, stress, and sheer wishful thinking on the part of women debating the merits of staying at home or going to work.  And, as we all know, when Madison Ave. creates enough angst, they offer up a  solution -- “GO SHOP!” to assuage your tensions away.

But, things have changed in the 21st Century, thank heaven.  We hope women at, in, or near the workforce have more emotional and innate intelligence than the Spin Sisters give them credit. Today’s women recognize that the challenge -- taken from a basic business approach to problem-solving -- is simply one of effective and efficient resource allocation.

The home and family are The Most Basic Business Unit, with many similarities to the other business unit -- the workplace.  What are the tasks that need to be accomplished?  What are the timeframes? Who has what accountability? Who can deliver what results best? The team in the workplace has many similarities to that other team in the household.

The problems, or stressors, or imbalances arise from a misallocation of scarce resources such that the work envisioned does not get done.  Or, worse, only some team members feel accountable for the work, while others shirk.  To alter that imbalance, sometimes leaders have to find other team members who are more self-motivated.  The incorrect solution would be for one team members to decide, on her own, to take over the responsibilities of the slackard.  An alternative might be for the responsible team member to re-negotiate for expanded compensation enabling her to purchase additional human resources to accomplish the required tasks -- replace the shirkers, expand available staff, shuffle the workload either at the workplace or in the home workplace.

Doing the work of others is not a viable long-term option.  It merely encourages slackers to slack off more.

Women who undervalue themselves and their work in negotiations for their services dig a very deep hole that traps them in under-earning that persists through post-retirement.  You cannot “give” more than your employers are willing to compensate you compared to the next best opportunity available in the marketplace.  If there is some other woman in that marketplace who is so desperate to underbid a currently employed woman that she is willing to drive down the wage-scale to below-market levels, then she is digging the hole faster than the employed woman -- for both of them.  In the long run, it takes a realistic assessment of value to establish fair and reasonable market prices -- which will compensate workers appropriately and get the work done without waste.

The same logic applies in the home.  If some workers in the home shirk their fair and reasonable share of the workload, someone else will have to decide whether to perform the services, cut them back for everyone, or find alternative resources. If “she” willingly accepts a modus operandi that “she has to do all the work,” then she is allowing an imbalanced marketplace to prevail.  She must insist on a renegotiation of workloads or responsibilities or an increase in compensation to attract supplemental resources to whom responsibilities can be delegated. 

Examples include: ordering food delivered rather than shopping;  day care or child care for offspring; splitting the pick-up duties after school; paying for house cleaning services; or cutting back on discretionary spending by all.  Everything is on the table.

“Balance” is a euphemism for “perfection.” There is no such thing as a perfect marketplace. Business-educated people know we can only progress toward that nirvana by “husbanding our resources” (another interesting choice of words).  We aspire to move away from an imperfect, inefficient market state because that is where resources are squandered. Ultimately, squandered resources disappear.  Intentionally wasting resources is undesirable.  Well-allocated resources produce increased value for all market participants. 

Resources can be a combination of people, information, and money. Trade-offs can occur.  Some resources can be substituted for others, up to a point.  But, whatever the mix, resources are required to perform the work in the most effective and efficient manner.  Keeping that goal in mind strategically is much more desirable than some fairy-tale dream-state of work/family balance.


Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Laura Sherbin and Diane Forster are continuing a great tradition started by Dr. Myra Hart of Harvard Business School -- conducting surveys of HBS women in the workforce.  Dr. Hart started the work much earlier and also developed career-guiding courses to deal with the challenges identified by those surveys. Those and case studies classes ultimately have come to serve the needs of both men and women in business education.

Let’s look, specifically, now at “Off-Ramps and On-Ramps Revisited,” research by Hewlett, Sherbin, and Forster comparing 2004 and 2009 HBS survey results.

Of the 100% of women surveyed by the trio in the workforce, 31% said they off-ramped on average by 2.7 years after graduation from HBS.  Of those 31%, 40% re-entered the workforce and found full-time employment. Another 23% of the off-ramp workers re-entered and found part time employment.  And 7% of the off-ramp workers re-entered as self-employed.  

Did everyone “do the math?” Fully 69% of the total stayed the course, 12.7% re-entered as FT, 7.1% re-entered as PT, and 2.2% re-entered as self-employed.  Combining those percentages gives us 90.7% out of a total of 100% who ultimately returned to the workforce in one form or another, while only 9.3% of the total surveyed quit.

So much for the “opt out” generation.  Maybe the courses and case studies generated by the predecessors to Hewlett/Sherbin/Forster might actually be having an impact.  Knowledge IS power.

Friday, April 6, 2012


The Girl Scouts of USA is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year.  You will be impressed by the special advertising section in the March 19, 2012 issue of Fortune Magazine.  

One page shows a young girl under the headline, “She wants to be just like you, Mom.” The text reports that 66% of young girls say their primary role model is the mother.  And that “having positive female role models is essential to building a girl’s self esteem”

The next page shows two girls behind the text, “A Training Camp for Leaders.”  The Girl Scouts reports that it “is launching an advocacy campaign to boost the female quotient higher.”

The third page shows a dynamic looking woman and the text reads:  “When you peel off singles for a box of Thin Mints and hand them to the girl on your doorstep, do you imagine you might be looking at a future CEO? She’s all that.”

There’s a lot more information in this special advertising insert -- worth seeing it repeated online and in public media because positive role models are essential, advocacy to boost female participation is worthwhile, and because you are looking at the future CEOs of the world in the face of young girls.  These are the messages we must foster.  They are positive, affirmative, optimistic, and visionary.  

These messages must replace those that focus on the past or the dearth -- those myths and falsehoods of yesterday.  This is exactly why I’ve written my two books about “Outstanding Women” and “Women Leaders.”  This is the message we CAN convey to all the young girls -- Girl Scouts included.  Tomorrow’s leaders are being forged by the campaign, ToGetHerThere.  Together, we can get her there. One role model at a time.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Finally, Someone Gets It

When this blog began, it was in response to Larry Summers’ comments at HBS about innate differences between women and men at the top rungs of academia.  I said, at that time, let’s consider how we teach young girls (and boys) things like math and science, and see if there might be better ways to interest women in learning more in these fields.

On January 17, 2005, I suggested we not simply scream and shout at Dr. Summers, but that we broaden the dialog -- a challenge I have attempted to address every year for the past seven.

I said then,

Lawrence's second point is extremely volatile and reminiscent of the old arguments that whites somehow were genetically superior to blacks. "Girls are not good at math." This argument can be addressed in a variety of ways: 

·                     math, science, and engineering education, historically, has been taught by men; the teaching content, style, methods, and presentation ALL reflect essentially one method of intellectual discourse. That method may not be well suited to the brain structure of females - that structure is medically known to use both hemispheres of the brain rather than merely the left hemisphere of the brain. Much more research needs to be done in this arena - it won't be research to find out who has the better brain as much as to find out how smart people (of either gender) can receive the large body of information they need to reach tremendously intuitive leaps of intelligence.”

Today, Professor Jo Boaler, a Professor of Math Education in Stanford’s School of Education, has conducted just this type of top quality research.

(Thanks again to Alice Krause for reporting this at

The facts suggest that we can do a significantly better job of interesting, engaging, and collaborating with students (girls and boys) than the rote, formulaic methods of the past centuries.  And, if this is true of math, we suspect there are major opportunities to change the way we teach science, engineering, and technology as well.

It may require that more women like Professor Boaler get in there, get their hands dirty with fixing this problem, get bumped around a little by recalcitrant colleagues; but ladies and gentlemen, the writing is on the wall -- STEM education is broke big time and now, more than ever, we need to fix it.