BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE: FRONTIER - the resource for entrepreneurs  
APRIL 28, 2000

Rigid Gender Roles Thwart Efforts to Balance Home and Career

From "Work and Family -- Allies Or Enemies?"


E-Mail Story

Unplugging from the Endless Workday

Ann Winblad on Women in the Workplace

The New Mommy Track: Chief Executive, Cook, and Bottle Washer

Good News for Entrepreneur Moms: Babies and Companies Grow Up

Book Excerpt Archives

Work and family -- the dominant life roles for most employed women and men in contemporary society -- can either help or hurt each other. People find it increasingly difficult to cultivate pursuits outside work that enhance their quality of life. Parents find themselves working more and more hours -- with significant implications for nurturing the next generation. But time isn't the only problem. Something runs much deeper: The psychological impact of work on home and home on work.

The conflict between work and family has real consequences. It affects the career attainments and quality of family life of men and women. From our in-depth examination of 861 business professionals, several themes emerged. These themes, outlined below, have significant implications for future efforts to achieve greater integration between -- and hence make allies of -- the two worlds of work and family.

1. We can have (much of) it all, but it's especially tough for working mothers. What are the challenges of having it all? One obstacle is that traditional values continue to shape the division of labor at home. As a result, working mothers are the most vulnerable to suffering career penalties and work-family stress. They are generally less satisfied with their personal growth and their careers. They earn less than women without children, in part because they work fewer hours. Motherhood turns out to be a career liability.

For men, however, fatherhood is a career asset. Fathers have more authority on the job than men without children have. This is the major reason why fathers are more satisfied with their careers and why they achieve more.

Tradeoffs between the conflicting demands of work and family are inevitable. Unfortunately, women feel forced to make more of these tradeoffs than do men. They spend more time on household activities and far more time on children, and they make more adjustments to their schedules. To create options that help make allies of work and family -- so more of us can have (much of) it all, we need to change the traditional gender roles. Mainly, men must take up more of the child-care and household responsibilities. This, of course, might well benefit men by increasing their satisfaction with their family lives.

2. Work and family can be allies. There are many ways that work and family can help each other. For instance, women build close ties and acquire useful information and support for managing family issues from their social networks at work. The enhancement of self-esteem that comes from work is another potential asset for life beyond work. Family-friendly employers provide additional assets. There is less of a career penalty on mothers in these organizations, and they are better able to enjoy the benefits that a satisfying job has on parental performance. Those of us in family-friendly firms do spend less time on work and more on life outside work -- but our job performance is no different than those of people in nonsupportive organizations, and we are more committed to our organizations.

3. Time is not the major problem. The time bind is real, but a more subtle and pervasive problem is the psychological interference of work with family and family with work. This reduces family satisfaction and satisfaction with personal growth, and diminishes parental performance. Kids rarely miss picking up on the psychological absence of a mom or dad who's with them but whose mind is elsewhere.

4. Authority on the job is essential for work-family integration. Authority over work -- when, where, how, and with whom it gets done -- has a major impact on careers and satisfaction with life beyond work. It will be increasingly important that employers give employees autonomy. This is about more than flex time and telecommuting. Employees are best able to figure out new and creative ways to get the job done that fit -- and support -- their lives outside of work.

5. Women may be better adapted for the jobs of the future. Success in the brave new world of 21st century careers will require the ability to handle ambiguity, manage multiple tasks, and build networks of support at work and in the community. Each of us needs to be adept at juggling career, family, and other commitments. Women seem to be more skilled at this than men. Employers should be willing to invest in women as leaders of the future and to create a work environment that values their particular skills.

6. Kids are the unseen stakeholders at work. Parents' work experiences and career values influence children's health and welfare in significant ways. The issue is complex, however, and plays out differently for men and women. Children whose mothers are highly involved in their careers experience relatively few behavior problems. Why? These mothers have greater self-esteem and competence, providing a positive role model. A child's mental health is also positively affected when a father is satisfied with his job. In contrast, less career involvement makes fathers more available psychologically to their children and results in kids with fewer behavior problems.

What's the bottom line? Corporate responsibility to kids and parents must go beyond providing child-care facilities and benefits. Work needs to be designed so parents can be available -- behaviorally and psychologically -- so they can focus on their children.

Stewart D. Friedman ( is currently director of the Ford Motor Co.'s Leadership Development Center in Dearborn, Mich., while on leave from his faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. He has also been an advisor on work and family to Vice-President Al Gore. Jeffrey H. Greenhaus ( is professor of management and William A. Mackie Professor of Commerce and Engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He is the author or co-author of three books.

The authors' research on work and family has been widely profiled in the media and academic journals.

Reprinted and excerpted with permission of Oxford University Press Copyright 2000 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Published by Oxford University Press, Inc. 198 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise without prior permission of Oxford University Press.

Available at local or online bookstores. For more information on this book, see its listing on the Oxford University Press Web site []


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Business Week Home Bloomberg L.P.
Copyright 2000, Bloomberg L.P.
Terms of Use   Privacy Policy

Bloomberg L.P.
Media Kit | Special Sections | MarketPlace | Knowledge Centers
Bloomberg L.P.