For many women, the status quo isn’t working.
Between August and September, 865,000 women left the workforce, according to a National Women’s Law Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That number is roughly four times the amount of men (216,000) who left the workforce in the same timeframe.
We as a society need to keep talking about work-life balance. But, says Margaret Mueller, president and CEO of The Executives’ Club, the conversation needs to apply to all women.
On Oct. 16, Mueller joined Eve Rodsky, best-selling author of “Fair Play,” for one such discussion with The Executives’ Club of Chicago, titled “What’s Fair? Restoring Progress at Home and at Work Amid Covid.”
Often, says Mueller, the loudest voices in the conversation are either high-powered women with tremendous resources, or those who left the traditional corporate workforce for a more flexible work experience.
“I keep asking, ‘But what about the millions of women who are trying to grow their careers in a corporate work structure with a dual career partnership while raising kids?’” Mueller said. “And for many of them, it starts to feel untenable and they hit an inflection point.”
But, Mueller opined, with proper support, females can thrive. That’s where Rodsky and “Fair Play” come in.
Rodsky, of Los Angeles, is a Harvard-trained mediator and mom of three who was inspired to write her book after a seemingly mundane text from her husband, Seth.
“I’m surprised you didn’t get blueberries,” it read. First, she cried. Then, she decided to dig in. Those six words ignited a personal and professional mission within Rodsky, who knew she couldn’t be the only woman in her shoes, taking on the bulk of the childrearing and domestic duties while also feeling forced out of the traditional workplace.
Her book aims to tilt the scales in a female-friendly direction.
Though Rodsky couldn’t cover her years of research — or, as she calls it, “consciousness raising” — in just 60 minutes, she certainly left attendees with plenty of food for thought.
Rodsky shared five steps — gleaned from her years of research, or, as she calls it, “consciousness raising” — toward finding a better balance.
1. Give yourself permission to be unavailable.
Rodsky urges everyone to set aside time to actively pursue their passions, and to shed any guilt about doing so. “We are very conditioned to be our roles — to be parents, partners, professionals — but what about us?” asked Rodsky. “What is it that makes you uniquely you, and how do you share that with the world? Make your leisure time nutritious.” Rodsky, in her book, calls this “unicorn space,” and says it’s essential to mental health, a good partnership and more.
2. Know that your time is valuable, too.
In the workplace, gender wage gaps persist, driving home the damning stigma that women’s time is less valuable than men’s. Meanwhile, many women also believe they are better multitaskers than men, a cliche that Rodsky had debunked by one of the top neuroscientists in the country. Another common belief is that it will take more time to teach someone else to do something rather than to just do it. While it may be swifter to take on a familiar task in the short-term, the long-term payoff of handing over the reins can be significant, she said. “We have to retire those toxic time messages where we believe men’s time is more valuable,” Rodsky urged. “Women need to believe women’s time is diamonds.”
3. Adopt an “ownership mindset” to get housework done effectively.
Rodsky suggests that each member of the household takes ownership of a given task — from conception, to planning to execution. She even built a playing card deck to help couples divvy up the work. In Rodsky’s research, she found that women often carry out the cognitive labor (conception and planning), while men tend to step in at the execution phase, sometimes causing them to make mistakes since they don’t have knowledge of the earlier steps. Women’s No. 1 complaint about life at home was that they cannot shut off their minds, Rodsky explained. Men, on the other hand, complained of being nagged because they could never get anything right. An ownership mindset can alleviate both tensions, Rodsky said. “Change can start small,” she added, noting that her husband taking ownership of extracurricular sports gave her six hours of her week back.
4. Have a “20-minute conversation about garbage” (or whatever it is that grinds your gears).
For Rodsky, maintenance of the household garbage is a hot-button issue. Growing up, she didn’t have a garbage can. Instead, she had a bag on the doorknob, which drew pests. Seth, on the other hand, had a housekeeper and never thought twice about the garbage until Rodsky shared why it was so important to her. So, they found a middle ground, with Seth taking ownership of the task and agreeing to take the garbage out once a day — something Rodsky likened to “Jesus walking on water.” Without those vulnerable, sometimes uncomfortable conversations, Rodsky said, there won’t be accountability and trust. Finding a “minimum standard of care” that works for you and your significant other starts with recognizing one another’s priorities. Rodsky also suggests 10-minute nightly check-ins. “It’s a practice,” she said. “It’s just like exercise; you’re not gonna want to do it, but afterwards you feel amazing.”
5. Normalize the value of parenting, regardless of one’s gender.
Driving broader societal change won’t happen overnight. But Rodsky envisions some small steps toward the bottom line. She urged men — whether they’re a boss, the husband of a working woman, or both — to take part in societal conversations about antiquated gender roles and female discrimination. Rodsky further advised men not to hide when they duck out of work to catch their kid’s 3 o’clock basketball game, or to be the school’s primary contact when their child is sick. “It’s normalizing these conversations, and saying that holding our child’s hand in the pediatrician’s office is just as valuable to society as an hour in the boardroom,” Rodsky said.