I recently read Womenomics: Write your own rules for success, a practical guide to working fewer and more flexible hours aimed squarely at women with both children and jobs. It doesn’t just tell you how to renegotiate your job, it also spends a good chunk of time pumping up your self-confidence enough that you are willing to actually try negotiating. At the end of that part of the book, the average woman’s confidence might rise to, say, 50% of that of a man with comparable qualifications – truly a magnificent achievement.
The book was thought-provoking for me, despite being mostly review for me as a veteran of Women Don’t Ask and Ask for It. The main focus of the book is women who want more time with their children, which made me more than a little queasy since I believe that the path to equality lies in men doing more of the work of raising children. Instead of finding ways for women to cope with the second shift, we should encourage men to work 50% of the second shift.
Yet, it was undeniable that I made the exact same changes in my career for reasons having nothing to do with kids. A few years ago, I realized that climbing the corporate ladder was not going to make me happy, quit my job, turned consultant, and then got a steady gig doing 30 hours a week and writing on the side. Any temptation to go back to my old workaholic programmer lifestyle was obliterated when a bizarre and mysterious constellation of minor health problems was finally diagnosed as a major health problem. I simply don’t have time to be a workaholic any more.
When you spend the slightest amount of time thinking about it, you realize most people want fewer and more flexible hours. Here, as often is the case, women with children are just the canary in the coal mine. What makes them happier and more productive is what makes nearly everyone happier and more productive; they are just the first to reach the breaking point.
The second take-away was a clear view of modern work ethic as, basically, stupid – a holdover from the relatively brief factory era of labor. Hours of work became tied to a massive constantly moving production line; the institution of fixed unvarying hours of work grinds on unthinkingly into modern society even where violently counterproductive or completely unsuited to the task. Every time I trudge off to another mid-week doctor’s appointment, I wonder guiltily what I would do if I had to work a “normal” job. I think I’d work myself into miserable government-funded disability by age 40, which makes no sense for anyone.
“Womenomics” pained me in many ways, but I consider it redeemed by one factor: the pep-talk buildup explaining why women are valuable employees and have the power to get a better deal. Many a book on negotiating skips straight to the how-to without covering the why-for. Why bother learning the strategy if you don’t have the guts to apply it? If all a reader gets out of this book is greater self-confidence in her value to her employer, then it’s well worth the investment.
Many thanks to Valerie Bubb Fenwick for giving me a copy of “Womenomics,” continuing a long tradition of shameless book-swapping. You da best.