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.

11 thoughts on “Womenomics

  1. After a few stints of baby sitting/minding for friends, I realised that bringing up a little one was one of the few things I could do that actually meant something. It doesn’t matter how good a technical person I ever become, all the software crap I ever do will never amount to anything actually important.

    Now I’ve just got to find a way of a) getting a partner and b) come to grips with having a child in already over populated world as adoption is virtually impossible without previous parenting experience.

    I’ve not found a way of increasing my confidence through reading anything, if it does it’s illusionary and disappears as soon as the first minor impediment gets in my way.

  2. Digging a bit deeper: why exactly do (some) women need additional help with self-confidence, requiring a pep-talk? What causes the lack of self-confidence? That seems like the real problem that needs solving.

  3. Instead of finding ways for women to cope with the second shift, we should encourage men to work 50% of the second shift.

    I agree with this (except possibly where the biological demands of pregnancy and, where practised, breastfeeding, make certain tasks not only woman-only but mother-only); it is almost certainly the case though that men would then need to make similar changes. I can’t tell what you actually think about this, but your wording is ambiguous between “men and women parents should both be considering their work hours/demands” and “it would be no problem having two/all parents working the current full-time standard hours and duties, if men would pull their weight.” The second shift at some ages and with some children is sufficiently demanding that I think the latter is false in many families.

    Thanks for the book review, my PhD and life-addled brain is currently more suited to re-reads, but I will keep it in mind for purchase.

  4. Good point. Many high-status careers demand so much time and energy that they are only made possible by a partner who takes care of everything that is not their partner’s job (and often helps out with the job as well, as a social entertainer or a sounding board or even flat-out doing their work – writing papers, etc.). Whenever I’ve read about a couple successfully and happily sharing childcare duties, their combined hours at their jobs add up to about 60 hours a week – which is about the total for the one career model, too.

  5. It’s probably possible to go to 80 hours combined with somewhat older children.

    Moving away from childrearing since you weren’t writing about it, there’s been a little bit of discussion around Australian blogs about why we work long hours (like Americans, Australians average at the high end of OECD on mean work hours). Essnetially, one strand of the argument is “we are greedy and materialistic and we want to have giant resource consuming TVs” and the other “our housing and basic services are ludicrously expensive compared to our per hour earnings the past, and why not use our leisure money on giant resource consuming TVs when they’re so cheap?” This is from here but I’m more interested in the general problem than that specific treatment.

    One thing it doesn’t note is that some housing costs are a career lock-in (and the resulting vicious cycle). My mother has been gently pushing for me to move back to her (rural) town for years, with the cheaper housing and access to family provided services (she mostly means childcare) and of course both of us have totally inappropriate careers for it.

  6. I don’t know… for me it is definitely niether of those two things. But I can’t really say why it is… I can only guess that it is because I enjoy the challenge of my job. Or I’m just lame!

  7. I think both arguments are supposed to apply in the aggregate, not to every single person working > 37.5 hours a week.

    But assuming a person wishes to work less hours (or is forced to, having the social freedom — ie, no dependents — and health to commit 60 or more hours a week to a job or anything else is a privilege, there’s some interesting stuff here) the distinction is important. Is the answer “you don’t need such a big TV you fool, suck it up” or is it “ah… well, in that case, say goodbye to your social network, your transport links and your healthcare providers, because you are going to have to move to somewhere where there’s no demand for housing”?

  8. don’t disagree with those points. I was just highlighting my personal experience, but I think it would generalise to a lot of people — the work long hours, not for the money, but because they enjoy the job. And they either have the luxury of being in a position to be able to work long hours due to their personal circumstances, or they are selfish and work long hours despite their personal circumstances. I’m sure I’m not unique… but then again, if you enjoy the job, work long hours, you are probably paid well, and then probably spend up to your means which then _does_ lock you in, and ends up placing you in the second category.

    Btw, the link in your original comment is interesting. If I read the graph right the real rental cost has risen less quickly than real wages.

  9. ordered us a copy of the book after we both read your post, and i’m reading it now. i’m amazed at how much of it is exactly in line with how i want to live and work, and i thank you for writing about it. i am optimistic that i may be able to apply it to my own life with a positive result. my hope is to make these changes within my present employer, and help to turn it into the sort of place more women — or really anyone needing a real balance between work and non-work (including me!) — can be fulfilled, productive, and not get burnt out in a couple years. i am optimistic because i know there are many others here who feel likewise and their contributions to the organization are large and noticed.

  10. “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.”

    Yes yes.

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