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Our House In The Middle Of The Street

May 18, 2007

Our House Was Our Castle And Our Keep

 by Alice

In High School I was the Utah State President for FHA (Future Homemakers of America). I have difficulty revealing that without turning slightly red and giggling just a little, yet, at the time, I took my position very seriously. I thought that if I could convince the world (because I actual believed at the point that I could do things like convince a world) that if we focus our attention on families we could create peace, a perfect world, a Utopia. I even went so far as writing to Governor Leavitt, joining the Governor’s Youth Committee, and at one point I even sat down with the Governor to discuss my concerns.

As you might have noticed, I did not bring about world peace. Over the years my opinion on the “family” topic hasn’t changed. Over all, I think most individuals would agree with me that if we can create happier, stronger, healthier families, we will in turn create a happier, stronger, healthier nation. Yet, when I stop and I look around there is not much that is done to address this goal. In fact, as a nation I think we’ve made it much more difficult for families to offer that “family” experience that so many of us idealize, an experience that should be just as American as apple pie and baseball Saturdays.

How can we create happier, stronger, healthier families when most families now require a dual income to function? I am not arguing that a stay-at-home mother is a necessity for the ultimate goal of a happy family, though some might. My attack focuses its attention more on the professional industries and their lack of ability or interest in adjusting to the changing times. One is welcome to argue that every family should have a stay-at-home mother. However, it seems like a futile argument because this simply isn’t going to happen for many reasons, one in particular: more women are in the work force than ever before, and women are in the work force to stay.

I work in business development and marketing for one of the largest law firms in California. Last year we decided to look at the legal industry to determine why it is that more women than men have been graduating from law school over the last 20 years, yet men comprise over 87% of the senior level positions. My research provided some answers, one that resonated louder than others: many women don’t stay in the industry long enough to be considered for the partner level positions. It isn’t that these women are becoming stay-at-home mothers, they are actually transferring to different, often times less demanding, industries, which in turn allows law to remain a “boys club”. Law is not the only industry where this is the case, it is just the only industry that I have researched this topic in depth. I do, however, feel that it is somewhat representative of professional industries as a whole.

When we discussed what can be done to address the issues of women not remaining in the legal industry long enough for us to promote them to partner positions I was surprised by the resistance to change. Possibly the 2,000 billable hours a year, along with the required business development, and raising a family are too much to expect. Of course, who wants a different set of rules for men and women? After all don’t we want equality? But what does equality really mean? Does it mean that women have the opportunity to work just as hard as men, to make less than the men, even though they work just as hard, and then to make sure that they have dinner on the table, and home work and dishes done before midnight.

While I’m using extremes to make my point I think it is quite clear that more is expected of a woman in the process of raising a family than is a man. Yet, people and industries, for the most part, are not making adjustments. The industries are not willing to reduce their work requirements and parents aren’t accepting the balance of roles.

But even making working conditions better for women and men doing more of the household work wouldn’t be enough. We need a deeper, structural change. We need businesses to take families into consideration when finding innovative ways for both men and women to work in the work force in the same ways—rather than trying to find what is impossible, a way for women to work just like men and also to make exceptions for them. We need things like job sharing, where we rethink what full-time means and look for ways that allow all who work outside the home to do so in the same terms. That would strengthen families because it would no longer divide the world into the male work place and its imitation, on the one hand, and the female home place, on the other.

Every Thursday morning at 7:30 a.m. I sit in a marketing and business development meeting with one of our 16 practice groups. My boss, the business development partner for our firm, uses the phrase “home, god and country” to justify why it is that we locally are going above the firm as a whole to make positive changes to our industry in the market place. While my boss may not agree with me (and possibly he might—I just don’t know) I use his formula to address the problem of “family”. We can’t wait for a company to decide what to do. Any one that has waited for a raise based on their hard work knows that nothing comes without asking and demanding. If you want paid maternity leave you have to ask for it. If you want paid paternity leave, you have to ask for it. If you want to work part time and still be considered for partnership, you have to ask for it. If you want, you have to ask for it.

Do us all a favor, figure out what it is you can balance on a family level and a professional level and ask your company to accommodate that request. You may get a no, but who knows, if enough of us ask, someday one of us may get a yes.

I dedicate this blog to my father who I plagiarized for an entire paragraph ( but which paragraph is it) and to his two cats in the yard … we actually spent an entire weekend talking about two different songs!

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7 comments

  1. I’m guessing the 7th paragraph. But I would’ve never guessed that any of it was…because you’re just so good at this. 🙂

    As a working mom, I get all sorts of pressure on being a good mom. There are the mom’s at the preschool/elementary school that make me feel like crap for being a “professional” (gag) and then there is work’s pressure when they forget that I’m a mom.

    It is not easy.

    It’s nice when both sides give a little and some of that pressure goes away…


  2. Ooh! A guessing game! Hmm. Let’s see. I’m going with Paragraph #1. And to reciprocate, I think I’ll insert a random paragraph from one of your father’s into this comment. Let’s see if you can guess which one it is.

    Let me first say something about why their interpretation of Heidegger is wrong. I don’t think it would be too much of an exaggeration to say that the question of the given is the question in contemporary European philosophy. It was an important question in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s work, though only implicitly. Paul Ricoeur has made it more explicit, as has Jean-Luc Marion. The literature on the topic is enormous and keeps piling up quite rapidly, making it difficult to apprise well. Nevertheless, my conclusion from what I know of it is that Damon’s and Rosen’s criticism of Heidegger is fundamentally mistaken. That criticism implicitly requires that the content of the given be conceptual/propositional. If that isn’t assumed, if “content” doesn’t mean “propositional or proto-propositional content,” then the criticism doesn’t work. For the given is the “stuff” that we encounter constantly. On Heidegger’s view, the mooring of our thought and experience is the stuff we encounter. It is the world (using the term “world” with its Heideggerian meaning, the social, lived world, including the physical objects and persons within it). The world for Heidegger and the other for Levinas are not empty. They are infinitely rich. They give themselves (Heidegger); they are there (Levinas); they make demands on us (Levinas, and as I read him also Heidegger). The American reading of both Heidegger and Levinas turns infinite richness into a kind of arbitrariness, the arbitrariness of simple-minded relativism. It turns infinite richness into the infinity of nothingness. But both Heidegger and Levinas were at some pains to insist that the richness is not a richness in us, but in the things and persons we encounter.

    Your point about billables and family is a good one. Law is pretty rough on family life. And the numbers do break down by gender, in a way that’s pretty striking.

    My own sense is that law firms can combat this, to some extent, by adopting better part-time programs. I worked for a firm that had a good part-time program. I went part-time myself, for a year, so that I could write and then go on the academic market. It was a good choice for me, and I had a ton more family time. (And now that I’m in academia, I have even more family time, which is great. As I write this, I’m babysitting Daughter, while Wife is out getting ready for an event she’s helping put together.)

    So I agree with you — there’s a need for change. But at least to some extent, that change is happening. Ten or twenty years ago, part-time was not an option at most big firms. Now it’s more and more widely adopted.

    And a part-time program needs to be advertised and available to _both_ men and women. Otherwise, it risks becoming a “mommy track.” But if it’s available to both genders, and people take it — so that they can write, or go back to school, or parent, or whatever — it goes a long way towards making the profession more family-friendly, I think.

    (Does your firm have a part-time program? If you want to compare details with someone who’s been a part-time associate, drop me a line.)


  3. Hmm, the first iteration of that comment had a bad ital tag, I think – can someone zap it?

    Also, I should note that your father is always a good source of content, however, some of his co-bloggers are really quite strange. You’d think he could find a less wacky group to hang out with.


  4. Kaimi, I’m guessing that her father’s paragraph is the one about billables, the third one. Am I right?


  5. Dang! Jim figured it out! I don’t know how you did it, either. I can’t hide anything from you, can I?


  6. The New York Times printed an interesting article related to this a few days ago. Sorry I don’t know how to do clever imbedded links, so here’s the whole long thing:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/17/fashion/17work.html?ex=1337054400&en=4945a32a715cb758&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

    It talks about several big firms trying to make things more flexible, like letting workers who quit for family reasons to stay involved in small ways to make a transition back to working more possible. Interestingly, it also mentions a law firm that just finished a study that indicates billable hours are a major impediment to flexibility and is apparently going to revamp their whole way of doing things. Is that your law firm, Alice?

    Annoyingly, the article is in the Style section of the paper. Apparently flexibility and life balance are of interest only to people who also want to know the right style of handbag for next season.


  7. Thanks for the link Gina, this is an interesting article, I’m a bit surprised I missed it considering it WAS in the style section. ;). Kaimi, you are horrible at plagiarizing …



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