On Balance: A New Way to Manage Work and Life
By Amy Gage
Columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press

http://www.cebcglobal.org/Publications/Speeches/Gage_2.htm (web)

Amy Gage reports on workplace issues and women in business for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Her column "On Balance" appears every Sunday. This speech was given to the University of St. Thomas First Friday Club on March 6, 1998.


"There's Larry McDonough, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, who takes every Tuesday off to spend more time with his three daughters. Larry was the first man at his organization who asked to work part time. For that alone he could be called a hero  or a fool.

Now several male and female attorneys are working part time as well. Larry is proud of the path he broke, but he insists their arrangement is a luxury. "People see me as a middle-class white guy doing this and say it's a neat thing," he says. "If I were a poor African-American man who didn't have a job, and who was staying home with my kids and collecting AFDC, a lot of middle-class white people would look at the situation a lot differently."

Here's the issue Larry McDonough raises:

Do we applaud the middle-class people who want more time with their children but punish the poor people who want to do the same thing?"

Full Article:

"During my first few years at the Pioneer Press, I often wrote about the "first women"  the first women in Minnesota to head publicly traded companies; the first women to sit on corporate boards; the first female lawyers to make partner while they were working part time; the first women to become executives in any number of corporations; the first female executives to leave those companies because they were tired of never getting ahead. The stories I wrote were about the glass ceiling and the women who were trying to break through it. They were success stories tainted by resentment and frustration. Still, those women had some choices and some power. My own frustration was over how few of them chose to use it to better the lives of other working women.

Last September, my Sunday business column changed from "Women in Business" to "On Balance: Issues That Affect Work and Home." Now I write about how everyone is struggling to meet their obligations. I try to give readers some solutions and options for their lives. In the six months since the column enlarged its focus, I've had a couple of realizations Id like to share.

First, contrary to what some readers have told me, the Pioneer Press did not betray women by scaling back the "Women in Business" beat. The newspaper's commitment, and my own personal commitment, to covering women's issues has not changed. What has changed is that I no longer define women's issues as women's issues. Home, children, family, society, community, diversity, the glass ceiling, harassment, discrimination, unequal pay  those problems belong to all of us. They're not just women's concerns.

Second, I now see that real change emerges from the grassroots, from workaday people like many of us. Change won't happen without management backing, but it starts with the receptionists, the reporters, the payroll clerks and the assistant managers. The work-life initiatives I write about don't come from the few women who have managed to make it to the top. Those women are too busy holding on.

I mourn the loss of female talent from corporations, and I worry about the studies showing that minority women, managers, especially, are concluding the struggle just isn't worth it. But I take heart that workplaces are changing. And those changes will benefit all of us  men and women, employees, and executives alike.

Redefining Work

Work is being redefined. Jobs look different than they used to. Success comes in many shapes and sizes. More companies are considering their workers' home lives, acknowledging people's families, when they make decisions about travel, promotions and mandatory overtime. Even smaller firms that don't have budgets for human resources departments are finding ways to help their workers manage.

Consider these statistics from Working Mother magazine:

    More than 5,000 employees at Hewlett-Packard work from home. At AT&T the number
    is 16,000.

    Almost 10% of the St. Paul Companies' workforce nationwide is on a compressed
    schedule, meaning people put in the same amount of time in fewer days.

    25% of Fortune 500 companies offer financial aid for adoption.

    Nations Bank offers new fathers six weeks of paid leave.

    Ben & Jerry's, with fewer than 700 employees, has an on-site child-care center. Merck
    Inc. soon will open its third such center.

    3M recently began offering its employees an online bank of elder-care resources
    throughout the country. That means anxious sons and daughters in St. Paul can help
    their parents in California just by perusing the Internet.

Talk about a revolution! You didn't hear of those concepts in 1983 when I began working full time. Back then you showed up and you shut up. You were grateful to have the job. You took the maternity leave you were offered, if it was offered. You figured out child-care arrangements on your own. You put in face time at the office. You never challenged or questioned the boss. And if you were unlucky enough to be a man who wanted more time with his family, tough luck. Family time was woman's work - and a woman's problem. Times have changed, and only for the better.

Yes, businesses continue to face workplace problems, especially as we witness the transition from public assistance to paid work. But listen to these stories. They offer hope:

    I've written about two women at Norwest Bank who convinced senior managers to
    adopt a benefit for adoptive parents. Thanks to Denise Muehlberg and Patti Carroll, men
    and women at Norwest get $2,500 toward the estimated $12,000 cost of adopting a
    child. Muehlberg and Carroll aren't big-time executives. They're employees who
    gathered statistics and stories, and who demonstrated to Norwest's executive
    committee that at a time when companies are scrambling for workers, it makes good
    business sense to offer unique benefits.

    I've written about people who telecommute from their homes and the managers who
    support this different way of working. When U.S. employers lose $3 billion a year due to
    child-care related absences, doesn't it make sense to allow people to work from home

    I've written about companies that lump sick time and vacation days into one bank of
    days off that employees can use for whatever reason. That means people don't have to
    lie when their child or their parent or even their pet is sick, or when they themselves
    need a mental-health break. They take a day off, no questions asked. When employees
    don't have to lie, they feel more trusted. Give people trust and you earn their loyalty.

Three Tough Questions

In the six months I've been writing the "On Balance" column, I've met some people who have
challenged my eternal optimism. They have shown me how far we have to go:

There's Larry McDonough, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, who takes every Tuesday off to spend more time with his three daughters. Larry was the first man at his organization who asked to work part time. For that alone he could be called a hero  or a fool.

Now several male and female attorneys are working part time as well. Larry is proud of the path he broke, but he insists their arrangement is a luxury. "People see me as a middle-class white guy doing this and say it's a neat thing," he says. "If I were a poor African-American man who didn't have a job, and who was staying home with my kids and collecting AFDC, a lot of middle-class white people would look at the situation a lot differently."

Here's the issue Larry McDonough raises:

Do we applaud the middle-class people who want more time with their children but punish the poor people who want to do the same thing?

I've met many parents of teenagers who tell me their kids need them more now than when the children were little. My own boys are only 7 and 3, but already the stakes are climbing with my older son. The issues aren't whether he's watching too many cartoons or eating too much candy or has learned to use the toilet  all those baby things. Now I worry about this intelligent kid who appears to be slacking off in school. I worry about his poor choice of friends, his attraction to kids who seem unruly and wild. I worry about whether I can keep his self-esteem high enough to keep him off drugs and alcohol one day.

The stakes are higher, the problems more life-threatening. That's what the parents of teens
have taught me.

And here are the questions they raise:

    Did we women who wanted so much to have a career, who fought to
        break down barriers in all kinds of professions, did we delude
             ourselves into believing that day care is enough?

       What did we plan to do with our kids once they became too old
                   for day care and we were off at work?

I've met Karen Gilles, the chief executive of Bio-Vascular in St. Paul and one of only two women in Minnesota to run a publicly traded company. Gilles is 55 years old. Her four children are grown and gone. Her job is so demanding she could work around the clock. But Gilles thinks about balance. She talks about spirituality, her health, her need for exercise, her love of friends. More than any executive I have ever met, Gilles both preaches and practices the belief that people do their best work when they are happy and have a life outside of work. "Bringing your whole self to work" is no empty saying at Bio-Vascular. The company's chief executive not only allows it, she lives it herself.

She might ask all those companies with nice, nifty policies:

              Do you openly encourage people to use them?
         Or does your attitude imply hey'll be sidelined if they do?

I wish more female executives were like Karen Gilles. I wish more women had the courage to challenge their corporate cultures  to push forcefully and publicly for diversity, for flexibility, for the trust that is essential if employees are going to be allowed to take advantage of work-family programs.

I've met so many women who wanted only to fit in, who would talk to me only if their
comments could be off the record, who were afraid to rock the boat.

Grappling with Radical Change

Don't misunderstand me: it isn't women's responsibility to humanize corporate America. But let's face it. We women are interlopers here. Corporate cultures weren't created for us or for our lives. Corporations were molded by and for men whose wives took care of home life.

Men like my father. Men like most chief executives. Men like the executive editor of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. These men care about their families, but they don't have to care for them. Their wives do that. So the men are free to be at work. But increasingly, those men are a rarity. Dual-career couples represent 45% of the labor force and 60% of all marriages in the United States. Only 7% of U.S. households have a wage-earner father and a stay-at-home mom.

It's no accident that we didn't hear about telecommuting or on-site day care or flextime or elder care or paternity leaves or the Family & Medical Leave Act until women pushed open employers' doors and said "We're here!" And we're here to stay.

Nearly 70% of women over age 16 are in the labor force in Minnesota. That's eleven percentage points higher than the national average. Minnesota has the highest percentage of employed women in the United States. What does that mean for our children? For our communities? Who's volunteering in the churches and synagogues and schools? Who's staffing the food shelves and running the charity bake sales? It used to be women. Now too much of that work goes undone.

Eighty-two percent of mothers in Minnesota with children between ages 6 and 17 are in the labor force. Almost 70% of women whose kids are under 6 work outside the home. The women may be working part time, but they are gone from the home more than many of our mothers were. Minnesota has the nation's second-highest percentage of employed mothers. And while I'm happy to report that Minnesota also has the largest organization for at-home dads  my husband is the primary parent to our two sons  there aren't a lot of men at home. And there aren't many women at home, either.

So, who's with our kids after school? Most juvenile crime occurs between 3 and 7 p.m. Most teenage girls who get pregnant are fooling around during those same hours, though how that statistic was plotted, I'm not sure.

We have tough questions to answer in this society and problems we have to solve together  men and women, young and old, parents and nonparents, business and government and education. I've given whole speeches on why my column changed from "Women in Business" to "On Balance: Issues That Affect Work and Home." But the primary reason is because my editor and I realized  though I think he had to convince me a little bit  that women alone can't solve society's problems. That family and volunteer work are concerns for men, too. That analyzing people's lives through a lens that looks only at gender isn't seeing the whole picture.

By examining work and home, jobs and families, we are looking at the entirety of people's

Fairness and Equity

I read a story from the Hartford Courant the other day spouting the familiar theme that parenting is the world's most important job. I know that intellectually, but I don't always behave that way. As my family's breadwinner, I often put my job first, just as my father had to do. The woman who wrote this article about the importance of parenting took a courageous next step  she took the argument into the workplace. She dared to say that parents deserve consideration because they are raising the next generation. And then she posed this question: if two employees want to leave work at 5:30, on a very busy day, who should absolutely get to go  the one who has a child in day care or the one who wants to attend an aerobics class?

Personally, I can't believe there's a debate here. But women in their twenties and thirties tell me this is the most contentious issue between women. The women without kids claim they are expected to work harder. They think mothers get special treatment. A survey by the Conference Board in New York found that childless employees at 56% of the companies polled resent the benefits provided to employees with children. I do think parents deserve different options at work, and I don't say that only because I'm a mother. I didn't become pregnant with my first child until I was 32-years-old. I had a decade of working nights and weekends because the parents couldn't do it  but also because I was building my career. I deliberately waited to have my kids.

The great lie of the 1980s and thewhole Super Woman movement was that women could have everything at once. We can't have it all. Neither can men. We all have to make choices. My father had a sterling career as an attorney and a politician, but believe me, he wasn't home much.

I believe parents have an important job in this society. I believe they need companies to help them any way they can. On the flip side, I believe more careerists need to realize that if they choose to have children, and if they want any time with those children, they will have to sacrifice gains in their career.

Mary Young, a workplace researcher from the Boston University School of Management, has been getting a lot of press about her Ph.D. thesis, which argues that work-family benefits geared toward parents are driving a wedge between those who have kids and those who don't. When I interview work-life experts, people like Sharon Klun at American Express, Diane Cushman at the St. Paul Companies, Susan Seitel at Work & Family Connection, Mike Chapin at Northern States Power, or David Rodbourne at the Minnesota Center for Corporate Responsibility, I hear them talk about equity and fairness.

Paul Arnett at Liberty Check Printers 3 times has considered and then pulled a flextime option because his manufacturing employees couldn't use it. He says it wouldn't be fair to offer the benefit to office workers and not to people who work on an assembly line.

Men Need To Step Forward

Work-life experts also say that many men remain reluctant to use the benefits offered. Kathy Fahnhorst, the Work-Life Specialist at Ceridian, told me she encourages men who need flexibility to speak up: "Don't lie and say you're going to a meeting. Say your father is sick; say your wife can't get the child at day care. Your career won't crumble." When men have the courage to admit they have family needs, too, they will change corporate culture. They will open the doors for other men. And they will help redefine workfamily issues as everyone's concern, not just women's problems.

But first, women have to let them. When I wrote a column recently on part-time professionals, I couldn't believe the number of female lawyers, managers and academics who told me they chose to work part time because their children are "more important" to them than to their husbands. I say they either married the wrong man or they'd better give up some control and let him help around the house.

Four Challenges

I'm a journalist. I have more questions than answers. But since I write about this stuff, I am in the fortunate position of being a sort of clearinghouse on worklife concerns. Today, I want to summarize what I think the challenges are. I'm not a business person. I'm on the outside looking in. I write about these issues, but it's your job to solve them.

Challenge One

      Are work-life initiatives a business issue or the right thing to do?

"You can't sell it with morality," worklife experts like to say. That's why we see so many studies about how flextime and telecommuting and all the rest help recruit and retain, and make people more productive.

If it takes a bottomline argument to sell it, I guess that's fine. But I worry that we're trying to quantify issues that don't lend themselves to numbers. What price do you put on a child's life turned around because a telecommuting parent was able to be there after school? These are issues of the heart, not just the head.

Challenge Two

               Is it only parents' job to care about children?

Catalyst, a women's research organization in New York, recently surveyed female entrepreneurs. 51% of the women who left corporate America to start their own business said they did so because their company was too inflexible.

Companies are scrambling for workers, and they're scrambling for diverse talent. If companies can't make workers' lives easier, they're going to lose them. That's a business problem. Doesn't it make more sense to retain workers by offering help with on-site day care or after-school care?

Challenge Three

  Should equity be the main driver when you're creating work-life benefits?

When my editor and I talked about renaming my column, we chose deliberately to use the word "home" instead of "family." Issues that affect work and home. We didn't want to appeal only to mothers and fathers. We wanted to write about the balance issues that all adults face.

I don't want to leave you with the impression that only parents have trouble balancing their lives. Those employers concerned about equity can offer a range of benefits to meet everybody's needs.

The PTO banks I mentioned earlier are one solution. Telecommuting and flextime can be used by all kinds of workers. Resource-and-referral programs help people deal with a range of issues  from child care and elder care to alcoholism and debt. My point is, the best companies are being creative.

Challenge Four

           Should businesses create a "New Deal" with America?

Beverly Mills-Novoa, the work/home-life coordinator at Medtronic, says her company has to think about work-life issues across cultures. What works here in the United States may not work abroad.

Beverly pointed me to a study by the Center for Work & Family in Boston called European Perspectives of Work and Family Issues. I'm oversimplifying here, but in Europe, government mandates a lot of work-family policies. Whatever your political persuasion, I think it's fair to conclude that won't happen in the United States. Should it be business's job to step forward? That depends on how important you think this is.

The Longest Walk

I work for Chris Worthington, senior business editor of the Pioneer Press and the father of three children. I came to Chris last November with my stomach in knots. I wanted to start working from home three days a week. I have two young sons, I live 40 miles away from work, and after nearly four years of commuting, I couldn't stand it anymore.

We went out for coffee. It was the longest walk through the skyway system I've ever had. And I told him: "I love my job, and I love my home in Northfield. Unfortunately, they're a 45-minute drive apart." I thought he'd say: "Choose." Instead, when I proposed telecommuting, he said, "Sure, no problem. What do you want to talk about next?" Chris has never made me feel less of a professional. I, in turn, have worked hard to prove the arrangement can work. It's that kind of trust and ambition and mutual respect  the willingness of managers and employees to take risks  that will make these work-life initiatives work.

The day I no longer have to write a column called "On Balance" is the day I will say we've won this revolution. Children will be healthier. Employees will be happier. Our communities will have volunteers again. Our elderly will have proper care. And our business community will be the better for it - more profitable, more productive, with its priorities in order, and its heart in the right place.

Thank you very much."

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