Work Life Balance

Just Because The Workplace Model Is Old (And Male-Centric) Doesn’t Make It Right

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The ladies over at Motherlode have kicked off their book club by reviewing a book called TORN: True Stories of Kids, Careers and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood which includes an essay by Dr. Karen Sibert. Dr. Sibert wrote a controversial op-ed about her experiences as a doctor and mother and how the part-time schedules of mothers and fathers are ruining healthcare.

Dr. Sibert writes that being a mommy or co-parenting daddy in the medical professional differs from other fields because of the obvious care of people’s lives. She writes:

It isn’t fashionable (and certainly isn’t politically correct) to criticize “work-life balance” or part-time employment options. How can anyone deny people the right to change their minds about a career path and choose to spend more time with their families? I have great respect for stay-at-home parents, and I think it’s fine if journalists or chefs or lawyers choose to work part time or quit their jobs altogether. But it’s different for doctors. Someone needs to take care of the patients.

She then goes on to assert that perhaps women should not consider going into the medical profession at all if family is something that they ultimately want:

Students who aspire to go to medical school should think about the consequences if they decide to work part time or leave clinical medicine. It’s fair to ask them — women especially — to consider the conflicting demands that medicine and parenthood make before they accept (and deny to others) sought-after positions in medical school and residency. They must understand that medical education is a privilege, not an entitlement, and it confers a real moral obligation to serve.

I’m absolutely on the side of Motherlode columnist Lisa Belkin who shoots down this argument as not only “backwards” but also upholding the idea that these “archaically-structured” workplace models are somehow inherently correct — simply because they’re old. She observes that the although it’s primarily women who fight back against these outdated workplace policies, what we’re ultimately working towards is a system that is genderless:

The answer is neither to shut up, nor to buck up. The answer is to recalibrate the hours and expectations of professions so that they can be done by the “new worker” — not a man with a wife at home (which is the assumption of the old structures) but rather a mother or father with a working partner and responsibilities at home.

This genderless approach to work and workplace policies means that all types of families get a seat at the table, and not just the conventional stay-at-home mom and working dad scenario which fewer and fewer Americans even have anymore. Our definition of family and familial roles is rapidly evolving, and yet many of our top professions still operate like everyone in the professional world is a man with a full-time wife at home. For workplace policies to change to accommodate contemporary families, there needs to be push back from both men and women against tradition immediately defaulting as correct. Attempts to make the workplace more family-friendly will always be seen as intrinsically less efficient if they are to be studied from an antiquated platform.