A beautiful post from Kate

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpg I'm at the end of a super long work week, one where I saw even less of Minnow than usual, and one that's leaving me wondering whether my priorities need adjusting.

And as I listen to Minnow babble herself to sleep down the hall, I discover this beautiful post from one of the most thoughtful bloggers I know.

But here's the thing: making a workplace more family friendly is a fight that cannot be one by women alone. Women cannot be the only ones making a ruckus in the workplace and fighting with themselves, their peers and their bosses to effect change. If we make a nurturant woman's workplace more friendly but not her partner's, it means the woman is always being flexible, always ceding her own wishes, because it is more permissive in her workplace.

Go read the rest of the post, please.

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thanks for the post and the link to kate's blog. There's been lots of talk about this type of thing lately, but I still feel like there are lots of thing that just can't change about academia no matter how hard we try. there are too many people who don't give a SH** about anything other than their scientific reputation and I just don't see how people trying to live a balanced life can compete with that.
I was talking with the idiot kid who is rotating in our lab this quarter and he was bitching about prof (who is a good friend of mine, although he didn't know that) and during the conversation he said "and this class is ALL she does any more." well this lady had a baby a year ago after many tries and would rather spend most of her time with her amazing child than deal with snotty new grad students, she'll work more as her child gets older but didn't want to miss out on this time -I think that's great and wish I could have done the same. BUT I was just shocked by his attitude (and likely the attitude of others) that since this class was ALL she was doing, she was some how less of a scientist, or her views were less valid... nevermind that she's had her PhD, done several post-docs, taught many classes and was in charge of a whole degree program before she decied to cut back and just teach this class. Maybe he should feel lucky that she has decided to use her precious time to teach his sorry ass.


sorry about that, I just had to get it out and your post brought it all up. I really hope that academia can change, but some days I have my doubts.

I hope you have a great Minnow filled weekend!

By soil mamma (not verified) on 14 Nov 2008 #permalink

I think that flexibility in hours and days are a good things generally. For everyone. Children or not. I also think that the combination of a much more 24/7/365 work world, telecommuting, message forwarding and virtual presence can be profitably capitalized upon to allow greater flexibility in work location and hours and, potentially, greater employee loyalty and happiness.

That said I have seen more than my share of what I consider undue bias going both ways. I have seen men and women fired, or pressured until they leave, because of what the employer saw as potential conflicts with children or sick family.

When the word got out that she was pregnant, long before it actually changed her behavior, the boss became very critical of her work. She had plum assignments snatched away and crap assignments laid on. She was increasingly left out of the loop and then blamed for program failures, lack of contribution and, the kicker, when she complained, a lack of loyalty and support of the leadership's actions.

It isn't too hard for a ruthless and unprincipled manager to get someone to quit. And get away with it.

On the other hand I have felt the sting of bias go the other way.

Pay raises going to a guy because 'He has six kids'. A real talent for drunken whoring and unprotected sex has graced three different mothers with his progeny. He slyly suggests that he has several more that haven't landed on his tab yet. He rightly pleads poverty not because he is conscientious in financing the results of his recreation but because a blood test pointed a finger and a judge garnished his wages for child support.

Also the marginal worker who soon after the probationary period announces that she is pregnant and milks the job for all the benefits and leeway she can manage. When told she will have to talk like everyone else she goes to the big boss and cries and claims bias until she gets one of three parking spots close to the building. this might be justified in the late stage of pregnancy but she is clearly healthy as a horse and they is no outward sign of any pregnancy.

Six months in, and still without any sign or real proof of her being pregnant, she claims to have had a miscarriage when the manager she displaced started asking if she was really pregnant. The majority of men are simple country boys uncomfortable with 'women issues' and are completely cowed. They wouldn't dream of asking for real evidence during this 'special time'.

Finally one of the head honchoes, a tough lady unafraid to confront her, asked tough questions and demanded proof. Come to find out there was no proof she was ever pregnant or had a miscarriage. The insurance company and medical provider eventually let it be known that while they couldn't offer up her medical records that they hadn't been charged for prenatal services or the typical medical visits in her case.

She eventually was fired for 'lack of production' and left in a huff and a storm of accusations of sexual harassment, bias, discrimination, invasion of privacy. The company transferred her file to the legal department.

Last I heard was that in the slightly less than a year she was an employee she had spent most of that time on paid sick leave, vacation and personal days that had been advance or donated. She had done little or no actual work. But that she had filed suit and the legal department has considering giving her a check for $50,000 dollars to, buy the peace, or to go to court and have to pay legal fees. Six-one-half-dozen-the-other.

I'm not sure how to address the issue. having kids and raising them well is a social good. Flexible, understanding and liberal policies on when and where work is done and the resulting happy and loyal employees are also a good thing.

But it is a balancing act. People can use their recreational ability to produce children irresponsibly as leverage to extract unfair advantage. A management uncomfortable around womens issues can be exploited. And anyone can sue for any reason, real or imagined, and cost an organization money by forcing a choice between legal blackmail or legal fees.

The bias and discrimination that causes the court case that sets up the exploitation and legal blackmail that is used to justify the bias and discrimination ...

I want it to be fair and unbiased. For people to be accommodated, happy and as well care for as humanly possible and practicable. But it ain't easy.

First, thanks so much for the link and praise, ScienceWoman. You are a rather rare breed of wonderful, thoughtful blogger yourself.

I wonder, Art, if it might make sense, as we go forward with this wonderful internet that allows us to communicate and think en masse, to think less about the exceptions, and more about those of us who are thoughtful, careful parents, lovers, caretakers of elderly parents, or otherwise have more in their lives than their vocation, and feel a collective bond with those in similar situations. I wonder if we might move away from a model that assumes selfishness and competition, and move towards one that begins with the assumption that all humans are inherently cooperative, and are only taught not to be.

@Art, you rightly point out that, ahem, 'reproductive exceptionalism' can cut both ways. And perhaps this woman is a scammer. But do keep in mind that as Kate points out, exceptions are, well, exactly that, exceptions. The fact is that "most" women and men are just trying to create a decent life for themselves and are not really interested in that level of self-harming drama. For every story like yours I hear, I could probably come up with 50 where the woman and/or man got totally unfairly screwed by the system. Similarly to how the stats of women who falsely accuse men of rape, especially compared to the number of successful rapes not prosecuted, indicate that false claims are actually quite rare.

It's also worth pointing out that the miscarriage rates among women of childbearing age are estimated at minimum 15% or so, and probably closer to 1/3, ie 30-35%. Miscarriage is a very real, and very traumatic issue, that affects enormous numbers of women on a regular basis, and it's sadly something that is not often discussed even between women. Probably half my acquaintance has experienced it, and in all cases they had little or no slack given. I realize that Art's example may have just been a sad example of a scammer, but I really don't want men or women to walk away from this post/commentary thinking that miscarriage is no big deal. It's a serious, common thing, and it affects both women and their partners.

The most important point for Art is that scam artists can exploit any system. If the system was harsh on people with families instead of accommodating, that scam artist would probably find a way to intimidate or blackmail people with families, or take advantage of the fact that parents have precarious situations in that workplace and might be afraid to make waves. If the employer didn't really offer accommodations to parents but didn't come down on them either, that scam artist would have found some other angle to manipulate co-workers.

There's a lot to be said pro and con on different ways of changing academia, but the fact that a scam artist might exploit some set of rules is not the main concern. That would apply equally to almost any situation.