Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When a man talks about work/family balance: What he said

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my partner being given a opportunity to address a group of young academics in his field about work family balance.

I thought it was a novel idea that a summer school would have a session on such a topic at all, and even more so that they would choose a male to address the audience on what is generally relegated to an issue that concerns female academics. I later learned that the main reason for choosing a male was because none of the female organizers currently had two-body problems or children to balance in their careers.

The choice of a male to deliver this hour long session has an impact on who will attend, what can be said, and how it will be received. This post is about what my partner said. Tomorrow's post will be on how the session was perceived (at least, as far as he could read the tea leaves.)

Here's what he had to say

The following is a summary of what I had prepared to say (the makeup of the audience took me some distance from what I had planned). The point of the planned part was to get conversation started. I prefaced the talk with the statement that it is primarily aimed at people in dual academic couples, though probably not exclusively useful to such.

I started with two-body problem advice.
1. Compromise, but not too much - the long term career costs of starting at a lower ranked school can be very large.
2. Think very carefully before planning to finish your dissertation in the city of partner's job - unlesss things are really well set up, it can go disastrously wrong.
3. Be ready to spend several consecutive years on the market looking for 2 positions at the same place (or at least places in the same city).

Then came lots of talk about kids. Again nothing which should be particularly surprising.
1. They take lots and lots of time (well more than a one person-year clock extension).
2. A dual academic incomes is a lot of money on any realistic scale and you can buy time in many ways.
3. Think about what is important and communicate it well ahead of time.
4. Neither of you has been a parent before (I assume) so neither has any more knowledge or expertise on the topic.
5. Remember that small choices can add up, it is easy to accidentally let one career become secondary unless actively monitoring the situation.

Finally, think about gender perceptions in what you do, since the same behavior can be seen as being a good dad or being a mom with the wrong priorities.
1. It is far safer for me to talk about family at a conference over drinks with a bunch of men than it would be for BD to do so.
2. As far as I can tell, the career related perception costs of my saying I can't do something for family related reasons are far smaller than those BD faces. This is magnified if one of us has to single parent for a period.
3. If the goal is two academic careers it might make sense to try to equate career costs, which leave the male in the (assumed heterosexual) couple doing the majority of the child rearing. This obviously isn't the only criterion to optimize over, but it probably deserves consideration.

When I first posted about the fact that he had this opportunity, I asked you, dear readers, for ideas of what he should talk about. I got a few responses, for which, we are grateful. Now I ask, is there anything you wish he would have said, or not said, or planned to have said differently?

1 comment:

  1. Looks good. Only thing I would suggest to emphasize is how a 2-body family becomes a nomadic family having to go where the jobs are, relocating etc. I thought it was just me until I saw on the web how many profs are bouncing around the country, more so when both spouses have phds.