First Lady Michelle Obama recently spoke to the new rules put out by the National Science Foundation that are designed to make it easier for scientists – “especially women – to balance work and family.”
The new rules allow men and women to delay or suspend research grants for up to a year to tend to “urgent family needs.” Now “family” does mean your children or parents who may be ill, etc. However, the main thrust of the rules does seem to stem from the idea that if science made it easier for women in the field to become mothers we would see more women in the upper echelons of science.
I have to wonder if the new rules treat men and women parents and non-parents equally. More likely than not, rules to help “balance work and family” are designed to help those who are parents, and not really those who do not have children.
Gen X scientist types with no children may not too keen on the new rules. Recent research on Gen X from the Center for Work-Life Policy indicates that over 60% of childless Xer women and 40% of Xer men feel that their colleagues with children are given more latitude with flexible work arrangements. As a childless female professional in the study said, “The company promotes work-life balance, but I think it’s slanted toward parents.”
As Sylvia Ann Hewlett writes, choosing not to parent is becoming “the new normal” for Generation X. As I lay out in my post questioning Hewlett’s theory that Gen Xers choosing not to parent because it is a “creeping non-choice,” the research indicates that over 40% of women ages 41-45 did not have children, and by age 40, 36% of Gen X men also don’t have children.
Whatever the motives might truly boil down to, I do agree with Hewlett that real and perceived “inequities between parents and non-parents seed a growing resentment that employers cannot afford to ignore,” and that “employers need to make sure that childless Xers aren’t relegated to second place in the war for work-life balance.”
Seems this applies to the science community as well, and hopefully this new “rule” is not just another example of inequities of parents and non-parents in the workplace–this time only in the scientific community.
Childfree Gen Xers, how have you experienced workplace inequities? Childfree scientists of any age out there, what do you think of the new “balance work and family rules?”
I think the “subtle social interactions” of which she speaks are in reference to the humble nature of many women. We are taught to be gracious, accommodating, and not to come off as arrogant. When someone says, “Good job” it’s often instinct to respond with something like, “Oh, it was nothing” or “Oh, I had a lot of help.” I know that’s my instinct. Where as a man would probably say something like, “Thanks. I worked really hard on it.” We women want to be successful, but we want to be seen as kind and soft too. It’s hard to reconcile those concepts, just look at all the trouble female politicians have. I’ve honestly tried to keep this in mind for after presentations and meet and greets. I don’t want to be falsely arrogant, but I need to give myself credit where credit is due, or else I’ll never get where I want to be.
So far, in my career as a biologist, I don’t feel as though I’ve experienced any workplace inequities. In my lab we all worked on our own projects… and no one has kids. Only once can I remember getting annoyed at my husband’s work for it. They were in the middle of a big project, and that Monday was a national holiday (can’t remember which, Labor day maybe?). Anyway, he told me that he had to work. It was only later that I found out that not EVERYONE had to work. He had been specifically asked by his boss to come in “because he didn’t have a family event planned like many of his coworkers (most of his coworkers have kids).” I was livid. I guess his boss had been asking around but had been getting “can’t do it” from people with kids. I told him that was unacceptable and down right discriminatory! Sure, we didn’t have a family BBQ planned or anything, but it’s not like we don’t also enjoy our days off! Just because their wasn’t a plan doesn’t mean we couldn’t have found something fun to do! Annoyingly, my husband wasn’t as peeved as me. He has a very apathetic attitude to these kinds of injustices. I told him NEXT time they ask him to work on a holiday, tell them no unless everyone is going in. I’m not letting our holidays be ruined just so people with kids can enjoy themselves and while we pick up the slack.
Sadly, I think my husband simply doesn’t tell me these things anymore. There are probably more instances such as that that he hasn’t told me about just so I don’t get mad. If he’s asked to work more, he does. ::sigh::
Kate, Interesting. Seems what you describe is similar to laments in other work environments–that if you don’t have kids it is assumed that you have the time to stay and cover. What I read about the new “rules” sure seem to reinforce the idea that the ones with kids need more time off etc. They do include time to take care of other family members, but as Scott points out, does it include the spouse? In any case, I just don’t like how those with kids get the special rules…
This makes me wonder if Michelle Obama and the NSF are including “spouse” in the definition of “family,” or if it’s just children or other dependents. (I suppose your spouse could be a dependent, too, in some cases.) Now would be a good time to point out that a married couple by themselves also count as a family of two. If my wife is going through a rough time, do I get to take time off to spend more time with her, or is it only if I have a kid who’s acting out?
Scott, Re this is a good opportunity to point out that a married couple is a family of two–Excellent! I believe the rules allow for time off to tend to kids, “parents” and I’d be shocked if i “family” did not include spouse but I have not read the actual text of the new rules….like I say in the post, it may include this, but the main gist is to give moms time off and not have their career suffer when they have a baby. I found it interesting that the nobel winner did not really speak to why this is necessary. Kate, who wrote in, says as a biologist she has not experienced inequities in the workplace, but her childfree male spouse has…still interested in hearing more from other science types and those who know them about what they think about the new rules~