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Work-Life Balance Still a Woman’s Problem, According to Execs


Men are still more apt to define themselves according to their role as “provider,” according to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, while women are more likely to view themselves through the lens of personal achievement. As a result, both men and women in leadership positions seem to see family issues — and balancing those issues with work — as a woman’s problem.

work-life balance 

(Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon/Flickr)

The article was based on five years’ worth of Harvard Business School students’ interviews with 4,000 executives, plus a survey of 82 executives in an HBS leadership course. Business administration professor Boris Groysberg and research associate Robin Abrahams attempted to determine how senior executives balance work and personal life. What they discovered was profoundly depressing, especially for the 44 percent of the participants who were female — or any other woman looking for insight into how gender still determines the ways in which women are forced to manage their lives, both at home and at the office.

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What they found was that women placed more value on individual achievement, passion for their work, making a difference, and achieving respect. Men, however, placed more value on organizational achievement and learning and development, as well as financial gain. Relationships were important to both sexes, but men spoke of their families as “an indicator of success,” while women spoke more about how a good family life should be. Women were also more likely to mention relationships with friends and the community as being high priorities.

As a result, when work and life collided, men were more likely to take refuge in an image of themselves as “good providers.” One participant went so far as to say that the 10 minutes he spent with his children at night were “one million times greater than spending 10 minutes at work.”

“It’s difficult to imagine a woman congratulating herself for spending 10 minutes a day with her children, but a man may consider the same behavior exemplary,” the authors point out.

Men, in short, didn’t feel bad about spending more time and energy on work, while women — even well-paid ones, who could afford domestic help — experienced tremendous guilt.

“The most disheartening thing about the survey results is that executives — both male and female –continue to see the tension between work and family as a women’s problem,” writes Jessica Grose at Slate. “Male executives admit they don’t prioritize their families enough, and they don’t seem too bothered by it. They praise their spouses for taking over the homefront entirely, while female executives praise their spouses for not interfering with their careers.”

True equality in the workplace will require both sexes to change their approach. For men who’ve been used to channeling the bulk of their energy into their careers, that might be a tough sell.

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Do you think work-life balance is more of a problem for women? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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