Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Stiletto-Proof Glass

"Glass ceiling" was a phrase bandied about with much heat when the Editrix was in college, lo those many years ago. The discussion seems not so heated these days, but the evidence of it certainly continues.

The Editrix brings this up as the result of a discussion Ethyl had with MAN, one of our VPs, a couple months ago. MAN, Ethyl, and AMB were going to Chicago for a meeting, heading out on an early-ish flight. MAN arrived early enough that he was the very first person in Southwest's B boarding line. Ethyl, having smartly e-boarded early enough to be in the A group, sailed in a bit later. MAN starts to get very concerned that AMB is going to miss the flight. Mind you, his concern isn't unwarranted. But as Ethyl explains to him, AMB "will get here right before they close the door."

So MAN's response to this info? "Wow, I guess his wife isn't very supportive of him." "What do you mean?" "Well, my wife always makes sure I'm packed and have everything I need and that I leave on time for stuff like this." At which point, Ethyl's head explodes.

OK, not really. But she is the mother of three, two of whom are under 3 years old. She would view her husband as supportive if she didn't have to hound him to help her with the kids in the morning when it is obvious she is overwhelmed. She would expect him to help her pack roughly when hell freezes over.

So here's a VP, not much older than me or Ethyl, who expects that his colleagues have someone at home to basically wipe their asses. How on earth are professional women supposed to shine at work with this kind of crap in the back of their bosses' heads? All of the Editrix's friends with kids who also work for a paycheck are constantly exhausted, and the Editrix is no exception. In fact, she could pose as the poster case for exhaustion. How on earth are we supposed to have those brilliant ideas, implement those aggressive product release schedules, just generally shine and get those promotions when our asses are constantly dragging, AND we're competing with jerks like MAN whose SAH wives perpetuate those 50s stereotypes???

In defense of my own boss, along with the company president, I don't feel as if the MAN attitude permeates management here. (Though the lack of women VPs concerns me.) But I have worked for far too many places where it did. When, exactly, is sexism going to die? Susan Faludi wrote Backlash about 20 years ago, and not nearly enough has changed. Professionally, Nancy Pelosi, Oprah, and Indra Nooyi notwithstanding, the average woman's prospects aren't incredibly better now. We're up to a whopping 2 % of women CEOs of major companies. WHOO HOO BABY.
And note how Fortune plays those numbers, like they are some fabulous thing: "There are more women running FORTUNE 500 companies this year than there were last year. Currently, 10 FORTUNE 500 companies are run by women (up from 9 last year), and a total of 20 FORTUNE 1000 companies have women in the top job (up from 19)." Yeah, I'm feeling the progress. 'Cause the Editrix is sure that no promising, talented women have opted for spending more time with their family over a hard-driving career, whether that means a less demanding job or quitting altogether.

Why would anyone make such a choice? It's not like the workplace remains the same as 20 years ago. Oh, wait, it is: a 40-hour or more week is required for promotion to upper management; benefits, which we all need, continue to be tied to a job, meaning that women and men who want or need to work less cannot, unless they would like to go without health insurance and risk their own and their kids' health. Ooooh, can I? And with the proliferation of email and Crackberries, we can't escape the office unless we vacation in the middle of Wyoming or Antarctica or something.

That's not to say that flextime, telecommuting, and other workplaces changes in the last 15 years haven't been good for women; they have. But let's be honest, they benefit men at least as much. And they are still regarded as privileges, carrots to hand out, rather than a basic part of the workplace structure. Which is still modeled after the 1950s Ward Cleaver lifestyle, in which all those little things like grocery shopping, cleaning house, cooking, running errands, taking the kids to the doctor, going to school activities, getting the car fixed, meeting various home contractors, etc., were all magically taken care of by June. The Editrix, though not gay, would dearly love to have a wife like June. The Editrix positively loathes cleaning house, after all.

When men routinely take paternity leave for two or more months, it will be a fine day in America. Until then, get out your glass cutters, everyone. Or at the very least, do your part and don't expect your spouse to be your servant.

No comments: