Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The “Daughter Track,” Part Two

Yesterday I wrote about the New York Times story on the “Daughter Track.” My focus there was on the honorable work that many adult daughters, and some sons, do in caring for their elderly parents. I thought that most of the dutiful daughters interviewed in the articles thought that the most important aspect of what they were doing was their loving care for their parents. The career sacrifice was secondary.

The idea of the Daughter Track, though, is primarily about work and career. And we see that men and women typically approach work vs. family differently at the end of their work careers, just as they do at the beginning. Women are more likely to see work as a way to care for their families, and will drop a job if they can better care for their families directly. Men see work as a way to provide for their families, as well as the source of their own identity in the world.

The management consulting firm Catalyst, which invented the term Mommy Track, also promotes the Daughter Track idea as something that smart corporations should pay attention to. Even they, though, don’t cite examples of corporations that have figured out how to make it a temporary track of intentional cutting back on work for women, from which they will return to full-time labor.

More typical is the response of Arlie Hochschild, the Berkeley sociologist who wrote about working women’s “second shift.” She says adult women leaving work to care for their parents say they see it as an opportunity, but really they are using it as an excuse to seek “cultural shelter” from work. Such women had “proved what they set out to prove” by working, and now could lay it down. Hochschild sees that the women she is talking about are really ending their careers to care for their families. But she sees this as a betrayal of the feminist (or is it masculine?) idea of your job as your real duty and identity.

Another eminent sociologist, Phyllis Moen, found that among early retirees, men were likely to do so because they were offered a buyout, whereas women were more likely to retire early to care for their families. This exactly parallels the different reasons that teenage boys and girls give when they drop out of high school. Boys tend to leave high school to work and make money. Girls tend to leave high school to take care of their babies.

For the Daughter Track to become a genuine work track, corporations will have to structure formal slowdowns or temporary leaves on the pattern of maternity leave or the rare, true Mommy Track. Such options should also, of course, be open to sons (and nephews, etc.), but realistically most of the takers will be women. And like maternity leave and Mommy Track slowdowns, women who take the Daughter Track will be much less likely to return to work than similarly situated men would be. And that is ok for society.


SPorcupine said...

I agree that the idea of "tracks" is helpful for those parts of the economy that still claim to have linear careers. I'd like to affirm, though, that most people rearrange their lives multiple times to suit a fast changing economy. When you take that into account, these family-based adjustments look less like career suicide, and more like another version of a work adjustment in the course of a life of such adjustments.

For most positions, I'd suggest that the other valuable steps have to do with offering shorter hours, hours with some flexibility, and leave arrangements that let people simply say "my mother/aunt/son/neice/neighbor is worse today," and have that respected as a reason for being late.

I'm pleased to say that I'm not just talking on this one. My organization has 10 employees who all receive and value this pro-family approach to time. It does take extra effort from all of us, but we're glad to put in that exertion, too.

Gruntled said...

Amen. I think the portions of the economy that require long, structured hours away from the family are declining. Unfortunately, they are concentrated in the professions and corporate management slots that rule America. If the conservative alliance of pro-family and pro-business subcultures is ever to do anything good for America, this is their best bet.

SPorcupine said...

I agree on the top management of large corporations. That's a reason I thinks smaller businesses are desirable, plus I know that women seem to repeatedly be choosing to grow that kind of business to control their own balance.

The professions are harder to understand. In principle, most professionals should be able to launch their own practices or choose to join one that promotes good balance. Maybe the issue there is that the professional preparation requires being ferociously career oriented from the time one is 12 until one is close to 30, and then the habit is very hard to break?

Gruntled said...

I think mom-based professional collectives could make a living. They wouldn't be the biggest firms, or entire hospitals, or colleges of any kind, but there is all kinds of excellent work in the field that moms could do and still control their time.

Which is pretty much what we have now.

To be head of Sidley, Austin/Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital/Swarthmore, and be a mom, you need a very family oriented husband, or you need to hire a wife, or you and your husband need to plan very carefully and early. And have providential help.