[This summer, one of our interns Kelsey Gohn got a work-life reality check. She never thought about what her life would be like beyond just landing a job after school. But spending time at the Families and Work Institute, pouring over our research and listening to our discussions got her pondering things apart from a paycheck. Below are her reflections.]
“You know, I’ve never thought about that.”
That’s the response I get from most of my 20 year old peers when asked how much time they would take off when they have children. And that probably would have been the case for me, but my internship at the Families and Work Institute this summer has prompted me to think a great deal about these types of questions.
Examining family and work topics as someone who has less than less 6 months of work experience and is likely at least ten years away from having a family of their own puts me in an interesting position.
Now I’m haunted by statistics about the increased likelihood of divorce if I marry before a certain age and have a long commute; or how much less attractive I might be to job interviewers as a mother.
But then I remember, Sheryl Sandberg tells me lean in at every opportunity and Pantene tells me not to say sorry. The message from the media is clear: women, you can have it all, if you don’t stop yourself. I’d like to believe it, but I’ve been trained to make data-driven decisions and if you let the research data speak for itself, anyone’s ability to “balance” a career and family looks pretty bleak in the current work environment the United States provides.
While everything I’ve learned this summer certainly complicates my vision of the future, I now find it incredibly odd that more rising juniors and seniors don’t give this more thought, and that up until now, I’ve been blind to how pervasive these issues are. College students are conditioned to think about the jobs they will pursue after graduation, but not necessarily the type of life they want to have outside of work. However, many of the employee comments I’ve read for one of our projects at the Institute, the When Work Works awards, show they value flexibility more than a raise.
At our staff meetings, Ellen Galinsky, the cofounder and president of FWI, corrects anyone who talks about work-life balance. She doesn’t like the word balance. Instead she insists it’s all just part of life. And flexibility, and a more effective workplace overall, is a tool that helps make life more manageable. So many companies, like FWI’s When Work Works winners are doing a great job providing their employees with the ability to manage their lives, and I believe that other firms will have to follow suit, if they want to continue to be competitive in the recruiting process.
Additionally, I believe that my generation can play a large role in deconstructing the flexibility stigma and myth of an ideal worker. The only way we can do that though, is if we have these conversations now.