When Myra Strober first joined the Stanford business school faculty in 1972, there were only five women students out of a class of 350. That year, the only students in her class on “Women and Work” were undergraduates. Women at the business school clearly didn’t want to be associated with "women’s issues."
Over time, as more women entered the business school and began taking the class, “it was generally 100 percent women in the class,” recalls Strober, now professor emerita at the Graduate School of Education and Graduate School of Business. Thirty years later, in 2006, the men who finally did start to take the class pointed out to her that the class was really more about work and families than about women and work. “If you change the title,” they said, “you’ll get more men in your class.” Strober re-titled her class “Work & Family,” and today the percentage of men enrolled in the class has risen to 43 percent.
The shift in Strober’s students is indicative of the dramatic change in today’s two-career couples. Women are not the only ones struggling to achieve a balance between the demands of work and raising a family.
“We have new kinds of families now,” says Strober, “where husbands are interested in being fathers—engaged fathers. And moms are interested in being breadwinners—and more than breadwinners. Perhaps leaders in their field.”
While professional workers are expected to devote longer hours in the workplace than their predecessors, the standards for involved parenting have risen as well. Given these pressures, finding a healthy balance is more important and yet more challenging than ever. Helping men and women find new ways of thinking about these challenges has been a lifelong endeavor for Strober, who was the founding director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford.
"Work & Family: Getting to 50/50," the Institute’s latest online Voice & Influence module, explores new perspectives on how couples can work together to give each partner an equal role in raising a family as well as an equal opportunity to pursue a career. Launching just in time for Valentine’s Day, the videos provide a new way of thinking and talking about relationships and equality.
The video features interviews with Professor Strober as well as clips from a roundtable discussion led by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober, authors of the book Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All by Sharing It All.
Professor Strober suggests approaching many work and family decisions from an economic standpoint. Traditionally, gender stereotypes guided the division of work and family; men were expected to work, and women were expected to handle the childcare. Strober believes we can use economic concepts to think of more innovative and egalitarian ways to divide the demands on our time.
She applies four economic concepts to the challenge — utility maximization, investment in human capital, the economics of childcare, and efficiency — and discusses how these can be applied to integrating work and family.
Education, skills and networks built over time represent an investment you put in yourself.
“You want that investment in yourself to pay off,” Strober says. “But I think people miscalculate. They make decisions on the here and now — how I feel this morning or how I feel this week, instead of thinking, ‘How am I going to feel five years from now or 10 years from now if I leave the labor force?’”
For example, many women compare the cost of childcare to their current income and determine that working provides little immediate economic benefit. Strober cautions against this short-term view.
Authors Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober are working mothers who believe that families thrive when both parents participate fully. As an investment banker, Meers saw fewer female peers as she advanced to managing director. She also noticed that some working moms survived, and she became curious about how they made it work. She and Strober, who saw a similar trend in her law firm, began to interview hundreds of successful working couples with families to gather strategies to share broadly in their book.
Here, they discuss tips for achieving an equitable balance and offer advice to a panel of women who share their own stories and concerns in thinking about their future decisions.
Their real-world solutions for creating equal partnerships and planning for careers and parenting are engagingly presented with examples of strategies like how to “be an anthropologist,” “give up on perfection,” “practice the art of the deal” and “make room for family at work.”
Until workplaces are fundamentally redesigned to accommodate personal responsibilities such as childcare, eldercare, and disability, families will continue to feel the strain. New research from a newly published American Sociological Review study reveals that women and men seek more equal roles at work and at home, but they fall back on traditional gender roles when they realize that egalitarianism is hard to achieve in the current workplace environment. Yet despite these challenges, Myra Strober advises, “I want to say to women and to their partners, don’t leave unless you really have to! If you can somehow or another figure this out for a few years, stay in! The benefits are huge!”
We hope this "Work & Family: Getting to 50/50" module will provide a framework for discussing solutions that can be put into practice today.