The Real Reason Women’s Careers Stall (Hint: It Isn’t Laundry)

Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti

If I see another headline or stock photo that blames women’s pay gap on the fact that working women have to do the laundry, I’m going to vomit.

Sorry for the intense reaction. But it happened again the other day: Another study came out that parsed the complexities of career advancement, the tangled web of decision-making and cultural norms that has led us to this place of systemic inequality. And in the internet retelling, it all got reduced to the image of a woman in unfashionable business clothes, gazing sadly at a laundry basket and a pile of Legos.

I won’t name the news outlet that selected this gem, because it’s hardly the only one. And I won’t blame Sheryl Sandberg, who, in her “Lean In” days, popularized a professor’s crack about how the best thing men could do for women’s advancement was “the laundry” — a great half-joke that, a couple of generations ago, might have been true.

Yes, we can still calculate the gaps in domestic workloads — five hours for me, three-point-seven hours for you! — and the studies in question found some inequalities. But blaming husbands, or laundry, is reductive and outdated. Worse, it’s a distraction. Sure, career advancement is easier for women with stay-at-home spouses or bottomless pools of expensive help. (I’m looking at you, Ivanka.)

But the real, persistent reason for women’s stalled careers isn’t the fact that there’s laundry to do, or carpools to run, or homework to assist with, or any of the other obligations that fill so many people’s hours in those too-brief years of full-on family life. It isn’t even that we lack the right volume of paid leave policies and childcare subsidies. It’s that the currency of success in too many office settings — face time, meeting attendance, the ability to drop everything on a dime to conform to the packed schedules of the C-suite — is out of whack with modern reality, for both genders.

Read the rest here.