Childless Women Would Like Work-Life Balance Too, Please

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Photo: Willie B. Thomas/iStockphoto

One of the hazards of framing debates about work-life balance around working moms is that no one but working moms — whether vaunted as feminist superwomen or victimized for their lack of a breadwinner partner — feels entitled to it. It's creating what Marie Claire calls "the newest form of workplace discrimination": a second class of childless women carrying "an undue burden at the office, batting cleanup for their married-with-kids coworkers."

Chalk it up to our national singlism ( à la tax breaks for married couples), Ayana Byrd reports that 61 percent of childless women ages 33 to 47 believe parents get more flexibility at work.  The women quoted, and their managers, seem to believe children are the only extra-professional pursuit moral enough to justify working a flexible 40-hour week. Parents lay claim to dinner time (children need structure), weekends (the soccer games), and Christmas (Santa’s for kids) — and adjust their schedules accordingly — while younger or childless women are assumed to be available at all times.

Giving those privileges to moms and not, say, those who signed up for a really expensive, non-refundable spin class, is illegal, and Marie Claire urges you to stand up for yourself, either to your manager (with the help of your more senior, childless female mentor, of course) or H.R. But even the brave Marie Claire sources willing to say, in print, they’d like to work slightly less, will only admit to wanting more free time for self-improvement projects such as going to the gym, spending time with their families, or taking a "religious studies class." It is still totally taboo, it seems, for workers to want to leave the office because they need to know what happens at the end of Gone Girl, or they'd like to have a drink outside while it’s still light out.

Or is it just taboo for female workers? The article doesn’t ask whether single men similarly sacrifice their free time for office moms and dads. But it does hint that women impose it upon themselves by leaning in so hard. Take it from Liz Ryan, a Fortune 500 H.R. executive: "No one respects the people who are slaves to the job," she told Marie Claire. "They’re often setting themselves up for more work and fewer accolades. Build the muscle to say no. Men realize that it’s not about getting a gold star; women are raised to think that saying yes makes you a good girl." And unless you’re getting overtime and double-time on Sundays, it also makes you a sucker.