career, issues, life, personal

Work-life balance is not a “women’s issue”

I’ve lost track of panels I’ve attended with women leaders and activists – who are invited to speak about their careers, accomplishments, and lessons learned – where the conversation almost inevitably skews to questions about work life balance. And quite often, the questions are asked by other women (often younger women) who want to know how to achieve similar success, but also have a life at home.

But rarely have I attended a panel about careers where men are asked how they manage to balance their life at home with their career ambitions. And I don’t think I can recall a single instance where young men in the audience have asked questions about balance, or sought advice on managing family and work in their own lives.

Work life balance is undoubtedly important, but these are questions we should all be asking and answering.  Balance, and the need to care for family members, is a problem that affects both men and women.  Although it affects everyone, it is unfortunately (and inaccurately) perceived as a “women’s problem.”

In her new book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, Anne-Marie Slaughter notes that a 2013 Pew study on parenting showed that 50% of fathers, and 56% of mothers with children at home said that they find it difficult to balance the responsibilities of work with those of their family. Slaughter writes,

“…both women and men who experience the dual tug of care and career and as a result must make compromises at work pay a price. Redefining the women’s problem as a care problem thus broadens our lens and allows us to focus much more precisely on the real issue: the undervaluing of care, no matter who does it.”

She goes on to note that “it’s easy for employers to marginalize an issue if they label it a ‘women’s problem.’ A women’s problem is an individual issue, not a company-wide dilemma.”  But if it is a broader, more systemic problem of valuing care, it suddenly becomes much more pressing of a challenge for businesses and workplaces.  Slaughter also underscores that journalists, the media, business, and industry all choose to frame issues of care, and work life balance, as “women’s issues.”

Indeed, attending events and asking female panelists questions about how they manage to balance work and life — and failing to ask male panelists the very same questions — shows our bias as a society, and further perpetuates this myth that care and balance is “women’s work.”

So the next time you attend a panel (and particularly if you are male!), why not pose the very same questions to male panelists? Ask them how they managed to achieve career success, while also managing to balance family and care.

Only by posing these questions equally can we start eradicating the assumption that balance and care is for women alone. It may not solve the problem, but it is certainly a start.

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issues, social change

Heartbroken by Ferguson

The open letter from the protestors will always stick with me:

For 108 days, we have continuously been admonished that we should “let the system work,” and wait to see what the results are.

The results are in.

And we still don’t have justice.

This fight for the dignity of our people, for the importance of our lives, for the protection of our children, is one that did not begin Michael’s murder and will not end with this announcement. The ‘system’ you have told us to rely on has kept us on the margins of society. This system has housed us in her worst homes, educated our children in her worst schools, locked up our men at disproportionate rates and shamed our women for receiving the support they need to be our mothers. This system you have admonished us to believe in has consistently, unfailingly, and unabashedly let us down and kicked us out, time and time again.

And this is the heart of the matter – the real truth of what’s happening.

We can talk about the Ferguson decision. There was a lot of injustice in this case; as I understand it, a grand jury should almost always be able to indict in such a case, and the evidence presented certainly meets the probable cause standard. But the prosecutor simply didn’t try, and he may have been biased – I believe – due to his own family background and relationship with the police. We didn’t have an unbiased grand jury hearing here. The fact that we couldn’t even get to a trial where there is clear evidence that Darren Wilson shot a young man — Wilson has admitted to this himself — clearly shows that something was up. Something was wrong.

This case is emblematic of the larger issue of injustice and structural racism in our courts, our deeply flawed justice system which always works for the rich and never for the poor, for the White but never for the Black. We have an issue of racism in the justice system in this country.  This is why the famed Bryan Stevenson supposedly wrote and filed a “Motion to Treat My 14 Year-Old Client As a 75 year Old, White, Privileged Corporate Executive.”  Because our system is not neutral. The law is not neutral and it is not just. The system is actually skewed from beginning to end against Black people and racial minorities, because most of it has been created and perpetuated by White people.

But let us also not forget that this is a matter of structural injustice. Yes, it is about racism and police brutality, the brutal racism that causes a cop to view an unarmed young man as a threat, that makes the police consider a man as an animal who “charged” at him and looked like a “demon.” It’s racism that is making cops view a 6’4″ Black man automatically and inherently as a threat. And then it’s racism built into the very fabric of our laws and court systems that makes him be able to get away with this.

But it’s also about the broader subjugation of African Americans in this country since slavery. It is about the continued legacy of subordination and discrimination and oppression. As the protestors wrote, we are in this position because we have never fully ended the harms of slavery. This ‘system’ is continually making sure that Black people are sent to prison at high numbers, unemployed, in the poorest housing and in the worst schools. Michelle Alexander writes in the New Jim Crow about this legacy and about how the mass incarceration of Black people is just a continuation of the Jim Crow laws, but in another name. And the foundation is racism: which allows the justice system to see Black people and Black men as threats, as dangerous, and as criminals. This is just another system, a system of keeping Black people in the underclass of our society. Ferguson is about Mike Brown, it is about all the people killed unjustly  by police brutality. But it is ultimately (I think, echoing only what the protestors say and not trying to displace their movement!) about structural injustice and racism in our country in every arena that works so hard to subjugate Black people in America, decades after the civil rights movement.

The results are in. And we still don’t have justice.

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issues, legal empowerment, public interest law

TEDx Talk on Access to Justice

I wanted to share a fantastic TEDx talk I just encountered focused on why you should care about access to justice. I think he articulates, pretty well, why I think access to justice is simply so important and why governments should prioritize and fund legal services for the poor. I also loved his idea of a universal legal services/access to justice fund; though I don’t think we’re there politically, it sounds like a fantastic suggestion.

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