Is it a myth that women quit to take care of their family?

September 11, 2013

I was reading the September issue of the Harvard Business Review today. There are a bunch of articles about women in the workplace. I’m not planning on getting into the details and subtleties of this issue because it’s complex and has a lot of facets to it. However there is one thing I’d like to comment on.

In the article “Women in the Workplace: A Research Roundup” there is a block about “Why Women Really Leave” which is a summary from Gender & Work “Myth #3: They quit because of family”. It really bothered me.

My summary of their summary is:

Women don’t leave because they want to take care of their families. They

quit because their job requires too many hours and when they cut back to

part-time they are marginalized.

What this really means

What this says to me is that women would like to continue working after having children but only if they have a work-life balance that allows them to continue climbing the corporate ladder while working fewer hours.

This does not seem to correlate with the suggestion that it’s a myth that women are quitting because of family. If you have a job that requires 60-80 hours of work a week, maybe it’s incompatible with being there for your family.

It seems the underlying statement is “You’ll be marginalized if you choose family over work”

“You’ll be marginalized if you choose family over work” —

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This is being played up as a gender thing but I feel that a man who works at a job that requires long hours would also be marginalized if he decided to only work part-time. It’s only a gender thing if more women choose family over work.

Think ahead

I’m not saying that people should choose work over family or that people who choose family should be marginalized. I’ve spent my entire career transitioning to jobs that have allowed me to have more work life balance. I currently have a job where I work from home, have flexible hours and I’m paid well. I do a great job and provide a ton of value for my employer while I’m also able to make my wife breakfast and pack her lunch every morning while she’s getting ready.

The problem is that certain jobs have certain requirements. If your career does not mesh with your desired lifestyle I feel sorry for you, but it’s your own doing. Maybe you should have put more time and thought into designing your life and career so that when you decided it’s time to have a child, you wouldn’t have to choose between your family and your work.

My wife and I have been talking about starting a family and I’m in a good position where I’ll be able to take care of my family and still do an amazing job at work because I’ve designed it to work that way.


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Written by Andrew Shell, a web developer from Madison, WI.