Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce's article in the Harvard Business Review (March 2005) elicited several Letters to the Editor now printed in the July/August issue of HBR. (The original Hewlett and Luce article made its way across several blogs, including Fast Company Now, Superfluous Sentiments, and Ripple of Hope.) It was nice to finally see some comments that did not focus solely on part-time work as the End All and Be All Solution.
Wendy Ward, Senior Business Development Manager for British Telecommunications in London, pointed out that most women have a higher load of household jobs to handle while also working their way up a career ladder. She wrote, "How many women have a husband prepared to iron their shirts, pick up their cleaning, manage the nanny, prepare the family dinners, and arrange social functions?" She also noted that age is a significant factor for women -- once you get "off" the ramp and you try to get back "on", women (and men) are less attractive as a potential employee.
Anne Mathias, Senior Vice President and Director of Research at Stanford Washington Research Group in Washington DC, pondered: "Why is it that no one ever asks the following question of women who have left the full-time corporate workforce: 'At the time you decided to leave, did your spouse make more money (or at least have a higher earning potential) than you?'"
Warren Farrell, author of Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap -- and What Women Can Do About It, commented that the issue is not that "corporations have adapted to men's needs. That misses the point. Men with children adapt to the corporation so that they can earn enough money to allow their offspring to have a better life than they've had."
Hewlett and Luce respond by stating, "The letters to the editor point to the unequal nature of the domestic burden. In a survey we conducted at the Center for Work-Life Policy in 2002, we examined the domestic division of labor and discovered a 'tilt' factor: Thirty-year-old professional men performed significantly more household chores than did 40-year-olds. This fact is directly linked to relative earning power. By age 40, many wives have experienced an off-ramp and taken a financial hit, and the widening earnings disparity between husbands and wives shifts the domestic division of labor in the wrong direction. Thus, if we want to do something about the unequal burden, we need to create new options on the work front as well as new collaborations on the home front."