In case you missed it last week, Hannah Seligson wrote a thoughtful and compelling article entitled, “When the Work-Life Scales Are Unequal,” that appeared in the Sunday New York Times business section.
The article deftly addressed the perceptions and realities of unequal work-life “balance” in the workplace (As a colleague in the work-life field said on Twitter, “Good job, everyone. I was prepared to be annoyed based on the headline. Nice piece!”)
I’m honored that Selignson included my insights in the article as well as cited findings from the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check survey; however, what I found particularly remarkable were:
- The placement of the article on the front page of the Sunday New York Times business section, above the fold, and
- The large picture of a father with his child at swim lessons accompanying the article.
The placement and the picture represent noteworthy and important symbolic shifts for the work-life debate. Why?
Work-Life as an “everyone” issue takes its rightful place as a business topic
Historically, the “Style,”Family” and “Life” sections/segments of major media outlets have covered the work and life beat. The message sent was that work+life fit is nice and interesting topic, but it doesn’t impact the business directly enough to warrant front page, above-the-fold attention in the business section (in “Careers” perhaps, but not “Business”).
Yes, articles related to attracting and retaining women when they became mothers got some business coverage, and more recently, pieces about fathers and work have started to appear here and there.
This article was different. It was front and center, in the Sunday business section of The New York Times. And it focused on the reality that we all have lives outside of our job that we have to manage. While we don’t need to tell each other what we are doing when we leave work, we must improve how we collaborate and coordinate. We have to focus on how we get our respective jobs done so that what matters to us, personally and professionally, happens in a way that works for everyone. That includes men, women, single people, married people, parents and elder caregivers. Everyone. And being able to manage that process effectively does impact the business.
Does that mean work+life fit shouldn’t be covered in the “Style,” “Family,” and “Life” sections/segments in the media? No. We can always use more help with how we manage the “life” side of the equation better and smarter in the context of work, and that fits beautifully in those categories. But, acknowledging the “work” piece of the puzzle in the context of life is equally as important, and belongs in the business section.
I was out of town for the long weekend, so I didn’t see the hard copy of the article in print until I returned home on Monday. Online, there’s a small picture with the article of Aziz Gilani, a director of DFJ Mercury, and his children, Aleena and Ziyad, whom he often takes to swim class during the workweek (image credit: Michael Stravato, The New York Times).
But in the printed paper, that same picture is huge, and placed prominently on the page. To see an image of a father who leaves work to take his children to an activity on the front page of the business section of the Sunday New York Times, again, wow.
Contrast that picture with the question I posed during a speech I gave two weeks ago, “What are the two most prominent work and life stories in the media over the summer?” Without missing a beat, the group shouted, “Anne Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic about how women can’t have it all,” and “Marissa Mayer, the pregnant CEO of Yahoo.” I then asked the group of attendees, “What message does that send about work and life issues?” Again, almost immediately, “That they are about women and mothers.”
Yes, women and mothers need to flexibly manage their work and life everyday and throughout their careers (I am a mother of two and I understand all too well), but as the image of Gilani and his kids that accompanied this article shows so clearly, so do men and fathers. And, while not pictured, so do young people going back to school at night, or someone caring for an adult sibling with disabilities.
Maybe I’m jumping the gun, but I hope that the “When the Work-Life Scales Are Unequal” article is the first of many more that deal with the challenges we all face managing work and life in a modern, hectic world. And that those pieces also appear on the front page of the business section, above-the-fold, in major media outlets like The New York Times. It’s long overdue. If there are examples, please share. I’d love to see them. Because that’s where the topic also belongs.