The Double Standard of Work-Life Balance

A business woman holds a baby at work
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Traditionally, men have been thought of as being the protectors and main providers for their families and, therefore, if they spent more time at the office, networking, or even time pursuing an education they were valued for their drive and praised for their successes outside the home. Men are commonly referred to as "good providers" when their worth is being summed up. Women are more likely to be praised for being good wives and mothers long before they might be referred to en masse as "good providers."

Men are often expected to be aggressive in business—to be go-getters and are not highly criticized for putting work ahead of family because, in the end, they are serving their families by ensuring their needs are met by a decent income. Women are assumed to be more docile and less effective in business—something statistics show is anything but true.

The Price of Success

When women strive to achieve success they are often reminded that the price of working or studying late comes at the expense of their spouses, children, and friends, and even at their own personal expense. Have you ever been told you will regret a career now because you are missing out on your children's young lives?

The bottom line is that in most societies around the world, men are given slack that women are not afforded when it comes to defining the roles the should play in life. And when "he" has it all, it is a noble thing, when "she" has it all the woman may be questioned about her values and priorities in life. And there's the motherhood penalty to consider. 

Gender Differences

Men are generally better at asserting and expressing their needs. Biology, nature, and society better prepare boys to enter into adulthood as leaders than is true for girls. Girls are given dolls to play with and may be discouraged from pursuing math and science fields, and certainly, few could argue that women have a tougher time getting ahead in the corporate world than most men do.

Being aggressive can be a great quality when it is tempered with maturity; being aggressive in the right ways can help most of us get more out of life—but many women are often timid about asking to have their own needs met.

Men may be more likely to take a day off to golf, sleep in, watch sports, or go to the gym than women are because when a woman makes a demand, she may be seen as bossy, whiny, or as a selfish mother or wife.

The Glass Ceiling

Like women, men can also be great nurturers, help-meets, and genuinely supportive of the women in their lives—but men still may not see what their partners want as clearly as women often can. While this may sound like a gross generalization, even men who are highly supportive and helpful may need their female partners to tell them what it is they want and need. It is where the old cliché "Men are From Mars and Women are From Venus" might apply well. Men and women just think differently about a lot of things, but men will often help—especially when there is a problem to solve if they only know what the problem is.

Evidence that supports ongoing stereotypes is clear and rampant in the world of work. Women are paid less than men for performing the same jobs. They are more likely to be turned over for a promotion, and their raises are smaller. Men never hit a "glass ceiling"—that term was created to define the stumbling block that only holds true for women.

Minority women are often stereotyped as being single moms. And, the truth is, that more single moms are minorities, but this has far more to do with societal and economic limitations that are often based on discrimination and fewer opportunities than being a minority. Unfortunately for any minority—male or female, inequality exists: work harder, get paid less because you are a minority. When it comes to income, minority women dollar-for-dollar make less than the rest of society. So how are women who may need to work more hours than a man to earn enough to provide for their families supposed to be "better" at balancing their lives?

Stereotypes of Biology

Women are also subject to being seen as less desirable candidates for vetting and key corporate positions because of the "risk" that they could get pregnant and drop their careers at any time. Society still values women as wives and mothers first, and towards the end of the list as economic powerhouses. As a result of this thinking, it is expected that when a child is born women will take time off, or quit their jobs to raise a family. Men are not seen as family conflict "risk candidates, " and most companies in the United States do not even allow men to take maternity leave to help at home with young children even when they want to.

The problem is not simply that women must continue to fight gender inequality—something we have been fighting (probably) since time began. The problem is that the new demands and judgment of women being expected to achieve better "work-life" balance has only added to our plates.

The problem is, "work-life" balance, when you consider what it was intended to mean, almost sounds like it was invented by a man because it suggests we can have careers, babies, and a clean house if we just prioritize and work harder at "balancing" our lives. And, if we are good at this, we might even get some "time off for good behavior" to spend on ourselves.