An appendectomy and then a root canal has given me a little more reading time than I usually have. I spent some time getting caught up on some of my magazines and something interesting caught my attention that I wanted to share with you. In the July 2013 issue of Marie Claire, there was an article titled “The Single Girl’s Second Shift”. By the title I wasn’t really sure what I was about to read. I wasn’t sure if I was that single girl demographic they were speaking of or if it was the “20-something, never married, no kids” single girl they were talking about. I supposed that ambiguity is what drew me in and as I read, I saw the truth in what was written. I’ve seen it lived out in the life of a friend of mine who is single without children of her own. Interestingly I have also seen a variation of it manifest in my life while I was in the work force.
The writer highlights a type of discrimination that is becoming more prevalent in the office. Here is the premise: It’s punch out time. Moms have to get home to feed their kids but the office project is not finished. The boss is responsible to the client to meet the deadline. But the boss also has a family to get home to. Who then is available to stay until the end? The single woman with no kids, no husband and thereby “no responsibilities”. She is the grand-slammer hitter who brings everyone home to win the game from behind. The work place has fused into a collaborative team effort where clear job descriptions become blurred by the desperate need to to meet unrealistic goals by demanding bosses who often won’t tow the line themselves. Now before an outcry erupts, I am of course speaking in a generalization and in no way am saying all bosses dump their work on the person they think has no life. But, it’s probably safe to say, we all have worked for someone at sometime who was like that.
As I read the article, I became more introspective about this phenomenon and how it affects those single women who don’t have kids. I have frequently had a conversation with a dear friend of mine who loves her job. She works in a small office with most of her colleagues being female. She is fully committed to her career and her position and, without doubt, she is in a high stress industry driven by accuracy, contracts and deadlines. When month end rolls around and the work load gets heavy and intense, and the work hours get long; she being the only employee with no children is the one who is expected to put in the extra hours, drive the extra miles and stay until everything is finished. Yet her married with children female counterparts go home and have dinner with their families. She calls her family and cancels her plans for dinner with them, whilst her colleagues go home to their families. I am wondering at what point did bosses transition from writing and enforcing job duties into defining what personal responsibilities an employee has are valid enough to acknowledge and which are not “real” or “important” responsibilities that can then be trampled over by the innuendo they may lose their job if the employee doesn’t come through for “the team”.
The idea that a boss has the power to dangle the carrot of continued employment over an employee’s head in order to guilt trip her into feeling “thankful that she at least has a job” really sickens me. I am the last person who wants a mama to not be able to have dinner with her children one evening; but to me, what is worse, is that single woman who has family- nieces, nephews, Big Brothers and Sisters and others who rely on her just as much for her companionship, wisdom and relationship- and repeatedly has to cancel on them because of work. For all the great pitches HR mangers make during interviews about how important the work/life balance is to their company, when it comes down to it, that’s only true when there is someone on the team who will consistently fill the gaps.
What happens when there is no one woman who can be pegged as the “20-something, never married, no kids, no responsibilities” type? A twist in the scenario occurs. The boss then looks to the one woman whose children are older… who can fend for themselves… who don’t need a babysitter anymore or someone to cook for them. That is how I have seen this “single girl” workplace discrimination take place in my life. I can’t figure out why people think that just because the teenage children don’t want to spend much time with their moms means that the moms don’t want to spend much time with their teenage kids. I have consistently been the one called upon to cover shifts, work late, put in hours far beyond what was agreed upon in my employment contract. I am not willing to be that grand-slam hitter, which is probably why I no longer work in corporate America. Financially things have been far less secure, but I wouldn’t change how things have played out. The way I see it, I only have a couple of years left with my daughter before she begins her adulthood. I don’t want to miss this time. It matters to me just as much as it did when she was 2 and needed my assistance for everything. I still have an impact on her life; she still needs my guidance; and I want to be around for the moments when she does want to spend a little time with me.
For those of you who are bosses and may not have even been aware that this discrimination against single women exists, I hope you will take some time to evaluate if it has happened under your leadership. If it has, I hope you find creative solutions to level the playing field for everyone. For those of you who have been that single woman, I hope that you take some time to reflect on how you can create boundaries so that you don’t miss out on fulfilling your responsibilities and tending to your precious relationships. For you cynics out there, I know there must be a few of you reading, I doubt I have sparked any introspective thought on your part. After all, you are already cynical… but I will challenge you anyway. Talk to the women in your life and ask if they’ve seen this in their life or in their office… You might be surprised.