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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

Work Life Fit: A New Focus for Blurred Lines

By Rosa Sheng, AIA


Happy Labor Day! #Architalks is back and no. 12 happens to be themed on “Work/Life” in honor of the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. No irony should be lost that I have written this post on Labor Day as it was due on Tuesday... with much thanks to Bob Borson of Life of an Architect!

The topic of Work/Life is no stranger to our Equity by Design forum, so we welcome this month’s conversation. Just beware that the secret confession of this Archimom holds firm that Work/Life “balance” does NOT exist – at least not in the meaning that implies maintaining equilibrium. Now, if you are talking about tightrope walking, then you may be closer to my world. (You may also envision juggling flaming knives, drinking from a firehose, or my favorite - the episode of I Love Lucy when they are working at the Chocolate Factory and can't keep up with the assembly line, so they start eating and hiding the chocolates. ) 

And since the proverbial Work/Life balance bubble has burst, there have been several new models hoping to be crowned the new "it" term for career and personal success; Work/Life Integration, Work/Life Flexibility, and now Work/Life Fit. I like the idea of Work/Life Fit. It implies a tailored approach to one's own journey for finding success in career and life. Regardless of the terms and rapidly evolving models of work AND life, we need to address the deeply rooted assumptions that prevent many from realizing the "dream". So, this post will provide awareness of the Implicit gender bias related to work/life flexibility and its impact on advancement to provide some quantifiable new focus for the often blurred lines related to this pinch point.

Survey finding of Work/Life Flex Challenges

As part of the Missing 32% Project: Equity in Architecture survey, our goal was to identify factors or “pinch points” from graduation to retirement that cause Architects to leave the profession. The five major pinch points are: Hiring, Paying your Dues, Licensure, Caregiving, and the Glass Ceiling. A few of the key survey findings addressed the challenges of work/life as it relates to caregiving as a major pinch point for talent retention. Work/Life challenges reported higher by women than men include turning down a promotion, a project opportunity, or project related travel. The 2nd highest response indicated that they left a position in a firm due to the lack of work/life flexibility. When asked what employers could provide that would be most supportive, respondents reported that flexible start and end times, comp time for overtime hours and technology to enable telecommuting from home when needed. 

A recent study by Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit Inc. had some interesting findings about Work/Life Flexibility perceptions and a few surprises as well. The access to Work life flexibility was very common among the survey respondents with almost all saying they had some form of flexibility in 2013 (97%), with no significant difference between the levels reported by men and women. The ability to be flexible in how, when and where you work and to allocate time and energy between your work and personal life has increased. The number of full-time U.S. workers who said their level of flexibility increased was higher in 2013 (23%) than in 2011 (17%).

However, among those who said they have work life flexibility, the majority of flexibility in 2013 was informal and occasional (55%) such as occasional changes in schedule or your work location other than your employer’s office, while the remainder (42%) had a formally agreed upon arrangement with their employer. The study also found that 31% of full time workers opt to telecommute at least part of the time. And most surprising was that of the 31%, nearly 3 out of 4 were men working from home of no particular generational category, while some have children and some don't; there was no clear pattern that would suggest men wanted to work from home because of family concerns. These findings are quite different to the perception that women are benefitting the most from flexibility arrangements.

In addition to the informal vs. formal nature of Work/Life Flex, there are the impacts associated with which path you choose. A NY Times article "How Some Men Fake an 80-Hour Workweek, and Why It Matters" by Neil Irwin discussed the disparity in a study completed by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University's Questrom School of Business. One of Ms. Reid's key findings was that people (the majority of which were men) who were "passing" as workaholics, received performance reviews that were as strong as their truly ambitious colleagues. For the people who succeeded at "faking it" there were no consequences of their lighter workloads. Conversely, a second key finding indicated that women, particularly those with young children, were much more likely to request greater flexibility through more formal means, such as returning from maternity leave with an explicitly reduced schedule. Men who requested a paternity leave seemed to be punished come review time, and so may have felt more need to take time to spend with their families through those unofficial methods. The result of this is telling: Those specifically requesting a lighter workload, who were disproportionately women, suffered in their performance reviews; those who took a lighter workload more discreetly didn’t suffer. 

A greater challenge to work/life flexibility as it relates to caregiving is the deeply rooted cultural bias that society still views mothers as the primary caregivers. Cultural assumptions aside, here is the reality: 71 percent of mothers with children at home do work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and women are the sole or primary breadwinner in 40 percent of households with children, according to data from the Pew Research Center. In the NY times Article The Motherhood Penalty vs. the Fatherhood Bonus by Claire Cain Miller, employers credit fathers as being more committed and stable to their work while the opposite of women in parenthood is perceived; that they are less dependable and more easily distracted in a flexible work schedule.

With all these challenges, it's no wonder that we are faced with the uphill climb to increase the dismal numbers of women who are licensed architects and leaders in firms (which hopefully will include more archimoms in the future.) Can we get to a workplace that not only recognizes work/life, but also respects and encourages workers to exercise their "fit" without judgement of performance solely based on their schedules? And can we get away from the ultra competitive "Culture of Busy" that rewards the perception of long work hours vs. actual efficiency in hours saved in a results focused model? 

The fundamental challenge we have as a profession and society is the need to rethink current workplace models and find new solutions that will positively support those that need work/life flexibility the most. The strongest motivation for this new value proposition is talent retention within our profession. Otherwise we are no better than Lucy and Ethel with a mouth full of chocolates, (and as Lucy pointed out, constantly on the verge of losing the battle).

For different takes on the #Architalks 12 theme "Work/Life", read from the following architecture "blogerati" contributors to this worthy topic.

Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
Work Life

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
Work | Life - Different Letters, Same Word

Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Work / Life : Life / Work

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Work/Life...What an Architect Does

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
The One Secret to Work - Life Balance

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
work | life :: dance

Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect)
Living an Integrated Life as a Small Firm Architect

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: Work/life...attempts

Collier Ward - Thousand Story Studio (@collier1960)

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
what makes you giggle? #architalks

Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)
Turning It Off

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Work/Life -- A Merger

Rosa Sheng - Equity by Design / The Missing 32% Project (@miss32percent)
Work Life Fit: A New Focus for Blurred Lines

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
Work Life

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks: Imbalanced and uninterrupted

Amy Kalar - ArchiMom (@AmyKalar)
ArchiTalks #12: Balance is a Verb.

Michael Riscica - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
I Just Can’t Do This Anymore

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
An Architect's House

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Brady Ernst - Family Man Since 08/01/2015

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Father, Husband, Architect - typically in that order

Tara Imani - Tara Imani Designs, LLC (@Parthenon1)
On Work: Life Balance – Cattywampus is as Good as it Gets

Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w)
midnight in the garden of [life] and [work]

Sharon George - Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
Work = 1/3 Life

Daniel Beck - The Architect's Checklist (@archchecklist)
Work Life Balance: Architecture and Babies - 5 Hints for Expecting Parents

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
Work is Life

Anthony Richardson - That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent)
studio / life

Lindsey Rhoden - SPARC Design (@sparcdesignpc)
Work Life Balance: A Photo Essay

Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Work / Life

Jonathan Brown - Proto-Architecture (@mondo_tiki_man)
Architecture: Work to Live