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Don’t hold your breath for women to bake the cakes

Lucy Kellaway, columnist at Financial times and author of “Martin Lukes: Who Moved My BlackBerry“, bids farewell to the flexibility fad, while predicting doom for working women, over at Economist’s The World in 2007 special:

The image of the juggling part-time mother will belong to the past. Instead, the school gates in prosperous neighbourhoods of London and New York will be filled with former bankers and lawyers, baking cakes while their husbands are making the money.

She also says that the term “work-life balance” will be old news, as will be “part-time working” and working from home”. In a rather shocking article which doesn’t depend on any facts, Kellaway puts forward these predictions, without even sparing a thought for why it may not be the case.

“Indeed, the increasing talk of work-life balance has gone hand in hand with more work and less life. The term is still routinely used but has lost its resonance and in 2007 it will start to sicken and die. ”

Here’s why Kellaway is wrong:

There is a global war for talent, which is about to intensify to unprecedented levels. To save myself the trouble of any data collection, let me point to a survey by the same magazine just a month ago. Now if we apply our every day economics, where there is a shortage of labour, labourers have more bargaining power. And if they have more bargaining power, they would easily negotiate for working conditions that would include work-life balance, part-time work as well as working from home. Why wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t employers rather have a part-time employee than no employee?

And what’s with the fall in the number of women executives? Kellaway continues her predictions:

“In 2007 there will be no rise in the number of women in senior positions; in fact the number will fall. HR professionals will continue to worry about this, but decision-makers will not be unduly alarmed.”

Look around you, the number of women at positions of power are steadily rising. Wasn’t it just a couple of weeks ago that we all heard about Nancy Pelosi? Wasn’t it just a couple of days ago that we all read about Segolene Royal? Open up today’s WSJ and you can read about 50 powerful women in the business world.(recommended link)

I look around me, and I see part-time workers everywhere in my workplace, and at all levels. When I am not required to attend meetings at the work place, I have the freedom to work from home. I admit I still see people who work 80 hour weeks and I could probably count myself among them. But, I do see people around me who have made successful careers by working 30 hour weeks too. I frequently get invited to work-life balance conferences. I see no slow down in the horizon – just more acceptance and more flexibility.

The Economist definitely has a lot of great predictions for 2007. But I would wager a bet that this is one that they would get wrong.

Posted in Society, Women on November 21, 2006

7 Responses

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  1. anjali says

    Surya, I think your view is colored by the liberal work laws in the Netherlands (and most of Europe). In the US and in the developing nations, true work-life balance is not something you can hope to expect any time soon. It’s definitely more work and less life for most of us.

    As for not having women in senior positions, I am not sure how true that will be. Not every woman is looking for work-life balance!

  2. Sig11 says

    Anjali, unfortunately for Kellaway, EU still forms a sizeable chunk of professionals :)

  3. Surya says

    Yes, I thought about my European bias when I wrote it. But then I figured that it doesn’t support a declining trend. Maybe US and Asia are worse than Europe in absolute terms, but honestly don’t think they are on the decline. I do believe the bargaining power of employees will increase sharply in the coming years, and somehow it just doesn’t gel with long hours etc.

    Maybe you have a different perspective, being on the other side of the Atlantic – do you think its actually getting worse?

    Sig11, that’s true. Kellaway has forgotten about her European readers, when they form a large percentage of workers.

  4. Naina Redhu says

    Well – I’m an MBA and I ditched the 9-5 for a more flexible 24×7 with my own design studio. Conditioning and stereotypes still make it difficult to be not-guilty about enjoying my work, negotiating for conditions the way I prefer them [ on a contract job for example ] and still making decent money.

    Quite literally, I work when I want, vacation when I want, paint when I want, cook when I want and blog when I want :) And I’m in India.

    I guess being talented and more open to working with global clients is an attitude needed for achieving the above situation.

    Good reading on your blog – got here via Srijith. Did a logo for his research project recently :)

  5. Surya says

    Hi Naina,

    Welcome to the blog. Loved the logo, BTW.

    “I work when I want, vacation when I want, paint when I want, cook when I want and blog when I want” – that sounds wonderful..:)I guess when Economist predicts decrease in flexibility, they overlook a lot of people who are already making it work, and I sincerely hope they are proved wrong.

  6. Deepa says

    I suppose I should add myself to the Naina-list. One of the major screw-ups with the work-life balance thing is the ability to make as much money working flexi as you would if you sat chained to a desk. Some of us are starting to do it.

  7. Rosie says

    I thank you for your comment.

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