Several year ago, back when I more actively pursued a writing career, I wrote for the No Filter blog. Focused on life as a modern woman, many of the contributors were mothers with motherhood being a popular topic. Although not yet a Mom myself, I planned to become one so I wrote about it too. One article in particular I penned regarded “The Caregiver Wage Gap” which I can summarize here as -the idea that a portion of the gender wage gap is caused by women self-selecting into positions of lower pay to allow flexibility for caregiving duties.
Five years ago, I was aware and actively investigating this topic, and then I did it anyway. I asked for a demotion to become a Mom.
What Kind of Job Do You Have?
When it comes to jobs affecting life outside normal working hours, there are two camps. There are the jobs where you work extra hours because of the perception you have to work extra hours, either to simply stay competitive or to get ahead by going “above and beyond”. And then there are jobs where you work extra hours because it’s mandated -to be on call and available in case of emergencies. Even if your job requires you to work nights or weekends, that’s normally bearable as long as you know when you’re working in advance. In the on-call jobs, that’s often not the case.
My job belonged to the latter category where “Thou shalt be available.” When the reactor calls, someone must answer. And though we plan in advance to know who that will be, the additional burden is grueling when it happens.
And after living “life on call” for a year, an opportunity came to change that life. My old job spot opened for hire. The position that I was hired out of. The lower position. The less paying position. The less positioning position. And I wanted it back.
What Job Do You Want?
As I considered asking for my demotion, the Caregiver Wage Gap weighed on my mind as did my Feminist duties and personal desires. The way I imagined the next several years going was that I would get pregnant, grow our family, and spend time with our children. Nothing about spending 1 of every 3 weeks on-call aligned with those goals, even if it was highly unlikely I’d be called to serve during that time.
Did I worry I was betraying female-kind by stepping back? Of course I did.
Did I think my mentors were disappointed in me? They were. No one said as much, but you know, you can tell.
Did I worry about being spoiled and privileged for even having to agonize such a decision? You betcha.
Lucky me even had a supportive partner at home. Someone who could fill the “Be there” role when I had to leave. It’s not as if I was doing it on my own as so many must.
And yet, when I considered what I wanted, I wanted the Caregiver Wage Gap. I wanted to maintain my “temporal flexibility” to be with my kids more than I wanted money or career advancing opportunities. (And I wanted to sleep through the night during pregnancy uninterrupted by annoying technical phone calls-can I get an amen?)
How Do We Fix Work/Life Balance?
When asked what they could to make me stay, the only thing I could think was if they removed this “on-call” aspect. But that didn’t seem fair or proper since that’s what I was paid to do and the burden would fall on my coworkers if I didn’t. So I didn’t ask and luckily they let me take back my old position.
I’m still wondering what the solution to this problem is. Is it simply that you have to be more badass and want it more? That seems the wrong solution. Especially in the wake of a pandemic where millions, the majority of them being women, exited the job market to care for children. Because that’s the other side, instead of asking for flexibility in a demotion, I could have left entirely. While we’ve made strides, women still leave the workforce in droves to care for children. And it’s not just women, I know a growing number of men who don’t go for promotions because they’d rather be available for their families. The popular addition of “Stay at Home Parent” as a job on LinkedIn could be signaling wider appreciation for these caregiving duties.
Maybe some leave because quitting is the right option. Maybe they do it because asking for a demotion is considered career suicide, so they don’t do that. Maybe that’s what I really wanted to prove with all this. I’m not stepping away entirely -I don’t want to do that -but I do need something that fits my needs better for now so I can come back stronger.
Looking at things now that I’m in my ideal situation, demotion was absolutely the right choice. It’s allowing me to do what I want in having kids, and having kids is indeed having the surprising effect of making me want to work more. Building a better world was always my agenda, but now I’ve got a bigger stake.
Flexibility may not be the final answer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.