I gave up on women’s magazines along the lines of Cosmo and Glamour right around the time that I was sufficiently confident I didn’t need advice on how to please a man. While it’s entertaining and I’m a lover of fashion and a bit of gossip, I didn’t have enough time to allocate to fluff so I began weeding out my magazine consumption. Who survived the cut? Marie Claire.
Marie Claire was like having a GNO with the best girlfriend. You know the one…smart, interested in you, informative, fashionable and mature. She was Ms. with shaved legs and a smoothed out feminist vibe. I like to think of her as the girl you’d marry if you were a boy, liked girls, or she wasn’t imaginary. It always seemed like we agreed with one another; she would say something and I’d smile or nod my head in agreement while congratulating myself on choosing my friends so wisely. But even your best friends can disappoint you. Enter the July edition of Marie Claire and article by Ayana Byrd, The Single Girl’s Second Shift.
According to the article, single women are suffering workplace discrimination at the hands of their married counterparts, including: 1) Carrying an unfair burden, batting “clean up” for the married-with-kids co-workers. 2) Being perceived as people who “don’t have lives. (Making people think that) No life means no need for balance.” 3) Having work shifted to them because “she’s single, she has time to do this.”
In a lengthy article, the author discusses this major issue “simmering below the surface”. With a plethora of feeling based surveys of single workers and a book written by Bella DePaulo, a PH.D., who is cited as America’s foremost authority on the single experience and who happens to be the author of numerous “marriage bad, single good” articles, she opines about the impact of married people on singles in the workplace.
DePaulo has coined the term “singalism”, which doesn’t need much of a breakdown for definition: racISM, chauvanISM, sexISM, you get the point. Basically, singles feel that they are being forced to carry the lion’s share of the work hours and work load to accommodate the busy lives of working women—while she avoids the direct hit that she would take by verbalizing gender, it’s obvious that the impact she is reviewing is the one caused by women on other women. You can just see her target on female parents in particular—you know the ones that are using their kids as crutches as they limp out of the door at 5 pm.
My irritation with the article may not be for the reasons that you think. I’ve worked with women at all stages of motherhood and I am one. As a matter of fact, I’ve been an office professional as long as I’ve been a mother, having chosen to get married at 18 and have children by 21 (no, I’m not Amish or a member of the Duggar family). While I’ve had school plays, cheerleading competitions, and sick children in the mix, I’ve also had to fight to prove that I appreciate and value my career, just as much as the single girl—now I see that the justification is necessary to women as much as men. I knew that I would have to manage my career closely in order to progress. When I was going through a divorce, I kept it out of the office out of concern that someone would assume that I would use it as a crutch. That’s right I managed an entire divorce with children transitioning from middle to high school without forcing a single working woman to shoulder the burden of my disintegrating marriage. All of this while working in the cut throat world of sales where you’re only as good as your current numbers, so taking time off could be the death knell when a new territory or opportunity to lead arose.
I can also look beyond myself to a Corporate Sales Manager that works far longer hours and more Saturdays than her single subordinates or male counterpart in the business as she balances being the parent of three young children. She has done what I would recommend any professional do if they are seeking personal and professional fulfillment: Adjust where necessary. Some days may require a heavier workload than others and others may necessitate the peace of mind afforded from quality personal time. She isn’t striving for perfection or looking for someone to share her responsibilities, instead she has the maturity and focus to identify what it takes to get the job done. Does she find it easy? I can’t speak for her but understanding the duality of the role of working mom and successful employee, I would say “no”, but unlike the single people noted in the article, she doesn’t have the expectation of ease and comfort in all situations.
To avoid sounding contrary for the sake of, I’ll give in to certain things: Working mothers take time off for things that single women can’t/don’t use as an excuse, working mothers will often adjust their hours or ask for that time so that they can take care of parental responsibilities—often carrying the burden more than working fathers. And, full disclosure, I’ve worked with women that have children and taken days off when school is closed and I’ve given the “get a sitter” eye roll because it had become excessive or seemed like something they should be prepared for, so yes, GUILTY! I’ve also worked with women who have taken time off for personal ailments (cramps, etc) while I’ve had to save those sick days in case of kid emergency so I’ve dragged myself in through the flu! I’ve also worked with singles that miss work because of mismanaged late nights out or worse, have come in with ‘walk of shame’ stench. You know the look: haphazard pony, ballet flats because their balance is still off, and the outfit that is more casual than professional because they didn’t have enough planning time between the club, rolling out of someone’s bed, rushing home to change and making it to the office. My point: slackers comes in all forms. Ms. Byrd assumes that the slackers impacting singles would be married, I say don’t make the argument about the people you can’t identify with and rather than giving you a platform to whine, I’ve included tips to help:
Suggestions for dealing with true slackers in the workplace:
1) Focus on the things that will make you rise to the top and you will have less time to reflect on what’s being done around you
2) Toot your own horn. It’s okay to engage in well timed, smartly phrased self-promotion, which doesn’t include pointing fingers.
3) Refrain from negativity. Going to HR or your supervisor to continuously point out what others are not doing will eventually make you the target.
4) Understand that it’s not your job to understand. There may be things happening with a co-worker, in the office or out, that may not be within your rights to know. If it doesn’t involve you directly, keep it moving and stop trying to figure out why they “aren’t in on time, leave early or don’t seem to pulling their weight.”
5) Be insightful enough comprehend your motivation for complaining about a colleague. If there isn’t a direct, unavoidable impact to your position, it may not require addressing. Also, if it feels like “complaining”, it probably is.
6) Spend more time managing your career and emotions with the perspective that you’re in control of both of those things. If your mission is to be promoted and to grow in the workplace, any time spent pointing fingers is counterproductive to that cause. When there is work to be done there are few successful leaders that care more about who’s accomplishing it than that it’s being accomplished, when they see you willing to dive in, it does more for you than anyone else. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of that perspective.
7) Seek and create your version of balance. There were instances of women feeling like they weren’t able to enjoy their personal lives because they were working too frequently. If you’re working too often this is less about the other person and more about you. I always believe that anything we WANT to do, we DO. Schedule your work out sessions, networking events, and regular happy hours and build them into your calendar. It’s very likely that your boss has pastimes that they enjoy and will respect that you have found an outlet of your own. Also, finding an opportunity to do more than work creates a better employee, many surveys have cited that employees with successful downtime are more productive during the workday.
8) Don’t assume that the “powers that be” are blind to workplace happenings. This isn’t a school project that requires working in teams at home while the teacher is unaware of who is pulling the weight. If you are working in tandem and producing the lion’s share of the work, believe that it won’t go unrewarded or unnoticed. Corporations and it’s managers are proprietary about money and rarely want to pay people for the work that they aren’t doing. Outside of the less rare but often discussed cases of nepotism and workplace favoritism, leaders typically promote those that are comfortable diving in. If you feel that your work is unrewarded, refer to #2.
9) Learn to say “no”. Leaders respect professionals that can be decisive. The “no” sentiment doesn’t have to be conveyed in a cutting manner, it can be creatively and respectfully delivered.
10) Referencing #9, Be courageous. If you absolutely believe that you have a reason for declining the work, you shouldn’t have a problem delivering the news, just remember that nothing is done without risk!
Notice that points 1-10 reflect on the most important thing that you can do as a professional: focus on what you can do without making it about someone else.