osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

How My Brain Works, An Example

Here is an example of how my brain processes differently from most other people and why my status updates and posts usually need to end up so long. The original link and article were shared to FB. Here is a link to the original article. FB makes it difficult for me to link back to the original status updtae/link share from Wednsday.

I knew when I published the link with a brief comment that folks would not understand what I actually loved about it. Because it takes me 1500-2000 words to explain my thought processes. But I decided it was worth trying to explain for people who have any interest in how I tend to analyze things. So I reproduce my actual 1500+ analysis below.

A few days back, I shared this link with the notation "I love this article so very, ver much." Because I was on a train with poor connectivity, I didn't have a chance to write my usual 1500-2000 words of what I liked and didn't like. So everyone focused on the primary content, which focused on the research of three economists who followed women who graduated from U of C with MBAs and the nature of what their work showed as a general explanation.

What I actually loved about it was its recognition of the complexity and nuance of the problem of the pay gap. The article focused on one particular line of research, but it acknowledged several important points that I have been making for years.

1. Our assessment of the pay gap in a single, average figure is not useful for figuring out a solution. We have cleared the easy problem of prohibiting outright discrimination that previously existed. What has happened therefore is a host of more subtle problems that can, in some degree, be broken down as follows.

a. Industries/work environments that remain sex segregated and where very visible, traditional forms of sexism still exist.

b. Industries/work environments where unconscious bias and other forms of friction for women seeking to advance exist (e.g., women are penalized for behavior that is rewarded in men because it violates expected norms like being 'too aggressive').

c. Industries/work environments where facially neutral criteria work to the disadvantage of women.

2. The Chicago MBA research was significant because it focused on category (c). Category (c) is often overlooked because it is a function of the work environment and therefore is the "fish/water" problem and brings in the "but we can't just lower the standards" response. The fact that women can succeed in category (c) environment by not having children or other 'work participation' interruptions is usually taken as evidence that (c) is simply an immutable fact.

3. The authors also note that men are penalized *more* for moving out of a "traditional hours" (or, as we used to call it when I was in private practice, "Facetime"). This makes what has been the standard recommendation (men need to do more in the "traditional" women's role such as housework and childrearing) more complicated.

As the article notes, although we have been making steady progress in this area, the responsibility for taking care of child/children and organizing cleaning house still falls primarily on women. There are a lot of caveats about such surveys, including what "counts" as work by men in these areas. (Surveys find that both men and women do not "count" childcare activities by men that are perceived as "fun" for men. Thus, a mother taking children to a little league game is is considered childcare, but a father taking children to a little league game is not considered childcare. Similarly, outdoor yardwork -- a traditional male activity -- is likewise discounted from 'housework' such as sweeping or laundry. Surveys which rely on random calls at various times to parents saying "please describe what you are doing right now," without categorizing something as work or not, show a slightly more equitable distribution. But the general trend is still present, particularly for staying at home with a sick child which is not amenable to such subjective categorization.) Nevertheless, we can take the overall trend as a given, since the goal should be as close to 100% equal as possible (I'll discuss this a bit more presently in the question of flexibility.)

The traditional explanation is that we don't "value" traditional women's work because it is done by women. But the fact that men who "lean in" are punished more heavily economically (what I used to call 'the Daddy track') means that part of the decision making is not driven by valuing the work as by the expectation that women do the work more, therefore we should not penalize them as much for doing it. This is actually more consistent with the general trend in the workplace to offload as much to the employee as possible. employers regard "housework" and "child care" as extra-curricular activities that do not provide excusable absence from work not because they do not value it in the abstract, but because they do not wish to pay for it. This is similar to the way to the way that employers will pay lip service to the idea that employees should be healthy, but still penalize employees that take time to exercise regularly instead of being available for the extraordinary hours (including the core 9-5 hours) that employees provide.

This is not simply "patriarchy hurts everyone, even men." The fact is that there is a lot of labor in having a family, maintaining a home, and otherwise having a life outside the workplace that needs to get done. If a heterosexual family takes a greater economic hit because culturally and economically it "cost more" for the man to contribute labor equally, that labor falls on the woman -- to her personal cost. But while the personal cost for the woman is higher than the personal cost for the man, the overall cost to the family may be lower. A very nasty choice that re-enforces the pay gap but can only be solved by changing cultural and economic attitudes toward men doing more home support work.

4. I quoted the particular sentence about the "3 categories" (men, women with kids, women without kids) not because it represents a solution but because it illustrates complexity, not because it illustrates a solution. Nor does it require that women achieve full equality without children. There are a lot of friction points that work together to sustain the pay gap. While the article focuses on the primary object of the research, it does discuss the wide range of other friction points -- such as outright sexism in "negotiation" of salary and the fact that men starting their MBA career had sufficiently better previous work experience and networking capacity to start with a $15K salary advantage (about 10% pay gap).

5. The article also jibes with my own experience and what I have observed and heard about through Rebecca Feld. The rise of shift work families and our own experience. I left a major law firm that was about as family friendly as possible in 1999 in part because it clearly was not possible for me to be as involved in the life of my child and do what I needed to do at home and have a successful career.

Moving to a more flexible public interest law firm required to take a cut in salary to about 1/3 of what I had been making. My current salary, which is quite generous in absolute terms and for the public interest sector, is about 1/5th (or less, haven't checked recently) of what I would earn had I stayed and made partner. Happily, because my wife is a pharmacist (and because of some lucky decisions and timing), we were able to take that hit and survive.

Even then, finding the proper balance was a highly individualized process. And it involved a lot of trade offs. The graph of my professional career and earning power has a lot to do with Aaron's age and how I was able to shift more time to professional events and networking and travel as Aaron grew older. This was not a happy balance. Becky increasingly took responsibility for "managing [Aaron's] schedule and activities both because she is more organized, but because once she is finished with her work shift she is done.

I will also add that there is enormous friction not merely from employers, but from schools and other institutions associated with childcare for father participation rather than mother participation. This is already too long, so I will not recount the number of personal anecdotes. I will simply say that focusing on a traditional idea of "patriarchy" and that we therefore "do not value" non-profit earning "women's work" is only a portion of the problem, and that to generally address it will require a deeper understanding of the complexity involved.

6. The articles point to shiftwork/flexibility as being an important element is likewise important, but can't be the entire solution. The percentage of heterosexual couples in shiftwork jobs, where one parent works a "day" or morning shift and the other parent works an "evening" or night shift is rising -- precisely to provide the flexibilty needed for coverage. Not surprisingly, the researchers discovered that the pay gap decreased for women able to o flexible shifts. The article did not look at the fact that to balance the demands adequately usually requires a partner in a shiftwork or more flexible job to cover the gap.

7. I strongly disagree with the article's conclusion that policy cannot push solutions, but agree with the criticism that policy (and politicians) want things "one and done." But attacking the pay gap for gender (and for race, but that is a very different set of problems), is going to take lots of policies where government action can be extremely useful and influential. But it needs to be nuanced. Policy must incorporate both the lessons of the social sciences -- with regard to attitudes towards women and men, stereotypes, the nature of what does and doesn't get rewarded or reported and why -- and the lessons of economics in terms of sustainability and the complex choices that impact family units as a whole, not just women individually.

None of this, of course, is intrinsically obvious to anyone reading the article, unless you're me. Because that is how I think about these things and related things all the time. When people ask me how I can do what I do, this is why.


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