Work-life balance is a struggle for all professionals, but women in particular face harsh stereotypes when trying to create both a successful career and a fulfilling family life. Sharon Meers, head of enterprise strategy for e-commerce platform Magento, and online entrepreneur Joanna Strober, co-authors of "Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All," explain how families can thrive with mothers who work and fathers who are engaged. Meers and Strober recently spoke with U.S. News about ways spouses can help each other meet career and family obligations so everyone wins. Excerpts:
What workplace challenges do professional mothers face?
Sharon Meers: In the workforce there's this idea that to be successful you need to work 24/7. That's become a bigger and bigger thing in almost every major profession – that more hours at work are somehow going to make you better and more successful. What I've learned being a manager both in finance and technology is that's just not true. You get more productivity out of teams through focus, through having diverse voices, through having better teamwork. The biggest problem is that [women] don't believe what I just said, which is that success does not require 24/7. If more women understand that they can be tremendously successful working differently than guys, that really helps.
How can women avoid giving up their careers for a family?
Joanna Strober: The first thing you need to do is prioritize your career. If you like your job, you're much more likely to come back to it. Furthermore, if you understand why having a job is good for you and for your family and for your spouse, you're also much more likely to come back to it.
How do families, in particular, benefit from having two working parents?
SM: This is the really fun part of 50/50. The research says that kids turn out equally well whether or not moms work outside the home. It also says that all parents are likely to be happier, whether they're moms or dads if, in addition to having kids, they have a job. Research shows that men really matter to kids, that children with the best outcomes in grades and behavior are those who have fathers who are more actively involved with their lives. Historically, people focused too much on moms and haven't seen dads as equally important partners. They're more able to be equally involved parents when moms work.
Is 50/50 possible for women regardless of socioeconomic status?
JS: Absolutely. I actually think it's hardest for women who feel like it's a choice for them to be working rather than a requirement. So, I'd actually put it the opposite direction: When you know you're going to be working, you're much more likely to do 50/50 than if you're always questioning whether you're going to work or not. It's possible for anyone who's interested in raising a family and having a child.
How must American culture change, so 50/50 is a reality for all women?
JS: We really have to stop looking at teaching our daughters that work is optional while teaching our sons that work is required. We need to start with the basis that it is good for both men and women to have fulfilling family lives and to have fulfilling careers.
SM: Men and women very frequently don't talk enough about what they need from each other because they're concerned it will cause conflict. If you feel comfortable having those conversations because you know both your jobs matter, that's the beginning of everything.
Is getting to 50/50 really possible?
JS: Oh, absolutely. The thing to remember is that 50/50 is not every day. Some days are 60/40, some days are even 90/10; even some weeks or years are. The idea is 50/50 is a mind-set that both men and women are equally important as parents and as breadwinners. Once you start with that mind-set that dads want to be engaged at home, and women can have a successful working life, then that's 50/50.