Monday, April 27, 2015

Guest post: Gender equality?

I generally LOVE my job. I work part time as an anesthesiologist at an academic medical center in the Midwest. There are several other part-time faculty in my department, both male and female, which has created an atmosphere where the commitment of part-time workers to their careers is not typically questioned. My department recently scheduled an all day seminar on an upcoming Saturday, geared for and limited to our own department's clinical faculty, with educational topics ranging from reviews of clinical care, giving feedback to residents, and research resources. I decide not to go, as Saturdays that I'm not on call (I'm typically on call one weekend/month) are generally reserved for family time, my kids have some new activities starting this Saturday, the weather is (finally) getting nice, and with the exception of about a 2 hour period, I'm not that interested in the agenda. So I have a discussion with my husband (who is generally wonderful and supportive of my career) about our upcoming weekend plans and I mention that I may go to the 2 hr period of the seminar that I'm actually interested in, depending on what else he has planned/would like to do with the family. It turns out he is not at all in favor of me going to only the 2 hours of interest to me- he thinks I'm making a big mistake by not going to the entire seminar- commenting that I will likely miss out on networking opportunities, face time with higher leadership, etc. The discussion continues, and he comments, "3 out of the 4 women who directly report to me behave just as you're doing, not taking after work hours events seriously...and it is negatively impacting their opportunities for advancement." Side note: he works as an upper-level manager at a major business and typically spends at least 2 evenings/week out of the house attending either work related activities or board of director activities for local non-profits. At this point, I was pretty angry, reminding him that the 3 women in question all have young children (as do we), and I ended the conversation telling him, don't take it for granted that you are able to spend multiple nights/week away from home for various purposes- it's only because I am at home caring for the family that you get this opportunity- these women that you work with that don't make it to all the evening activities- who is caring for their families?- that's why they're not there.

As one may surmise, working at an academic center means that there are frequently lectures, town halls, discussions, seminars, etc to which faculty are invited to attend. Once in a while these sound interesting to me and actually don't conflict with my clinical responsibilities. However, I usually feel stressed when I decide to go as it means either arranging evening childcare or childcare on what would normally be my day off with our nanny (she is great and very flexible but out of respect for her I do my best to minimize requests for super early mornings, evenings, and significant schedule changes to what is truly necessary) or trying to explain the importance of it to my husband so that he will be home at a reasonable time (it is not uncommon that his evening activities come with only a day or two of warning). In the end, I usually just don't go- it's much easier that way. I am long past the "Mommy guilt" that I felt for working at all when my first child was born; I truly love what I do, am proud of my work, feel reasonably respected at work, and feel like I honestly do have a good work-life balance. I am able to make some time for myself without guilt- I go to the gym semi-regularly and spend time with girlfriends about once/month. However, I admit I continue to struggle with guilt in situations such as the one I mentioned.

So, I'm interested in the opinions of others- how much should our attendance be expected at after hours work activities? How much guilt do you feel about going (or not going) to these types of events? Do you even feel like you really have a choice to go given family responsibilities? If you regularly go to these types of events, how do you manage to get there?


  1. I think it depends on how much you see yourself as an academic and how much career advancement you want. I'm in a highly academic field at a major medical center, and in the last year I've attended five out of town conferences, five or so seminars that required going into work early, one in town conference on a Saturday, and three or four dinner events. I want to emphasize that's a small fraction of the events I've been invited to (many of my colleagues, including women with kids go to much more), and it is absolutely standard for my field and degree of academic. Not going would kill my job advancement, and honestly, I think that makes sense -- these are the opportunities that I have for learning about new research in the field, for presenting and getting feedback on my research and meeting people that can help me shape my thinking, help me recruit patients, etc. I feel absolutely no guilt about it -- it's part of my job and I knew it when I signed up. I also feel like I spend a ton of time with my daughter -- most mornings, nights, weekends -- more than my parents spent with me. But if I'm gone for several days, I'll often take off a day to do a mommy-and-me day. Usually my husband watches my daughter when I do these things, or when I'm out of town for more than a couple of days, his parents come help. I usually say no to any events on Monday night, when my husband has his evening clinic, but if it's something that looks great, we hire a babysitter.

  2. I am a full-time anesthesiologist at an academic medical center. My husband is also a physician. We both have academic commitments outside of working hours that we try to attend so we have to discuss our schedules to determine who can go to what or if we need a sitter. Sometimes I have to leave these after-hours events early if I have to pick up my son from daycare. I also have one non-clinical day a week that I use for scheduling meetings, etc. The weekdays are reserved for work, the weekends are reserved for family (if we are not on call). It can be hard sometimes as an anesthesiologist since we have very early mornings and commitments after work can make for very long days, so I try to make the weekends all about quality time with my son. I've also learned to say "I'm not available" instead of "No I have to take care of my son" when turning down academic opportunities--I seem to get less pushback with that phrasing.

  3. Well - I am not as far along as you are in medicine - but I am a career changer so I can speak to other fields. The fact is, whether attendance "should be" expected - it is. Your husband's opinion reflects a majority opinion. And that majority (male) also represents the majority of people involved in hiring and promotion decisions. … So the more useful line of thought is to ask yourself to what extent is this expectation standing between you and what you want to achieve. … If it is not … you are happy where you are and don't aspire to any upward trajectory - then be happy for what you have and continue to play the important (if under appreciated) role of helping your husband get ahead. … If it is standing in your way and you truly need to make more time for such events, have a discussion with your husband about whether he supports you achieving that - including occasionally missing some of his own lower priority evening events so you can make yours. … Perhaps agreeing not to take on anything that is not truly important on short notice so the two of you can balance BOTH making some after hour commitments. (And maybe recruiting one more occasional evening babysitter to help make this happen).

    As for the 9:03 a.m. poster … Thank you for sharing that easy tip. I will use "I am not available" in the future. We all have a variety of commitments, we don't owe anyone an explanation beyond that for any non-required, non-emergency event.

  4. I agree with your husband -- go to the entire seminar. If you just go for the two hours, you will miss out on networking. You will also miss out on learning about things that may turn out to be more interesting than what initially piqued your interest. Don't cut yourself off at the knees career-wise unless you think you will be satisfied with the outcome.

  5. I am also an academic anesthesiologist. I have worked full time throughout, except for 12 weeks of parental leave 17 years ago. I strongly support rational part time policies at my own institution. My institution is working on reducing meetings outside normal business hours (which start early for anesthesiologists). We also have specific policy language that allows departments to provide licensed childcare for out of regular hours special events like your Saturday retreat. That said, travel and some outside regular hours meetings are hard to eliminate completely. National meetings are crucial to maintaining your skills and networking. The advice of selecting high yield opportunities and explaining absences with a simple “I'm not available” is excellent. I advise you to sit down with (individually) your mentor and your husband and answer some questions: What are your career goals? What is the time frame of your career goals? How can you and your husband identify and support each other’s career goals?

    It’s useful to remember as you consider how to construct your career and life that your career is long, and that you can vary time and effort over time. A valuable resource for considering how to construct your career in light of your values and goals is: A recently published article on retaining and re-engaging part time faculty is: The first author worked part time while her children were young and now has an important administrative position at her SOM. She wrote an excellent blog post on the topic that is worth a read:

    Best wishes as you design your own path to success in your career and your life.

  6. Sadly, I agree with your husband. But I didn't always. In fact, my turnaround has been as recent as a week! I agree with you - although I'm interested in a number of outside work commitments, it ought be my choice as to whether I attend. I've slowly come to realise that the reality is different. My work 'expects' me to go to a five day conference later this year. It will cost me $4000 and place childcare strain on my family. It's too expensive for them to come, especially as I wouldn't see much of them. But as my husband explained it, yes it's my choice, but if I don't go, the negativity I'll receive at work from my bosses will make me miserable, so it's actually in my best interests to go. I'd like to go too - it's just money we don't have at present so will go on a credit card. I think many of the commenters are correct - if you wish to stay where you are, and don't feel any pressure from your workplace to go, then the choice is yours. If you feel pressure and it causes you stress, or if you wish to get ahead at work, then going is in your best interests. Plus you (and I) will learn a lot and meet new people. In a few years, when my training is done, the money won't matter as much, and will actually be covered by my work place at that time. So now I'm looking at the positives - travelling to a place I've never been, great conference topics - and trying to not worry about the cost.


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