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The Boston Globe

Working Women, Where Did We Go So Wrong?

Monique Doyle Spencer

It's almost the end of National Women's Month and I have a big confession: I think we women ruined the workplace.

Ouch. I don't want to feel that way, but take a look. Once upon a time, when a woman took a professional job, she worked a 60-hour week on average. Her boss was a man and she thought she had to prove herself. She didn't make any more money than the guys who worked 45-hour weeks. She thought this was the glass ceiling, so she started working 65 hours instead. Still, she made no more money. She did, however, get promoted to head of her department. She was the lowest-paid department head in history, so she worked even harder.

Here's the honest truth: Her boss didn't even know what she made. He didn't care, either. She never felt secure enough to negotiate her own raise, so she waited for somebody to notice. They never did. So the extra $10,000 a year that would have made a world of difference to her family never came home. It stayed at the company where it meant absolutely nothing to anybody.

It wasn't supposed to turn out this way. We were supposed to demand equal pay, not whimper through our year-end review. We were supposed to "smarten" the workday. If your job takes you more than 45 hours a week to complete, you are going to too many meetings that you shouldn't be at.

We were supposed to create part-time opportunities for smart, professional moms and dads. They could be analysts, administrative people, sales people, doctors, lawyers, who would work mornings or two days a week at the office and more from home.

We were supposed to figure out how to do that. If a boss wants people there for him or her at all hours, we were supposed to hire two people, not make one work the hours of two. We were supposed to see if America would put its money where its mouth is: that family matters. If you're not related to me, I should not be spending every evening with you.

Obviously, work has cycles. Accountants have to work harder for tax season, yes, retailers work harder for the holidays, everybody works harder when times are tough.

I'm not saying we should all stop working hard, just that we should outlaw 90 percent of the meetings we go to, remove the guests chairs from our offices unless an actual client needs it, and run the office so productively that nobody needs to work nights all the time.

This woman's road in life has been dour. She does not know she is insecure. She really believes she has to work nights, even though she is perpetuating a system that is terrible for her children. As she became more bitter, she made everybody work longer hours, called more staff meetings where she did all of the talking, insisted that the boss should see her department working the latest. Plus nobody in the neighborhood can stand her anymore, because she thinks that stay-at-home moms are her free babysitters. She calls the seven hours when she leaves her kids with you a "play date."

I think we should celebrate National Women's Month with a big apology to our mothers and daughters for blowing the biggest opportunity in history to create real change.

Besides, all our heroine really had to do was what the guys do: bring an extra suit jacket to the office. Drape it on your chair so that it can be seen from the door. Leave the light on. See? Everybody will think you are still there.

Not that I've ever done that. But I learned it from my boss.

Monique Doyle Spencer is author of "The Courage Muscle: A Chicken's Guide to Living with Breast Cancer."

© 2008 Boston Globe

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