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blogging on high-commitment workplaces

Family leave and self-employment

I just watched my three year old “graduate” from her first year of preschool. It was a cute ceremony, and the room was filled with parents that sat in long rows with their cameras trained on the kids up front. But it’s also 11am on a Friday, and that means I was one of the only dads in the room.

There were several moms who couldn’t make it, too. Most parents have to do what their jobs demand. But seven years ago my wife and I began to arrange our careers in a way that would let us both be present for the important moments in our (future) kids lives. When we decided to start our photography business, a lot of people asked why we didn’t want to wait a few years for us to be more established financially. In part, the answer was that I wouldn’t let myself take such a big risk while having kids to feed. I wanted the business itself to be more established by the time we did have kids, because one of the main reasons we started the business in the first place was to be able to parent on our own terms.

Unanticipated rewards

Here’s  a quiz: see if you can figure out what kind of dad I am.

If you ask them, my children may very well tell you I am their “fake daddy”. My children are not biologically related to me, don’t share my last name, and they all don’t even currently live with me. But I can assure you, I’m a real dad when it counts: like at 3am when you’ve had a bad dream, when you skin your knee riding your bike, or when your real parents are having a bit of a problem.

Time’s up. Final answer?

I am a foster dad.

While our family was not created in the traditional way, my wife and I decided that we wanted to open our home to children who need us, whatever that reason may be. We currently have an adorable 5-month-old boy, but we have had toddlers and school-aged children too. In all, we’ve had five foster children pass through our home, and we anticipate having at least a few more.

Real Nurturing Leave

When my partner and I were graced with the news that we were expecting our first child, I was in my fifth year of service as an assistant professor in a research university. Tenure reviews are generally scheduled for the sixth year of service. Thus, in the academic profession, this is the crucial time when a scholar is expected to “publish or perish.” Usually connoting lifetime job security and academic freedom, tenure is one of the great blessings a college or university can award a professor. Conversely, however, being denied tenure (and thus losing one’s job) can act as a major setback to a life and career.

Marvin, Tammi, Misha and Daddy

When my wife and I adopted Misha Gabrielle, our oldest daughter was a two-week old infant in the late summer of 1998, the last thing we had thought about was my paternity leave. My wife was working at a relatively progressive college, and she was able to take eight weeks off before returning to work as an administrator. It had never occurred to me to ask for such a leave at my own institution—not nearly as progressive—and among a decidedly older generation of colleagues for which men asking for such leaves was unfathomable. As an academic though, I also knew that I had the kind of flexibility where I could be more of a hands-on parent than many of my professional and working-class male peers.

An Organizing Dad

I’m a Dad. Even three years and two kids later, defining myself in that way still seems somewhat surreal.

I’m also a Community Organizer.  I have been for 13 years… and believe me that’s often very surreal as well.

You see, the life of an Organizer isn’t like most. You are seen as a community resource, on call 24-7, traveling to and fro, reacting to the latest news, rallying the tired masses, dealing with setbacks, navigating the highs and lows, so on and so forth. Hmm, wait that’s sort of like being a … Dad!

As I think about this Father’s Day, the fact is that my life as a working, organizing, advocating Dad meshes together in some strange and fascinating ways. It’s a balancing act and I often fall down, but with love and support from my family and flexibility and understanding from my employer I’m making it work.

Pay Gap Deniers

Steve Tobak, a Silicon Valley consultant, reassured his Fox Business audience that “The Gender Pay Gap is a Myth,” recycling a 2009 report commissioned by the Bush Department of Labor arguing that women’s choices, not discrimination, account for the wage gap between men and women.

Next week is the anniversary of the signing of the Equal Pay Act. Is it time to declare victory? The standard pay gap measure, which greatly exaggerates women’s economic equality, is that women now earn 77 cents for each dollar earned by men. Maybe so, argue Pay Gap Deniers, but that’s due to women’s choices, not to gender discrimination.

Why Men Work So Many Hours

How many employed American mothers work more than 50 hours a week? Go on, guess. I’ve been asking lots of people that question lately. Most guess around 50 percent.

The truth is nine percent.

Nine percent of working moms clock more than 50 hours a week during the key years of career advancement: ages 25 to 44. If we limit the sample to mothers with at least a college degree, the number rises only slightly, to 13.9 percent. (These statistics came from special tabulations of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey.)

Why We Lean Back

All right. I read it. The book that everyone, including my hero, Jon Stewart, has been talking about. So many reviews have been written about this book, that people have resorted to writing reviews of the reviews. The hype has been so incredibly, hyper—The Time story! The 60 Minutes piece! The banner ads! The web community!—that I was ready to harbor a deep dislike for this book. But that did not happen. At the risk of giving you Sheryl Sandberg fatigue, here are my thoughts, good and bad, on Lean In.

Welcome to the Past: Best Buy Embraces Last Century Management Practices

Best Buy Co, Inc. has gone backwards in time, following the footsteps of Yahoo! and demanding all hands on deck. We’re certain that other organizations are going to stumble backwards as well over the next few weeks. When we heard the news, we weren’t surprised; as new management came on board over the past few years – management that obviously favors managing schedules over managing performance – the stronghold of outdated thinking became the weed that choked the evolution of the most enviable, productive, attractive and globally-forward workforce of the future.

Lean In, Chin Up and Tune Out

I’ve been thinking a lot about women and our place in society the last couple of weeks. This is appropriate, as it is Women’s History Month and was kicked off at PBS with “Makers,” a three-hour documentary on the “second-wave” women’s movement.I sat down to watch it last weekend and was enthralled. I am old enough to remember all the events portrayed in the film, but was too young at the time to grasp the significance of the earlier events. And while I happily recognize that we’ve “come a long way,” I am terribly sad and frustrated that we’re not even close to achieving true equality.

If we were truly equal, the fuss over Marissa Mayers’ no-telecommuting directive at Yahoo! would have been focused on the protests of ALL affected employees, instead of just the mothers. And Sheryl Sandberg would not have needed to advise young women to “Lean In” to get ahead in the workplace.

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