Saturday, September 19, 2009

Professional women as "collateral damage" of the recession

Steven Greenhouse reports in today's New York Times under the headline, "Recession Drives Women Back to the Work Force." Many of the women featured in his story are lawyers, and Joan Williams of Hastings College of Law and the Center for WorkLife Law comments:
What’s happened is 78 percent of the people who lost their jobs in the recession are men. ... That has brought home to many families that having one income places you in a very vulnerable position. Some women who expected to take a long time out of the work force suddenly felt they needed to re-enter, in some cases much more quickly than they expected.
One commenter calls these women "collateral damage" of the recession in that it did not force them out of the work place, but rather back into it.

Here's a quote from Greenhouse's report that provides additional context:

In the last several years, some researchers have suggested that many affluent working mothers chose to leave the work force during the boom times of the 90’s and early this decade, saying there was a trend of women opting out of careers once they had children. The suggestion — highlighted in an Oct. 26, 2003 New York Times Magazine cover article — prompted a huge controversy.

Critics responded that most women had no choice but to work and that only a small affluent minority could chose not to. They said many working mothers left the labor force not because they were opting to, but because they were forced to by workplaces that made it too difficult to balance family and work.
If that's the case, I doubt the recession has made the work place any less forgiving or easy for women who may still be juggling care-giving responsibilities. Indeed, I bet workers--whether men or women--are under increased pressure to be what Joan Williams has called the "ideal worker."

1 comment:

Naomi said...

My question is, what kinds of jobs are these women working at? My guess is that they are not the highest level of job (ie, paralegal, not lawyer) nor the most demanding and compensatorily rewarding as jobs belonging to men that have kept them. Additionally, where are these jobs coming from? Are women competing with men for fewer positions? Who's getting hired more consistently? Those are the questions I would pose after reading your post.