Remember my warning about not pinning too much hope on men to lead the work/life balance brigade? I’d like to report that I was wrong — that younger men are really much more progressive than the old roosters crowing at the office.
But sadly it looks like my original instinct was on target. Despite findings that Gen Y is generally more open about gender roles and want more balance in their lives, those attitudes aren’t shared by the next crop of corporate elites. More distressing, the women in this group seem just as accepting of existing gender roles.
According to the Harvard Business Review blog, first-year MBA candidates (male and female) at Harvard and MIT business schools “hold more traditional attitudes about gender roles in the workplace than the rest of their Gen Y cohort.” Both men and women start out with similar expectations about their work and personal lives but have strikingly different expectations about the future. Here’s how Erica Dhawan, a researcher at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership, describes her findings in the blog:
• Women expect more home demands; men expect more work. “Women expect to have a greater amount of responsibility at home in 10 years, while men expect partners to give more on this front.”
• Women are planning work/life balance strategies now — but not the men. The women MBA candidates are considering “choosing workplaces known for good work/life policies, having kids later to be more stable financially, living close to family members, and managing flextime effectively.” In contrast, Gen Y men “had vague strategies for balancing work and family.”
• Women do not expect spouses to be the primary caregiver at home. “Surprisingly, none of the women mentioned a scenario in which their spouse stayed home with the children.”
• But men assume that their wife will take care of the home front. “They did not assume their partner would have a heavy workload, nor did they mention the possibility that their partner would be the breadwinner in the family. Most envisioned spouses who would work part-time, work at home, or simply be at home. Most of the men assumed that their spouses would take care of the children when a work conflict arises.”
I know these are MBAs rather than J.D.s, but I fear that these attitudes extend to both sectors. While the world of high finance is even more male-dominated than that of Big Law, I wouldn’t be surprised if you get similar results from J.D. candidates at the top law schools. (I mean, look around you — which sex usually attends those talks on work/life balance?)
So the upshot is that these smart men and women start out in the same place, but somehow expect (and accept) that they will end up in traditional gender roles — Tarzan as breadwinner/leader and Jane as the helpmate/follower — 10 years down the road.
How depressing is that? Didn’t you expect Gen Y to have loftier goals?
Vivia Chen is chief blogger for The Careerist. Updates appear daily at thecareerist.typepad.com. She can be contacted at email@example.com.