Last week, Forbes magazine published an article regarding why women leave science and engineering. Among other significant factors, such as pay and promotion disparities, they cite a force in driving women out of the field that really hits home with me: work hours.
We work long hours in science and engineering, no question about that. We work early, late, at home, on the weekends, and on vacation. I’ve worked on planes (Efficient? Yeah, but I’d rather sleep.) and in Vegas hotels. Maybe we don’t work longer or harder than folks in other fields, but we necessarily have state-of-the-art technology and communication tools for our jobs, and we’re expected to use them even in our off hours.
I’m not perfect at balancing work and home, but I’ve learned a few things during my time as a software engineer, both from my own experience and from others’. Here are some ideas:
- Implicitly establish your hours. Set a precedent that you leave at X o’clock every day, and that you are unavailable in the evenings. As long as you’re performing well, your colleagues and boss will get used to your established availability—even in a workplace that values “face time.”
- Explicitly establish your hours. When you’re leaving for vacation, send a note to your colleagues that you’ll be offline during that time. When you’re working closely with a group on a hectic, high-profile project, let them know you’ll answer late-night emails or convene with the group first thing in the morning.
- If you can, shorten your commute. Move closer to work or find a job closer to home. A shorter commute means a shorter, easier day. I myself desperately need to heed this advice, with a San Francisco-to-Silicon Valley journey via bicycle and train that takes nearly 3 hours out of my day.
- Lie a little. Just a little! A tiny fib can make your life a little bit easier—you have plans, you don’t have access to email, whatever. If a half-truth will help you out, you have my permission to lay it on.
- Don’t feel guilty. You’re doing your job, and you’re probably doing it well. The company isn’t going to lose anything if you don’t answer midnight e-mails.
All of these approaches are easier said than done, and all of them
take a bit of chutzpah. But once you get caught in an expectation of
being always-available and putting in over-the-top hours, it’s hard to
break out of it—and that’s when women leave our field for something that seems more appealing.
Why do our hours help drive women out of the field, but not men? It could be that we have an egalitarian situation where both genders work the same number of hours, but it hits women harder. After all, surveys show that we still do twice as much housework as our husbands, a responsibility that makes it tougher to bring work home with us. On the other hand, maybe we have to put in more time than our male colleagues to create the perception that we’re working equally hard.
At my job, I’ve felt it’s a little of both. Sometimes I resolve to go home early, not check in over the weekend, and that always seems to be the day that my boss asks me, “Can you get this done by Monday?” He asks that on Friday. If I follow my own advice, maybe that can change.
Are you always-available when it comes to work? How have you put limits on your time?