Erin was us. She's probably you. But she doesn't have to be. Not anymore. For years the two of us would often swap our own personal versions of the Erin experience—furtively at first—until it became clear we had a similar sensibility. We worried that anything that smacked of lack of ambition, of working but not always aiming for the pinnacle, just wouldn't be professionally correct. And so in an ironic twist on the old-boys network, we'd offer each other private advice on turning down plum jobs and avoiding tantalizing promotions that might upend the hard-won balance of our daily lives.
The more we talked, and then read, and then reported, the more we realized we were on to something much bigger than our own experiences. What we've uncovered is nothing short of a brewing workplace revolution. And it's a revolution, luckily for all of us, well-suited for any economy. Indeed tough economic times are ushering in the change even more quickly.
A few facts: the overwhelming majority of women are longing to kick down that dreaded corporate ladder, flee the 8 a.m.- to-day-care-closing dash, but at the same time hang on to some real status. We have had enough of the fifty- or sixty-hour workweeks, holidays that never get taken, the juggling and spinning and rushing. We know the solution isn't longer hours at day care or hiring more babysitters or asking our husbands to stay home. Because we're the ones who want more time—for our children, our parents, our communities, ourselves.
Most educated women don't want to quit work altogether, even if they could. We want to use our brains and be productive professionally, but we don't want to keep tearing at the fabric of our families or our lives outside of the workplace. We need to slow down. We want to slow down—to take a moment to thank the cashier at the grocery store, to indulge in banter with our neighbor, to occasionally handle ballet drop-off or make it to our book club. We want to be in our lives.
And frankly, we have the same desire for our work existence. We'd like to spend our time at work engaged in meaningful and fulfilling pursuits and grown-up interactions with colleagues— focused on results. We've had enough of worrying about punching a clock or ringing some macho bell to the tune of he-whostays- in-the-office-longest slays the biggest mammoth.
The situation is so dire that a majority of us will opt, when asked, for less responsibility. We will trade duties, a title—even salary increases—for more time, freedom, and harmony. We don't want to quit—far from it—but time has become our new currency. Eighty-seven percent of the women in a recent study say they'd like a "better balance," or as we put it, more sanity, at work. (And are the other 13 percent being honest?)
It's an issue that now even has a champion in the White House. "It's always guilt-filled," Michelle Obama told Claire in an interview on the campaign trail. "Constant guilt surrounds working women and mothers no matter what you decide to do." The First Lady wants to put a national spotlight on the frustrating balancing act that so many women face, and which she herself had to master.