NOTNobody wants to go back to the office like white guys. White dudes in finance, white dudes in the media, even white dudes in politics who work from home – at some point in the last couple of years they’ve all decried remote work and urged us to come back. in fluorescents.
Let me say this to forestall the inevitable trolls: no, #NotAllWhiteDudes is pushing this comeback. In fact, just over 30% of white men want to return to the office full-time, making them a minority, and an extremely loud voice.
And yes, this merry band is not all white or all guys. New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Washingtonian Media Managing Director Cathy Merrill both waded into the speech (with the latter’s Washington To post forum on the subject prompting a brief strike by its employees and a public apology). But the same study that found about a third of white men wanted to come back full-time also found that only about 22% of women (both black and white) and only about 16% of black men wanted the same.
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Anecdotally, my girlfriends and the moms I’ve met through the Marshall Plan for Moms, the movement we’ve created to support moms during the pandemic, aren’t exactly looking forward to getting back to their cabins either. For most of us, and Above all working mothers, remote work has brought a level of flexibility and self-determination into our lives that we cannot afford to give up.
Our employers can’t afford to give it up either – in addition to allowing us mums to balance care work and professional work more effectively, remote work stimulates creativity and even increases profits. And while our bosses tout the benefits of a better “company culture” in person, studies show that flexible work arrangements can to augment our sense of belonging, especially among black workers.
And yet, since the start of the pandemic, linoleum lovers have made us live the same “when can we go back to the office?” talk about a groundhog day-like buckle.
All the while, we’ve been ignoring the much more important conversation: Is there an office that working moms would be happy to return to? And if so, why don’t men fight for it?
In a word: comfort. The workplace, in a dream world, would be a comfortable setting for professional development, social connection, and effective work. Of course, for men, Above all white men, that’s always been it.
Read more: How the Pandemic Could Finally End the Moms’ War
The office – in the traditional way, Mad Men sense – was designed to be the breadwinners’ workplace: a place where men pulled in money while their wives stayed home to do all the work necessary to maintain their home and family (for free, obviously). It was America’s post-war iteration of the separate spheres ideology, the era’s way of giving men a comfortable distance from their needy, messy, ever-clingy children. And like mashed sweet potatoes on a working mom’s blazer, it’s stuck.
Not only do men have an easier time in these antiquated gender roles, but their absenteeism is reward through their workplaces. Today dads enjoy a ‘paternity bonus’ when they return to work after having children: while working mothers are penalized after giving birth, dads are more likely to avoid layoffs and to get raises no matter what level of home parenting they actually take.
Along the way, the office has become same best suited to meet the comfort of men at our expense. The temperature is set low to optimize the extra warmth of their fancy little suits and stitched logo Patagonias. At one point, WeWork offered members of its community kegs and ping-pong tables, but had to be publicly called out for its lack of lactation rooms. And, of course, unlike us, men don’t have to wear ankle-busting heels in the name of “professional attire.”
It’s not just about physical comfort either. The standard of “professionalism” is based on white male sociality, hence the “boys club” mentality that allows many white males to rise through the professional ranks simply by hanging out and being themselves. That’s why, in pre-COVID times, women in male-dominated fields would check stats from the previous night’s big game on the way to work so we could be included in lunch conversations or pretend to have meetings with clients instead of admitting our called nannies. sick.
Read more: These mothers wanted to take care of their children and keep their jobs. Now they’re suing after being fired
It’s no wonder that amid all the fear, confusion and anxiety of the first few months of the pandemic, I felt so relieved to be able to work from home, and even a little excited too.
Even though I worked in an office full of women — and long since retired the “office parka” I wore in corporate law firms in my mid-twenties — I was lucky to recover mother’s most precious resource: time. Rather than spending an hour a day commuting, I could spend quiet mornings coloring with my kids. Instead of coming home and starting dinner when said kids were already hungry, I could whip up a pot of something while finishing my afternoon calls. And when it got tough, I could always lean on my husband, who could finally provide the support he was always too busy with his job to offer.
Of course, those coulds never materialized – for me, or for anyone I knew.
When millions of mothers and fathers started working from home, women continued to do the majority of care work, including 33% of married working mothers who identified as the mother of their children. sole care provider. With managing my sons’ remote learning added to my plate, going to the office felt impossible, even selfish; my husband, however, thought being home was a distraction from his “real” work.
So we both created a system: from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. he had time for him to sleep or work or catch up on Netflix while I poured him Cheerios and started laundry. Then he would have the shift from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: baths and pajamas. At first, I would retreat to our bedroom when the clock struck six, but no matter how loud I put my headphones on, I could hear my husband calling me from the living room. “Could you just change the baby’s diaper?” “…put a bottle on the way?” “…do you see what that noise is outside?”
Read more: The pandemic has meant that I am rarely away from my children. Am I even more than a mom?
Eventually, I learned that the only way to avoid being summoned for my precious hours of “me time” was to simply not be home.
And I began to understand the male urge to go to the office.
But not the office as we know it. This office is built for the logistical, social and even physical comfort of a much more homogeneous workforce than we have today. That’s why we have to start thinking about how we can build a new one.
A workplace designed for moms would prioritize flexibility and put workers in control of their time. It would give people the flexibility to work from home when they need to, a core set of collaboration hours to leverage their teams, and more flexible schedules that would allow them to fit asynchronous work into their own schedules.
It would provide childcare support, either in the form of respite care, on-site facilities or direct financial support to help working parents cover costs and keep their jobs while balancing the tasks of growing a career and growing a family.
Read more: America has failed mothers for a long time. The pandemic has made it clear what needs to happen
This would address his biases: ensure that performance reviews consider real-time production, bypassing remote workers for the promotions they deserve; encouraging people of all genders to take parental leave and not punishing those who do; and eliminate the multiple forms of discrimination that prevent employees from reaching their full potential.
And yes, we can keep some relics of the offices of yesteryear. Those working in person can always enjoy slightly expired granola bars in the break room or talk about the weather in the elevator coming up from lunch or point to their buddy and say, “Good game, isn’t it not?” walking past his office (to get another granola bar). Reinventing the workplace is not the end of collegiality and comfort. If all goes well, for many this will only be the beginning.
In the weeks and months to come, many white men will continue to tell us that we should all return to the pre-pandemic situation. But it’s our job to make sure that if we “go back”, full-time or otherwise, we go back to the offices we in fact want to be, just as much as these guys want to be at Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price.
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