Powerful Women at Work, Drudges at Home

Panelists have met the enemies of free time, and it's us

Women have gotten ahead in the workplace while men are stepping up to do more housework. So why don’t these women feel more relaxed? This morning, some accomplished women carved some time from their busy schedules to get to the bottom of it.

The question came out of a survey commissioned by Real Simple and designed by the Families and Work Institute that found that much of women's time pressure, and hence unhappiness, is self-imposed and due to trouble delegating and letting go of household responsibilities.

“We’ve got the clean-plate club mentality,” said Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, comparing the childhood rule to clean one’s plate with the compulsion many women feel to finish chores before relaxing.

“And we know how the clean-plate club is bad, right?” chimed in Real Simple managing editor Kristin van Ogtrop, who led the panel discussion where the research was presented.

“The clean-plate mentality has to change,” Galinsky replied.

It’s a balancing act Tiger Mom author Amy Chua apparently is still figuring out after a whirlwind year promoting her book. “It’s been crazy busy,” she said, thinking of the last-minute scramble before a recent work trip. “Just before the car picked me up, I find myself on the floor, cleaning up dog poop, and there’s a last load of laundry to do … ”

The conversation, held over a breakfast of salmon triangles and flutes of orange juice at the Time-Life Building, came around to the question of why women don’t outsource more of the household duties. The survey found money isn’t the barrier (and that's certainly true of the women on the panel); it’s that women don’t trust their husbands to do things the way they want them to, a phenomenom it calls “gatekeeping.”

“It might speak to identity and how women are responsible for the home and how it looks,” said panelist Ruth Konigsberg, the editor of Time Ideas who wrote the cover story “Chore Wars.”

Kathleen Christensen, the program director for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, got laughs when she pointed out from the audience that all the talk about “delegating” made it sound like women see their husbands as day laborers.

“How do we bring our husbands up to manager from day laborer status?” van Ogtrop asked the panel, tongue inserted partway in cheek.

Or, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

“Men are better able to carve out that time for themselves,” Konigsberg said. “They don’t watch TV and fold laundry at the same time.”