Men, Women & The Workplace: A Fresh Vision For An Old Problem

Every now and then, a tempest seems to rise up around the issue of women in the workplace.  Partly because medicine is so demanding, the debate surrounding work-life balance in this field tends to be particularly acute and emotionally-charged.

If you follow these sorts of discussions, you may be familiar with an article by Dr. Karen Sibert in the New York Times (June 11th) entitled “Don’t Quit This Day Job.”  In the article, Dr. Sibert argues that, given the importance of patients and relative shortage of physicians to treat them, medical schools can’t afford to train providers who will only work part-time.  Since women tend to work reduced hours far more often than men, her comments are primarily directed toward them.

The closing paragraph to her article summarizes her position well:

Patients need doctors to take care of them. Medicine shouldn’t be a part-time interest to be set aside if it becomes inconvenient; it deserves to be a life’s work.

Based on further commentary in her article, Dr. Sibert means that the rest of life, such as children, need to fit in around a calling to medicine.

Not surprisingly, though, not everyone agrees.  In a response piece, “Should Women Be Doctors?“, columnist Lisa Belkin takes a different approach:

The problem is… that professions are archaically structured…  The answer is to recalibrate the hours and expectations of professions so that they can be done by the “new worker” — not a man with a wife at home (which is the assumption of the old structures) but rather a mother or father with a working partner and responsibilities at home.

Just because things have always been done a certain way does not mean that is the way things should be done. All those women working 4.5 fewer hours and taking longer leaves in medicine? Where Dr. Sibert sees slacking, I see a new norm. One that requires fewer hours of more workers, perhaps. One that is [sic] should be embraced by men and women.

From these small quotations alone, it doesn’t take a lot of insight to realize that Sibert and Belkin differ dramatically in their approaches to these issues.

Actually, I’m glad that they do.  Encountering different viewpoints like this should force us to think – deeply – about these things.  If you’re in college or early on in your training, these matters may seem relatively academic now, but they quickly become very personal as the years go by and real choices must be made.  As Dr. Sibert rightly noted in her article, “you can’t have it all.”

I’ve seen medical marriages (among Christians) end over these very issues, while others who “stay together” remain unhappy and disconnected.  So, the stakes are high.

I’ll be posting more about this area in the days to come, but I want to make just one point for now.

As we encounter radically different solutions to the work-life balance problem (or any other problem, for that matter), we need to regress to our childhood and ask (with a little more maturity, hopefully), “Oh yeah – says who?!”  In other words, as we sort through things, who has the authority to inform our decisions?

For Christians, the answer is unequivocal.  It’s primarily God and what he tells us in the bible.  (While this may sound archaic to my secular readers, the truth is that we all put our ultimate faith in something, even if it’s ‘me.’  But that’s another story for another day).

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not like there’s a chapter or verse in the Bible that will give us an easy answer to this dilemma.  Far from it.  Rather than a bunch of clear one-size-fits-all “how-to’s”, we find in scripture principles that God calls us to apply with wisdom.  That will look differently from family to family.

But, there’s real wisdom there that should inform our practical, everyday decisions:

Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.  (2 Timothy 3:16 from The Message)

Figuring out how work, family and the rest of life fit together is one of those critical “tasks” God is calling us to.

So, over the coming weeks, I’m going to unpack a fresh vision for balancing our work and family from Proverbs 31.  If you’re familiar with that chapter, you may be surprised, thinking, “I thought that was all about the ‘ideal’ Christian woman.  What does that have to do with work and family, too?”

Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, let me gently suggest that you’re right and you’re wrong.  It is a passage about ‘the godly woman’ and contains a lot of wisdom in that area.  But, it touches on men, children, work (over a 1/3 of the passage is about work) and, just as importantly, on how they relate.

So, fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen.  Be prepared to be challenged, encouraged and everything in-between.  I look forward to sharing, learning and living the journey with you.

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