Bonnie Christopher hears the front door of the house slam as she eases into the car at 6:40 a.m. to begin her 50-minute commute. “OK, Fred, I got the message again,” she thinks. It is the morning after another argument about how she and her husband, Fred, both career professionals, should share childcare and household responsibilities.
True, she could trust Fred to see to it that their 7-year-old twins, Kate and Nate, ate the cereal she left in bowls on the kitchen table. She knew he’d make sure they got to the bus stop on time, and he’d pick them up from after-school care at 5 o’clock on the way home from his nearby office. But Bonnie, as usual, had prepared last night’s dinner, checked homework, and gotten the kids to bed before tackling an hour of chores, including packing the next day’s lunches and reviewing the financial statements for tomorrow’s 9 am meeting.
Bonnie fumes behind the wheel. Was it really so outrageous to ask Fred to prepare dinner this evening? She has to attend a late management council meeting in the wake of the downsizing announcement at the Social Services Department. As chief of financial management for the North Central Region, she has a key role in formulating the office’s plan.
And while her boss, Director Haruo Nomo, has shown extraordinary understanding of her occasional unavailability because of personal issues, today is not the day to test that good will. In fact, the next few weeks at the office will be more pressing than usual, perhaps demanding a temporary shift of Bonnie’s carefully balanced home versus office schedule. That happens sometimes, and the price paid is often lost time with the family.
Bonnie’s demands at the office call for some understanding from Fred, who is palpably uncomfortable with violations of the traditional model of the male breadwinner and female homemaker. The one immovable anchor of his routine is having Bonnie fix dinner. “If I didn’t insist on that,” he had said during the previous night’s argument, “you’d never get home from the office before the kids were ready for bed. I’m trying to keep us a family.”
In a final, telling snarl, Fred declared, “With all your Saturday catch-up sessions lately, you’re not exactly `Soccer Mom,’ either. Most of the kids on the team have both parents at the games, even if they’re divorced. Have you noticed who’s been going to all the games alone?”
Bonnie has noticed, and she feels guilty about it. But during months of unrelenting budget cuts and attrition, she and her mostly male colleagues have been scrambling to shore up their programs with administrative and logistical support. The heavier workload just doesn’t fit into her regular 9- to 10-hour day, and she has slid almost unaware into a routine trip to the office on Saturdays. The “couple of hours to catch up” has crept close to a full day, part of which is spent worrying about what the kids are doing.
A traffic bottleneck has given Bonnie time to think.
Perhaps Fred is so reluctant to yield on his family “principles” because he is feeling powerless in other areas of his life. Fred, a one-time hotshot, was recently relegated to what he describes as a dead-end position, and Bonnie’s career and income have eclipsed his. While he’s not expressed it verbally, maybe he needs more sensitivity from her related to his work situation, or maybe Bonnie’s dedication to her job really is disrupting the family.
Reaching her desk, Bonnie begins to regroup for a 9 a.m. meeting with Nomo. “I hate to lay an extra burden on him, especially at a time like this,” she thinks, “but I have a lot of questions about how my balancing act is working from his point of view. Maybe he feels he’s been compromising, too.” Everyone in the office had noted how considerate Nomo had been about Bob Sheffield’s schedule during his wife’s serious illness. Now Bonnie wonders if he has been accommodating her in the expectation that she’d eventually be as available as her peers. All of them are male and always accessible, barring any emergencies.
As she walks through Nomo’s doorway, Bonnie is encouraged by his characteristic smile. But he has noticed stress creeping into her sunny personality. Nomo has tapped the grapevine to learn of the domestic pressures on her schedule, and he is ready to talk to her about it.
“Has my stress affected my performance?” Bonnie thinks. “And what about the future? Can I even think about becoming chief financial officer for the department? Can any mother of young children seriously pursue the most senior positions?”
The morning after a blowup with her husband probably is the worst time for Bonnie Christopher to tell her boss about her family-job conflicts. If Nomo raises the issue, Bonnie will suggest they schedule an appointment at another time to discuss her job performance.
The delay will give her time to have a heart-to-heart talk with her partner. Her job pressures should be addressed as a family problem to work on together. Presumably, they have a common goal spending more time with their kids and each other.
First, they can tackle the immediate issues. If her long hours truly are a short-term condition that should get better later, then the couple can brainstorm on some temporary measures to get by. Everyone will have to make compromises.
Once she and her husband have reached short-term fixes and discussed long-term goals, Bonnie will be ready to talk to her boss.
Bonnie Christopher’s life is a perfect example of the difficulties faced by working women with families today. They have been told they can “have it all”-both a fulfilling personal and family life and a dynamic and demanding career. What they haven’t been told is that having it all comes with a price that includes making difficult decisions about priorities. It also means having to face feelings about not giving 100 percent all the time at home or in the workplace.
Answer the following questions. Each question is worth 10 points.
1. How would you describe Fred’s negative attitude toward Bonnie’s work responsibilities? Old-fashioned, modern, hostile, benevolent sexism? Explain how he is operating from the functional paradigm.
2. List and explain which of the Five Models of the Working Woman can be seen in this case?
3. Should Mr. Nomo be concerned about how the company is structured, or should he approach this as just an isolated incident?
4. In terms of leadership, what are some possible long-term career goals for both Bonnie and Fred given their situation? Connect your answers to Chapter 4 – Making Employment Decisions and Chapter 6 – Leading People.
5. The team in Bonnie’s Social Services Department is mostly male, with the exception of Bonnie. What might Nomo do to ensure team effectiveness? How might a mental prototype (impact on Nomo’s view of the organization?)
Bonnie Christopher hears the front door of the house slam as she eases into the car at 6:40 a.m. to begin her 50-minute commute.