Chilling Out, Left Out

Part II in a “series” on women in the workplace.

 In yesterday’s discussion of the rejuvenating benefits of business trips for working women, I expanded on the double bind women face in committing to and balancing work and family.  But there are other subtle factors at play in situations as described in The Times’s piece.  Women who are indulging in some peace and quiet in their hotel rooms on the road, are often missing out on the informal networking of conferences and business trips that is so crucial to professional success.

In my research on gender inequity in entrepreneurship, in interviews with women there was extensive commentary on the “natural” tendencies for men to turn to one another for collaboration and input.  These perceptions support the well-documented concept of homophily, that similar people are more likely to communicate and interact with one another than people with different attributes (e.g., education, race, etc.), attitudes, etc.  Research on role models and mentorship also show that same-sex mentoring relationships are often strongest, for similar reasons.  Many of the men in our sample describe very informal interactions with one another – conversations in the halls of their office, etc. – that led to future professional partnerships.  The women in our sample had many fewer of these experiences, and had to rely on more formal opportunities – from venture capitalists, for example – to capitalize on their entrepreneurial ideas. 

One of our other findings – again supported by the literature – is that because women juggle a disproportionate amount of family responsibility, they are either unable to or perceive an inability to engage in entrepreneurial activities that are somewhat outside of the boundaries of their professional lives (this latter point is a matter of perspective, but to my point, women have a tendency to prioritize new venture opportunities as superfluous to their existing professional, administrative and personal demands).  So women have less informal opportunities to build entrepreneurial partnerships, and simultaneously have, or at least feel that they have, less room in their lives for such endeavors.

The professor with whom I do my research on gender inequity in academic entrepreneurship is a working mother.  There is undoubtedly an ethnographic component to our research, as we compare our data and the lessons from the research with our own lives.  In other words, we often find ourselves living out our findings.  My boss was puzzling over the scenarios I outline above with women’s ambivalent language towards participating in entrepreneurial activities.  It easily sounds as if women are opting out, but the story is just not that clear.  As she thought about her own experiences, she pictured herself traveling for work since she had a son two years ago.  She realized that now when she goes on the road, she looks forward to holing herself up in her hotel room, either to relax or catch up on work.  Not only does she make her trips shorter, but she spends less time socializing outside of formal business meetings, etc.  And then she got it.

In absolute terms, she was no less interested in the content of the conferences and meetings than before.  But in relative terms, she was.  And her attitudes, preferences and choices shifted.  And as a result, so did her practices – from socializing with colleagues over dinner to bridge that next research collaboration, to room service to enjoy some down time and catch up on her existing research agenda.  The Times’s piece doesn’t expound on how this new approach to business travel will shape women’s professional opportunities.  It is one small piece of our everyday practices of building our careers.  But there is a highly gendered nature to this choice of balancing time with family and time on the job from which men are still relatively free.  Hopefully in addition to trading stories of children, the women at the featured Park Hyatt’s “Manicures & Martinis, Pinots & Pedicures” happy hour are swapping business cards as well. 

Unless of course, they already have enough on their plates. 



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