Magazine article Insight on the News

Executive Turned Critic Would Revolutionize the Workplace

Magazine article Insight on the News

Executive Turned Critic Would Revolutionize the Workplace

Article excerpt

A former executive portrays herself as a textbook example of what has happened to American women in the workplace: `Rather than changing the culture, we seem instead to have accommodated it.'

Elizabeth Perle, 41, worked in the publishing industry for 18 years, moving up the ranks to become an executive with Prentice Hall, Addison-Wesley and William Morrow/Avon Books. "One day, after years of dedicated work, pleasure from what I did and a rewarding record of achievement, I walked into my boss' office and quit," says Perle.

Her decision wasn't sudden. "I was tired, depressed and no longer enjoying a job I had once loved," says Perle. She was weary of the trade-offs and the strain of trying to be everything to everyone -- and nothing to herself.

"There's so much cultural resistance against bringing your private life into the office, about speaking up and rocking the boat and altering an agenda," says Perle. "To stay in my position, I had been paying an increasingly heavy price in pressure, politics and stress. I was losing perspective about what was important to me."

Now Perle is on a mission to change the workplace culture to make it more female- and family-friendly "Women work under a no-win paradox," she writes in When Work Doesn't Work Anymore: Women, Work and Identity (published under her married name, Elizabeth Perle McKenna). "We need our work to be fully realized as women but, in order to do the work, we have to silence a good deal of ourselves."

According to Perle, the workplace still functions on a system designed for men with the values of the 1950s. But the traditional "Donna Reed" family, with the working dad and stay-at-home mom, has all but disappeared from American life. Only 7 percent of families now fit that model, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Moreover, the most recent Census Bureau figures show that 70 percent of mothers with children under age 18 hold a job outside the home.

Even so, family is the last thing women mention in the workplace. "For all of our talk about family values in this country, people are still being rewarded at work ... if they pretend they don't have any family," she says. "That means work has to come first above all else."

Her epiphany led her to poll some 1,000 working women from around the country about their careers, families, income and satisfaction with various aspects of their lives. …

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