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What Women Can Learn From Paul Ryan. Really.

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 21/10/2015 Emily Peck
ATHENA IMAGE © AP Photo/Andrew Harnik ATHENA IMAGE

Paul Ryan may not support any policies that help working women, but this week he did something that all working women can actually learn from. 

He clearly asked for what he needed at work in order to successfully balance his needs as a father of three young children.

"I cannot and will not give up my family time," said the Republican representative from Wisconsin, explaining that he would only take the position of House speaker if he could continue to have time to spend with his wife and three young kids. He had some other demands, as well, about Republican unity.

Ryan's demand for family time is emblematic of how younger generations are beginning to think about the workplace. Millennials and even Gen Xers like the 45-year-old Ryan don't necessarily want to sacrifice their family to the altar of their career -- even if they're holding big-shot fancy-pants political or corporate jobs.

"Younger generations want more balance, and unless people demand changes, companies are just going to react they way they always have," Linda Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon who does a lot of work on gender in the workplace, told HuffPost Wednesday morning. In other words: Unless you speak up, most companies will continue to work you -- until you break.

At this point, most younger adults -- particularly millennials -- seem to agree that you shouldn't have to work all the time at the expense of having a life. Still, there's a big-time reticence, particularly among women, to speak up about this issue in the office. 

Instead, many women and men just quietly suffer through their work lives until they burn out and quit or ask for a scaled-down role. Some men just pretend to work all the time, as one recent study showed.

Ryan, on the other hand, is being upfront about what he wants. More of us should be -- even though there's potential for backlash. Particularly for women.

Men face less hostility when they ask for family time, as study after study has noted. Most people applaud a man who wants to be with his family.

"Women get a different reaction," Babcock said. "People think 'Oh, she's not serious.' There is still a double-standard."

Women should understand that in standing up for what they need, there could be consequences, Babcock added.

But if more of us try, it's going to be harder to isolate us. And it helps that high-profile men like Ryan are out there making noise about this. 

Some workplaces are trying to make it easier for workers to speak up. "We want to create an environment for people to say what they need," Ellyn Shook, the chief human resource officer at Accenture told HuffPost this summer.

Even the most senior women at the consulting firm don't necessarily ask for what they want, she said. And sometimes it's nothing that major: like someone who wants to always show up at her daughter's dance class on Wednesday afternoons. Part of Shook's mission is making sure people know it's cool to bring these things up. 

And any good boss should operate that way, of course. The idea is not to put the onus entirely on an employee's shoulders.

Of course, it's worth noting that not all workers have the luxury of making demands on their bosses -- especially those who work at lower-paying jobs.

Ryan, it seems safe to say, doesn't really work in the most supportive of environments. Some conservatives were openly hostile to the idea of a man who was concerned with spending time with family, as HuffPost's Sam Stein noted.

Even in 2015, there's an expectation that men should seek power and "family takes a back seat," Stein writes.

That's the expectation that actually underlies a lot of the thinking behind Republican policy -- which makes Ryan's demands more than a little ironic, as many have noted.

In 2009, Ryan voted against a bill that would've given paternity leave to federal employees, Jezebel pointed out. He and his party also oppose federally mandated paid family leave. Part of the general rationale there is: If women stay home and don't hold full-time jobs, why would you need paid maternity leave? (The rest has to do with "corporate freedom.")

"Perhaps if Paul Ryan hadn’t spent much of his political career fighting laws that promote realistic work-life balance for parents of all socioeconomic levels," Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan writes, "Asking for family time would make him look more like a hero and less like a hypocrite."

Maybe so, but that doesn't mean we can't pluck some wisdom from the wreckage of the hypocrisy.

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