Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of discussion about why women aren’t achieving as much in their careers as their male counterparts, even though women have been enrolling in and graduating from college in greater numbers than men since the 1980s. Explanations for this gender gap range from women aren’t “leaning in” enough, to entrenched sexism in the workplace, to husbands’ careers taking precedence, to a lack of social supports for mothers in American society.
But when we discuss the issue in a macro way, we don’t hear the stories of men and women who are making career choices not as statistics in a think piece, but as part of an often complicated balancing act between various interests and responsibilities in their lives. Here is the ninth interview in an occasional series, Best Laid Plans, about how career decisions get made over time and are altered by the unpredictability of life.
Names: Stacie Williams and Delano Massey
Ages: 35 and 36
Stacie’s Occupation: librarian/archivist
Delano’s occupation: journalist
Children: Gabrielle, 7; Sheridan, 8 months
Location: Lexington, Kentucky
Hi, Stacie. What were your career expectations when you first started working?
I figured I would work for a bunch of daily newspapers and work my way up to something big and coastal. In journalism school, that was more or less how we were told to expect our careers to roll out if we worked hard enough. I also thought that I would eventually work somewhere for a long period of time—ten years or more.
Hi, Delano. What were your career expectations?
When I got out of school, I was extremely ambitious and excited about having a career as a journalist. I started in print. My goal was to work at a publication on par with the New York Times. That’s what every ambitious print journalist aspires to. When I started at a small newspaper, I had the game plan to work my way up to a bigger market.
Did you have kids or a partner then, or did you expect to in the future?
Stacie: I had no kids when I finished undergrad, though I had a boyfriend. I was romantic about the idea of meeting my husband in college like my parents did. At the time, I was ambivalent-to-no about wanting kids because I couldn’t see how they were going to fit in with this workaholic life I was planning. There was no “lean in” at the time, just the expectation that I would work super-hard without complaint.
Delano: I did expect to get married and have kids in the future. My parents have been married for over 50 years, so I aspired to that model. At the time, I was single and ready to tackle the world. I went to Bellville, IL, and worked at the News-Democrat; then I was a cops reporter at the Lexington, KY Herald-Leader, and later I got a job at the Akron, OH Beacon Journal. Then I got married to my first wife, and the industry started to implode. I was the last person to get hired at the Beacon Journal, and the first fired. Luckily, I got hired back in Lexington, and I shifted gears to become an editor. Then I had my first child.
How does your current work situation match up with your earlier expectations?
Stacie: It is so, so different. For starters, I am a librarian/archivist, though I occasionally take on freelance editorial projects. Even my journalism career ended up being significantly different. I never did work for any dailies. I moved back home after college; my first job was as an editorial assistant at an education magazine. I was laid off very early in my career, so the expectations I had about the stability of my career were upended.
Now that I’m an academic librarian who works in special collections, my hours are pretty finite; there are no archives that are open until midnight. I’ve been very fortunate to have a level of autonomy that I never had in a newsroom.
Delano: Now I’m a digital content executive producer for WKYT, the local CBS affiliate. I had a different impression of TV before I worked in it—it never crossed my mind as a possibility. That changed when things fell apart in the newspaper industry. I didn’t know if there was going to be a newspaper industry. The opportunity to be in broadcast reinvigorated my approach to my career.
How does your current life situation match up with your earlier expectations?
Stacie: Again, it’s so different, but pleasantly so. I'm engaged to a man who has a 7-year-old daughter from a previous marriage and we have an 8-month old son together. We both have jobs that we find emotionally fulfilling, and we live in a community that we like. There is time and space to have a social life, to travel, or even take a little time for myself, though it's not as much as it was before children were involved.
Delano: All of it is different. I’m divorced, and that was a little difficult in terms of career advancement. There were probably opportunities that I passed on, to keep family first. I want to be a key part of my daughter’s life, so I’ve made a commitment to stay around here and provide her with stability. I didn’t want to be a weekend father.
In your family, whose career has come first?
Stacie: His, because he’s a journalist. We actually met at a National Association of Black Journalists conference in Philadelphia as I was transitioning into the career I have now. So I came into the relationship already understanding the politics and sacrifices that such a career takes. At the time, he was metro editor at the Herald-Leader, so with that plus his commitment to living near his daughter, it just made sense that I would be the one to move from Boston, where I was living at the time. I can be a librarian on Mars.
Delano: I think it’s gone back and forth. When we met, we did long-distance for about a year and a half. The first week we were together, I told her straight up that I have a child and she comes first. I wanted it to be clear to Stacie that that’s not negotiable. So she came here to Lexington; she sacrificed her job at the medical library at Harvard. She came here with nothing except a couple of prospects.
If I’m being transparent, we’re probably more focused on my career right now, but hers isn’t on hold—she has a really good job and a really important job. But I think that Stacie was a rock star in the library world at Harvard, and in some ways she put that on hold. I don’t have a crystal ball, so I don’t know what’s going to happen down the line. Stacie, my ex, and I are all on the same page in that we put our daughter first. But I would be willing to make a similar sacrifice to the one she made. I took the job I have now looking long-term. Diversifying my skill set puts me in a better position down the line. If she got a great opportunity, it would be my turn. If I needed to piece together a couple of jobs until I could find a good fit, so be it.
What is your housework division of labor?
Stacie: Earlier in the year it was probably like 80/20, because Delano started a new job where he left earlier and returned later, so I was the primary person dealing with the children and cooking or cleaning. Now that he’s settled, things have evened out to a more equitable split. I don't necessarily come home after working all day and then spend more hours doing house-related chores, at least not every day. We have Gabrielle every other week, so on those weeks, and especially because his new job in broadcast is very demanding, I get myself in gear and do a lot of cooking, cleaning, and laundry, because her needs are immediate.
But on weeks when it’s just the two of us and the baby, I might not cook every night, especially since the baby is nursing, and I’m definitely not taking hours every night to clean every area of the house. It’s enough of a struggle just trying to wipe the spit-up. But he does all of the big house projects. Painting, drywall patching, fixing anything that breaks, yard work, taking out the trash and recyclables, etc. And usually on a quarterly basis, we'll take a weekend to clean and de-clutter the whole house together.
Delano: It’s a mix. We try to have everybody put their dishes in the dishwasher after dinner and one of us turns it on. If she cooks, I try to clean and put the dishes away. We split the laundry. Initially she couldn’t do the laundry, because she couldn’t iron. And she was more territorial about cooking. But I do know how to cook, because my mom wanted to make sure I knew how to cook and do laundry. She’s very particular about her pots, and I had a tendency to burn things on the pots.
When she was home with the baby, she did laundry when she was juggling the mommy duties. She doesn’t do deep cleaning. But I do. We probably divide our household duties by looking at the strength or weakness of each other and going off that. I cut the grass, but when we had 15 inches of snow here, Stacie shoveled the snow. I had to work late because snow is big business for TV news, and so she beat me to it. If there’s something that needs to get done, we’ll each do our part.
How much time per week do you spend on leisure? Does your partner have more or less leisure time than you do?
Stacie: Not as much as I should. I recently made it a priority to return to the gym for self-care reasons and it feels good to make that time for myself. Putting the baby on a sleep schedule has opened up more time for writing in the evening, and sometimes in the morning I'll drop off the kids early at daycare and school while still in my PJs and then come back to the house and take a little time to read the paper and have some coffee and a long shower. "Long" is longer than four minutes. The little things have become luxuries.
My fiancé probably has about as much free time as I do—which is to say, not much—because we're both heavily involved in community activities. I'm on a city council subcommittee and the board of directors for a local nonprofit, and he does a lot of volunteer work as a Mason and is also an adjunct journalism instructor. But I would say he probably makes more time for himself, which is a good thing. I think we both understand the need for self-care and balance.
Delano: We don’t take as much time for ourselves as we should. We just found a babysitter we trust, so now we’ve gone to concerts and movies. During the week it’s pretty hectic. We see each other and try to have sacred things—dinner time, everyone is at the table and all the devices are away.
I like to work out before I go to work. Stacie likes to do yoga, so if she can squeeze it in the morning, she’ll go. She is a voracious reader, and I like to read too, and we spend a lot of time consuming news and talking about the news. We also watch TV. Tonight we’ll watch Being Mary Jane together.
Is there anything, in retrospect, you wish you’d done differently?
Stacie: I ask myself this question frequently. I would say that in my first career, I didn't necessarily know how to access tools that would help me advance, like mentors and networking. But when I look back on my time as a journalist, I am incredibly proud of it. I accomplished some pretty cool things, like winning an award for a piece I wrote on immigration, or getting to write a nightlife column earlier in my career. When I started grad school, I vowed I wouldn't make the same mistakes I did coming out of undergrad and I think I was more successful in librarianship because of it. If I had done anything differently, I might not have learned the things I did. Sometimes it's necessary to take those hard knocks, and that was the same for my professional life and my personal life.
Delano: I do go over mistakes I have made, and I use those as tools to improve myself for the future. That’s one of the ways Stacie and I hit it off. We really do try to take the lumps and move forward, because we know there’s going to be a better day.