Imperfect Reflections Pt 2: The Women of Aflac

American Family Life Assurance Company -- AKA Aflac -- was founded in Columbus, GA in 1955. I was born ten years later in the same city.

After a brief detour to Germany at an early age, I returned to Columbus. The summer I turned 3 years old, my father bought a house there and retired from the Army. I graduated high school with some of the same kids with whom I had attended kindergarten.

A couple of weeks before high school graduation, I got romantically involved with a classmate. I married him about 18 months later and he then joined the military.

In the years that I was a military wife, I sometimes visited family and friends in my home town -- sometimes even for weeks or months at a time -- but I did not really live there again until I got divorced. At about age 40, I returned home and I got my first full time paid job at Aflac when I was 41.

Aflac is a Fortune 500 company and at that time it was supposedly the largest employer in Columbus, GA. So it is no real surprise that some of the people I ran into at Aflac were childhood friends or high school classmates. If you grew up there and had talent or ambition and no particular desire to leave the city, the odds were decent you could be found working at Aflac.

So, women I ran into at Aflac were a good proxy for what my life might have been had I not been a military wife. In theory, had I stayed in Columbus, I might have ended up with a career at Aflac -- just as I, in actual fact, ended up working there for over five years when I did return and sought employment.

In some ways, Aflac is a very sophisticated company. When I worked there, about 75 to 80 percent of its income came from its Japanese division, the CEO spent about one week out of every month in Japan and had probably the world's most sophisticated videoconferencing set up to aid him in collaborating with the Japanese division the rest of the time.

Yet, like most women everywhere, most of the women I spoke with at Aflac still did the lion's share of the "women's work" at home. In some cases, this was true even if they were the primary breadwinner. I recall knowing one senior manager who said she hadn't ever really learned to cook.

In contrast, when I worked at Aflac, my sons took over the "women's work." I was a divorced single mom getting rides home from coworkers because I had no car and their tone would turn from pity to envy when they learned dinner would basically be waiting for me when I got home.

I don't think it is hyperbole to suggest that the women at Aflac can be counted as among some of the most successful women on the planet. No, they mostly aren't rich or famous, but they have real careers with good benefits at a company with an excellent reputation for high quality of life for its employees as well as an excellent track record for diversity.

I am a former homemaker. I played that role for about two decades before getting my first full-time paid job. Yet, I accomplished what a great many career women still cannot accomplish: I escaped the shackles and drudgery of "women's work" and did so with the enthusiastic support of my two sons instead of at their expense.

I think this is strong evidence that my vaunted goals and ideals are not a bridge too far. These are things I actually am capable of pulling off.

I desire to spread a more egalitarian, humane model that works better for all people. It looks to me like this is a model I have field tested and proven is viable. At this point, I believe it is largely a matter of spreading the word.


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