Flexible Working for Women key to Gender Equality in the Workplace?

Jan 21, 2014; one of the world’s leading financiers, Mohamed El-Erian resigned from the post of CEO and Co-Chief Investment Officer at PIMCO, a global investment firm and one of the world’s largest bond investors. Later in the year, he told Worth magazine that he left his globetrotting job because “his need to be a good father was greater than his desire to be a good investor”.

According to El-Erian, it is the modern workplace, that men like him have been in charge of, that needs to change. “I am incredibly fortunate to be able to structure my life in this way,” he confessed. “Unfortunately, not everyone has this luxury. But, hopefully, as companies give more attention to the importance of work-life balance, more and more people will be in a better position to act holistically on what’s important to them.”(1)

As per 2014 Pew Research Center report, an increasing number of men in the U.S. have been making the choice to share equally in childcare or decide to be stay-at-home dads.(2)

◾ In 1989, 10% of fathers were stay-at-home parents. This grew to 16% by 2014.
◾ Only 5% of stay-at-home dads in 1989 said caring for family was the main reason for staying home. Now, that number is 21%.

Jenny Garrett, the author of Rocking Your Role, a guide for women who earn the main salary in their family, welcomed the trend. However, she warned that there was still a “taboo” around female breadwinners and stay-at-home fathers.
It’s something that’s kept quiet or treated as a bit embarrassing. We need to have more conversations about it in order for it to become more acceptable and for people to understand what makes the family unit work,” she said.(3)

In a 2013 debate hosted by the Diversity Council of Australia on ‘Flexible working hours for women is key to gender Equality’, ABC journalist Annabel Crabb started with a snapshot of her own ‘ridiculous’ career and family life that is ably facilitated by flexibility before continuing the argument for the affirmative team. She highlighted the cultural barrier at the root of all workplace inequality.

We are still gobsmacked when a man takes parental leave because there is still a pretty bloody reliable assumption that women will be shouldering most of the caring responsibilities,” Crabb explained. “We’re not getting anywhere until the work life juggle is everybody’s juggle; not the woman’s. Women can’t move between their careers and home with ease until men do the same. Every man who works till 10pm at his desk every night isn’t only promoting his own career but he is limiting others.”

She argued that it is not the fault of flexibility itself that it remains a women’s issue rather it is the fault of the cultural barriers that need dismantling.(4)

Justine Roberts, the co-founder of Mumsnet, says despite the increase in stay-at-home fathers, men are still significantly less likely than women to be the main child carer in families.
It would be nice to think that one day it will simply be a matter of individual couples’ preferences that determines which parent downscales their career,” she said.(3)

Societies need to empower men to take equal responsibility in family life.

On the other hand, Al Watts, the president of the US National At-Home Dad Network says, “Stay-at-home dads have a unique situation – we don’t have role models so we are kind of doing this on our own and trying to figure out how to navigate the relationships that are different than we expected them to be when we first got married.

As women have taken on more high-paying careers, the assumption that they’ll stay home with the children has become less automatic.(2)

Understanding the changing needs, a new Shared Parental Leave rule was passed in the UK this April. According to this parents can now evenly split 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay between them during their baby’s first year. Research has found that 83 per cent of those who are considering becoming parents would want to take shared parental leave when they have a child.

Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said: “This Edwardian notion that women should stay at home while men go out and support the family has simply no place in this day and age. We need a modern Britain and a fair society that works for families, not against them. We’ve introduced shared parental leave so that parents can make their own decisions about how to raise their family, whether it’s giving women the choice to go back to work earlier or men the opportunity to spend more time with their children”.(5)

The new rules apply to couples who are adopting, in a same-sex partnership, or bringing up a baby from a previous relationship, as well as to birth parents.

The right to six weeks’ leave at 90% of full earnings remains exclusively for birth mothers and primary adopters, so it’s unlikely many mums will be handing their newborn to dad and dashing back to their desk after a fortnight(6) but it opens up important options that families couldn’t consider before.

Professor Marian Baird, the director of the women and work research group at the University of Sydney, argued during the Diversity Council of Australia debate that flexible work for only women actually leads to greater inequality in the workplace. Because the overwhelming majority of employees who currently access flexible work arrangements are women – and particularly working mothers – it serves to reinforce the gap between men and women in the workplace.

Journalist, presenter, radio broadcaster, Tracey Spicer argues that the relationship between flexibility and equality is clear.
To me, it’s a mathematical equation: greater flexibility for both sexes plus clear career paths will mean gender equality,” she said. “Flexibility allows us [her and her husband] to live the dream of 50:50 parenting and work.”(4)

“Fathers are parents too” Prof Ottoline Leyser

“Provide child care grants to allow the husband to work part time” Ruth Amos (Young Engineer for Britain Awardee)

“Everyone must accept and believe – and therefore act on – the fact that children are equally the responsibility of both parents. No more assumptions that they’re the ‘mother’s problem’” Prof Athene Donald (Cambridge)

“I would have found it difficult to maintain my career at the level it is at without my incredibly supportive husband who was prepared to stay home when the kids were sick or to fetch them from nursery or do the washing. “We need to change the culture. I think this is happening but not fast enough.” Prof Christine Watson (Cambridge).

The higher need is to break societal attitudes towards gender roles but expecting stereotypes to change overnight is unrealistic. However, shouldn’t policies be made to facilitate attitude shift? If not then, Special policies for one gender will keep the group in the ‘special needs’ category. Gender Equality should mean both genders have Equal Freedom of Choice.

Move with the times; Prepare for the Future!

1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/relationships/fatherhood/11122773/Society-still-doesnt-like-the-idea-of-stay-at-home-dads.html
2. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27626510
3. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/9822271/Rise-in-stay-at-home-fathers-fuelled-by-growing-numbers-of-female-breadwinners.html
4. http://www.womensagenda.com.au/talking-about/editor-s-agenda/is-flexible-working-the-key-to-gender-equality/201311123196#.VaaDOLkVheX
5. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/11342618/Shared-parental-leave-Dads-think-childcare-should-be-equal.html
6. http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/apr/11/shared-parental-leave-rules-equality
7. http://blogs.nature.com/soapboxscience/2012/07/13/top-recommendations-from-top-women-in-science
8. Feature image – http://becuo.com/cute-newborn-black-baby-pictures


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