Updated: Sep 17, 2018
2018 has, at least to me, felt like The Year of the Woman. We started the year in the wake of #metoo where female celebrities and mere mortals across the globe stood united against sexual harassment and inequality in the workplace. Then came the ‘Time’s up’ movement and Oprah’s amazing speech at the Golden Globes (#iloveyouoprah).
The gender pay gap has been widely publicised with big name companies being forced to become more transparent with their wage rates, showing a huge disparity between what women are paid compared to their male counterparts.
The NZ government has set a compulsory target that will see 50% female representation on all state boards and committees by 2021. With the recent flurry of historic ‘first woman CEO’ appointments the private sector seems to be following suit.
New Zealand has made global news with our very own @Jacinda Adern becoming only the second female prime minister to have a baby whilst in office. Jacinda took just 6 weeks maternity leave and Clarke is the primary caregiver of baby Neve.
All of the above = AWESOME, absolutely necessary, and long overdue. But what does this changing economy mean for men in the workforce, and in the home? When we talk about equal rights, do we really mean equal? Equal for men too?
Historically men have been seen as the breadwinner; the hunter gatherer, whilst the woman stays home to care for the children and manage the household. In the 1970s fathers spent an average of 5 measly minutes per day dedicated to childcare activities on a weekday. They went to work, put in long hours, maybe went to the pub, and then came home and put their feet up.
Fast forward to 2018 and the modern father comes in many guises. He can be single, married or divorced. He might be sharing custody or a sole parent. He might be gay or transgender. Working full, or part-time, a student, or a stay-at-home dad. He’s spending on average 7x more time with his children then his dad spent with him. Yet society still insists on blanket viewing fathers as the second caregiver.
In my own household we are redefining gender roles, and it’s been something we’ve really had to work through. I have four children, and I am the sole income earner. The hunter gatherer if you will. We’ve tried everything to find the right balance when it comes to our roles in the family and the workplace. It just so happens that over the years my earning potential overtook that of my husband’s, and so it made sense for me to be the one to go to work.
What we have found throughout our own journey is that:
· When we were both working my husband’s employers were less flexible then my own when it came to taking time off to care for sick kids. It seems employers have an expectation that mothers will need to take time off, but not so much for fathers
· Old views die hard. Our family and friends found it hard to get their head around my husband staying home with the kids whilst I went to work. And for a while, we found it hard too. The idea that my husband should be the breadwinner is something that we all, including my husband, struggled to shake for a while
· The overwhelming view from women when they found out that my husband was going to care for our infant was that he must be Superdad. Which is weird cos I had stayed home with the other 3 without any such fanfare.....
· The kids don’t mind which parent is home. They really don’t.
So with the role of fathers changing, the pay gap closing and equality in the workplace, what will this mean for fathers who, like my own husband, take on the role of primary caregiver? Taking time out of your career as a woman to care for children can potentially be detrimental to your prospects when you look to return to the workforce. In NZ once a woman has a child she earns on average 17% less than men. Could it be even more detrimental for a man? If a man has a 5yr gap in his CV when he was ‘Home Executive’ I think some employers might look at this with suspicion. Someone actually asked me when they found out my husband was a stay at home Dad ‘Why? Can’t he get a job’?
When both parents are in work, the need to be flexible to work around childcare seems to fall to the mother more than the father, and so for a working mum can stand in the way of that promotion. Yet if the father was to ask for this sort of flexibility, I think employers might look at that even more harshly. After-all, the fella must not be ambitious or driven enough for a really serious role, right? I know there are organisations who embrace flexible work arrangements for all employees, such as @Perpetual Guardian with their trial of the 4 day week, and @Rice Consulting with their unlimited annual leave policy. This will go some way to bringing balance to the home dynamic for their employees. I would suggest this level of flexibility is still pretty rare though.
There is this traditional prejudice that we as society have as to what a father should be – he should be a provider, he should be masculine. Yet we now also expect him (and rightly so) to be sensitive, involved and do his fair share when it comes to childcare and household chores.
We’re definitely making strides in the right direction when it comes to gender equality, and I’m sure we’ll get there. But in the meantime there are a lot of dads who are struggling with where they fit into this changing dynamic and probably feeling like they can’t do right from wrong.
Personally I’m so happy for my own children that they get to enjoy such a drastically different relationship with their father then I ever knew growing up. I’m delighted for myself, to be a woman in business in 2018, raising a family and smashing out my dream career at the same time. I think we can do a lot better though when it comes to empowering men to take on a primary caregiver role. In my experience stay at home dads face the same challenges that stay at home mums do, and then some.
What do you reckon? Do you think we still, consciously or not, hold on to the idea that dad should be the breadwinner, and mum the primary caregiver?