A letter to men on International Women’s Day

This International Women’s Day I’d like to do a huge shout out to my ride-or-die, my absolute partner Liam, and to all the men in my life stepping up to support gender equality.

Perhaps counterintuitively, the single greatest thing men can do to advance gender equality in the workplace is to invest more time and mental energy in household and care work.

Because over the last half-century, more and more women have gone to work. But the “housework gap” largely stopped narrowing in the 1980s.1 Women STILL do at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men.

It is estimated that women’s unpaid household and caring work contributes more to the economy than the manufacturing or transport sectors.

A plea to take parental leave

In the UK only 2% of parental leave is taken by men. In NZ it’s just 1%.

This impacts on hiring managers’ willingness to hire women. (Who would hire a woman of childbearing age, compared to a man of the same age, when you know she’s 49 times more likely to go on extended leave – or actually leave?). And, of course, taking this leave impacts on the length of time a woman works, her pension contributions, her wealth, the experience she has, how up-to-date her work knowledge is, and her professional network.

It’s not just this first year of a child’s life that impacts negatively on a woman’s career. A friend told me the huge, unexpected impact of taking maternity leave. That time together created such a strong bond with her baby, which her husband didn’t get the same opportunity to build. Now, whenever their child is sick or upset they want their mum. It’s horrible for him, and continues to affect her career.

Please, please, new dads, share the parental leave.

Why women need wives – or, why men need to lean in

According to the Modern Family Index, women who are primary earners are roughly twice as likely as men to handle all household responsibilities, three times more likely to register their children for afterschool activities, and more than twice as likely to care for children when they’re sick or off from school.  

This has a huge impact on women’s ability to participate in the workforce. It means we don’t get to the more demanding leadership roles as often. It also means our burnout rate is way higher. It also hugely impacts on pay.

In The Misogyny Factor, author Anne Summers calculates that there is ‘a million dollar penalty for being a young woman in Australia today’.”

In The Wife Drought, author Annabel Crabb describes a study of Australian CEOs. “Of the thirty men […] interviewed, twenty-eight had children. And all twenty-eight of these had a stay-at-home wife. Of the thirty-one women he interviewed, only two had stay-at-home husbands, and in both those cases the men were self-employed.  The men had wives, and the women didn’t – simple as that.  Of the female CEOs who had children (about two-thirds of them…) every single one of them identified herself as the primary care giver.”2

So, yes, women still need to lean in, to fit the old-fashioned masculine mould that we define as success. But equally, we need the men in our lives to lean in. Not just to the fun bits (playtime with the kids) but to the awkward bits, the difficult bits, the boring bits, and the dirty bits.

Some sources:

1. Demographic Research Vol 35 pp455-470, 2016, “Fifty years of change updated: Cross-national gender convergence in housework”

2 Gender disparity in the C-suite: Do male and female CEOs differ in how they reached the top? | January 2013, The Leadership Quarterly 25(2) | DOI: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2013.08.005

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