Guest Post by wordssetmefreee
If you are a mother who works in a conventional office setting, the scenario in the following article by Katharine Zaleski may sound familiar to you:
Two telling excerpts from the article:
“I secretly rolled my eyes at a mother who couldn’t make it to last minute drinks with me and my team. I questioned her “commitment” even though she arrived two hours earlier to work than me and my hung over colleagues the next day.”
“I sat in a job interview where a male boss grilled a mother of three and asked her, “How in the world are you going to be able to commit to this job and all your kids at the same time?” I didn’t give her any visual encouragement when the mother – who was a top cable news producer at the time – looked at him and said, “Believe it or not, I like being away from my kids during the workday… just like you.””
Zaleski’s article makes some great points on
- the attitude of younger women/male and female non-parents/male employees with kids(fathers) toward employees who are mothers
- the very little empathy and support that mothers receive at the workplace
- the condescension with which they are viewed when they have to cancel a meeting or need to take an unexpected day off
However, this successful, professional woman ignores the role of fathers in parenting: What I find disappointing about this article is
- The author reserved her condescension (in the past) only for mothers, and did not extend it to fathers as well. Many men in senior management tend to be married with kids. Yet no one questions them if they have to cancel a meeting because it is assumed that the cancellation has nothing to do with parenting responsibilities or family time. This is representative of many people I’ve known here, both men and women.
- Why is the role of fathers never discussed when we talk about over-burdened mothers?
- When we say workplaces are “male-oriented”, what do we mean? Do we mean that they revolve around the needs of men, with little understanding of the needs of women?
- Does this imply that taking care of kids should not be a male concern and only women workers must worry about childcare and parenting?
- Why can’t we start using the term “parent-friendly” instead of “mother-friendly” to refer to workplaces that provide flexible schedules, work-from-home options, and more autonomy to their employees?
The change in perspective that Katharine Zaleski experienced is commendable. She started a company, PowerToFly that matches women with technical skills to remote jobs that they can perform from home. I’m glad she is doing something to make it possible to tap into the talents of countless women who lack sufficient supports at home.
However, we need to start having discussions on the role of fathers in parenting. Even in the US, men and women still play very traditional roles when it comes to parenting.
Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In is in the same vein – it talks about how women need to be more assertive in the workplace but doesn’t discuss how fathers need to do their fair share at home.
We seem to be fighting for equality in the workplace but remain content with inequality at home by turning mothers into supermoms.
How can we expect people at work to treat women (and mothers) as equals if we don’t change our gender based attitudes toward housework and parenting?
Some experiences I’ve had in this regard:
Everywhere I go, I’m seen as being solely responsible for all tasks related to children and home.
My children’s pediatrician, a woman, always concludes the visit with a list of instructions meant for me alone, even if my husband is present.
“Make sure he takes this 3 times a day with meals, “ she says, looking at me, then turns to my son and says, “Mommy’s gonna get you all better buddy!”
I encounter this at my kids’ school on the days I volunteer in the classroom.
The teacher says to some kids, “Oh look what mommy packed you for lunch today! You are one lucky kid!”
All emails from the teacher to the volunteering parents are addressed, “Dear Ladies”, and unfortunately, most of them ARE ladies.
I encounter this at my workplace too. Even the compliments are suffocating.
“I don’t know how you do it all!” (I DON’T do it all. I do my fair share of the work, my husband does his fair share and we let go the things we can’t do.)
A recent conversation with my friend, a full time working mom:
She works full time at a very aggressive company with an extremely stressful work environment. The other day, she was complaining about taking home work again over the weekend.
She said, “My boss is such a slave driver. Lucky for him, he has a stay at home wife to take care of his kids.”
So, she puts another woman down for her legitimate choice but doesn’t hold her own husband accountable.
I said to her, “They must’ve made a joint decision on that. When one parent chooses to stay home, the family takes a huge cut in income. The advantage is more work life balance, with one parent taking care of earning, while the other takes care of home duties. When both parents work, they must share cooking, cleaning, and parenting duties. Either way, people should do whatever works for them. In both cases, both parents should share the overall work fairly. “
To this, she said, “The problem is, my husband can come home and relax, but I can’t. He doesn’t feel guilty about not spending time with my daughter or if there’s no food at home. I do.”
This then is the crux of the problem. Women are finally getting more choices and opportunities work wise. But we come home and nothing much has changed. Women still need to make those meals and care for their children. And if the working mother fails at achieving this impossible state, then she punishes herself with guilt. It’s still her job and her job alone to cook, clean, do dishes, laundry, and parent the kids.
Another seemingly small incident that brings to light the casual guilt inducing culture mothers are surrounded by:
I was in line at the grocery store. A woman in front of me with a child in tow placed 3 frozen food type of lunches, 2 cans of soup, and a carton of milk on the counter.
The cashier, who was probably just making small talk with her, said breezily, “I guess you’re not cooking today!!:)))”
The woman looked slightly stricken, and then went on to painfully explain why she was picking up those frozen food lunches and soup cans. “Well tomorrow, I’m expecting guests so I have to clean my entire house and prep for the elaborate meal I’m going to make. So, you know …. (smiles apologetically) …. I’m trying to simplify at least today’s meals.”
The cashier and the customer are probably unaware of this exchange as being guilt inducing. But it’s all around us. I’m sure he wouldn’t have made that comment to a man buying those frozen items.
Or worse, he might’ve said, “Guess, your wife’s out of town!!:))”
For this mindset to change, we should start changing workplaces not only to support mothers but to also change our expectations for fathers. We need to start building a workplace culture that encourages work life balance – a place where a father can proudly say he needs to leave early to attend his daughter’s soccer game.
To a smaller extent, I do see this happening. One of my colleagues, a marketing manager goes for a run with his daughter on Wednesday afternoons (which is a short school day) to help her train for marathons. Another colleague, a graphic designer, alternates short and long working days with her husband, so they take turns picking up the kids and cooking. My husband and I do the same thing. I know one dad in the autism support group that I run who does business consulting work (for startups) from home and takes care of the home and kids, while his wife has a full time in-office type of job.
Sheryl Sandberg’s next book, “Lean In Together” talks about how men need to do their fair share at home.
“About time we discussed that!” was my first thought, when I heard about the book’s release – although a little voice in my head said, with the kind of money Sandberg and her husband make, did they ever have to worry about household chores when they can hire fantastic help?:-) What do they even know about the struggles of everyday kind of families? But let’s ignore that for a moment and look at the advice.
Although she gives suggestions that make sense (share the house work 50/50, be equally involved with your kids, etc.), the overall pitch of the book seems a bit salesy. The “perks” of gender equality at home include “better sex for spouses and better profits for companies (due to more satisfied, productive employees), more promotions to go around and 5% growth in our GDP”. This to me seems like a desperate sell to get men to do their fair share of work. Or a bid to get privileged, white boys club type managers to look down kindly on their male subordinates going home earlier to do “a bit more” at home.
Gender equality at home may not bring higher profits and higher profits and productivity and benefits to men should not be the driving force behind gender equality.
The REAL positive outcome for men from gender equality at home? Dads get to give their children hugs and wipe their tears. Dads get to cheer their kids at sports. Dads get to really know their kids and earn their trust and respect and love. Moms get to be human because the work is shared fairly. When moms feel good, they can bond better with their husbands. Husbands “benefit” too from this emotional bonding and warmth. This is not exactly in the category of “profitable” but it’s an awesome feeling and you can’t put a price on it.
But all of the above benefits to men – better bonding with their spouses and children – are things that flow from doing the right thing. We must do the right thing simply because it’s right, not for a benefit. And I think it’s not just important to bring about change, but to do so for the right reasons, so that the change is genuine and long lasting.
Gender equality begins at home. And it matters because it’s fair. Because women deserve equality. Like everyone else. It’s that simple.
Please share your thoughts and experiences on the sharing of housework, parenting, and workplace attitudes.
I talked about my experiences in the US. If you live elsewhere, in what respects are your experiences different/same in Europe and other countries in Asia (Singapore, China, Japan, India, etc.)?