Workplace Demands Reflect Societal Commands
I recently recalled an article I read a while ago titled A Toxic Work World, by Anne-Marie Slaughter. It was shared on Facebook by somebody with whom I used to work. I re-shared the article with some of my thoughts in the comments. It got me thinking, and I'd like to expand on it a bit.
Slaughter presents the case that the workplace, while making advances over the past several years, is still not making it possible for women to advance their careers and still meet the expectations of motherhood.
This is a problem that extends beyond the workplace. It goes into the home and out to society. We're missing something in the movement for women's rights; we are not addressing the expectations of motherhood, and more to the point, of fatherhood. Until we develop a culture that demands (and receives) as much from fathers as it does from mothers, I don't believe the gap will be closed.
I've chosen to work at a place that provides me the flexibility needed to be the father I want to be, and the parenting partner my wife needs in order to advance her career. After a year as a stay-at-home dad, then two as a work-from-home self-employed dad, when we made the decision I'd re-enter the traditional workforce, I knew I could only work at a company that offered benefits that made parenting practical.
These are benefits like a relaxed vacation policy, the ability to work from home, and flexibility with my daily schedule. Without those benefits, my wife and I would not be able to share the responsibilities of school drop-off and pick-up, doctors appointments, sick days, school closings, and the like.
To some extent, my wife's company offers similar benefits, but they are not quite as relaxed, and her job specifically is more demanding. If our jobs were switched, my guess is that far more of those responsibilities would fall on her-in-my-job. It wouldn't be as acceptable for me - the father - to leave early or miss a meeting to be sure I'm at preschool pick-up on time. The double-standard in our culture works in two ways... It sets the expectation that "mom" take care of that stuff, and it creates an obstacle to allow "dad" to do more.
The flip side to the demand
If we, as a society, finally develop a culture that expects the same from fathers as it does mothers, it will be - at least in part - because we've moved past having a default primary caregiver/breadwinner setting.
Despite all the advancements in women's rights, there is still a stigma outside the workplace. You hear about "working moms" all the time, but rarely about "working dads" and because of that, working women who are mothers are expected to have to leave early, or miss work because the kiddo is sick, or [whatever]; then, they're punished for it with lower paychecks and being passed over for promotions.
Inequality anywhere is a threat to equality everywhere
Paraphrasing from Dr. King, by looking only to industry and government to solve the challenges of equality in the workplace, we are missing part of the solution. Some states are getting it right, and beginning to offer paid parental leave programs. However, until recently there was no support for men who chose to be -- or whose family dynamics demanded they be -- home for a newborn. That's still the case in a large majority of states.
Everything under the sun is part of a magnificent balancing act. In order for society to grant women their rightfully-deserved, equal share in the workforce, men must accept their rightfully-deserved, equal share out of the workplace. We must reach a place where every family is able to determine what is right for them, and we must have a professional culture that accepts that decision.
It's not the solution, but it's certainly part.