Is gender equality really socially acceptable? I think not. It should be and we all want it to be, but take out a shovel and do a little digging, in fact just scrape the surface and you’ll find that it isn’t. As with any cultural shifts, if they are not a result of an abrupt paradigm shift then they take time, hard work and lot’s of anguish. We are still on a very long journey.
We value career above caring. Society values the work that people do in caring for family as a distant second against a successful career. Is this wrong? Seems obvious really.
In her 2013 Ted Talk, Can we all “Have it all”? Anne-Marie Slaughter makes an interesting statement – “Men need to be socialised”. She is not suggesting that men need to understand and accept the position of women in the workplace, and the validity of balancing career versus carer opportunities and responsibilities, which of course they should. Ms Slaughter is in fact suggesting men need to understand and accept the validity and importance of men balancing career versus carer opportunities and responsibilities. I began to touch on this in a previous article I wrote last year titled – Gender Equality. Could Focussing on Men’s Needs Deliver Gender Equality for Women? – where I talked about ensuring an environment that encourages men to opt in to caring roles.
Ms Slaughter suggests that a woman could drop out of her career to become a part time or full time carer and this would be accepted and even applauded by both men and women, but not so for a man. By inference, does this suggest that women could be equally celebrated for opting into a full time career, with a partner as the full time carer? The underlying or perhaps subconscious social constraint on men is they are still identified as being the primary breadwinners. When they are not, they are looked at with a furtive glance fit for someone who missed the dress code and attended a formal wedding in a lounge suit. Ms Slaughter goes on to say that most men would outwardly support a male friend who opted out of a career to focus on caring, but would inwardly question their actions.
“Many women can decide to be a bread-winner, a care giver or a combination of the two. When a man decides to become a caregiver, he puts his man hood on the line. His friends may praise his decision, but underneath they’re scratching their heads.” [i]
Ms Slaughter says that men;
“… derive their self-worth from how high they can climb over other men.”[i]
As such, if men are not competing in the workplace with other men, they struggle to find tangible self-worth. They also fail to recognise the value of caring in other men who take a carer role. This is my perception of how men think and feel. Am I right?
I know it’s not right and it has to change, but my unconscious bias draws me to believe men have a responsibility to be the primary breadwinner. I am aware of this imprinted understanding and I am changing this belief. I have no issues with men and women being equal in the workplace, I support and respect this and believe in it. My executive coach is female, one of my most favourite bosses was female and I look up to many accomplished women who are successful in their roles, for their success not their gender. Making this shift in mind-set is made easier when you have daughters and you want them to have whatever opportunity may present itself including all of the immense pleasures (and challenges) of motherhood and equally those of a rewarding career, whatever that may be. But then comes the conflict. How do I balance my support for this equality with my unconscious bias? They are seemingly in opposition.
And this is just one part of what is an incredibly complex discussion.
So part two
I was having a cup of coffee and a chat with a colleague sometime after watching this Ted Talk. She is a senior and successful leader and a mum. My eyes were then opened to the flip side of this discussion. She tells me that often she perceives other women looking upon her pursuit of her career as selfish. Not men, but women, and women who attack stealthily from a psychologically damaging angle, an angle designed to pierce the armour of any parent – your children and their welfare. It would pierce my armour. Her husband, who has also had a successful career, has a more dominant carer role with her children at this time. His role is in fact well supported and his choice is embraced and celebrated.
And then another senior female colleague told me she was left wrestling with guilt from primarily female colleagues, friends and acquaintances after comments such as “you’re back at work already?” when she returned after maternity leave and “who’s looking after the kids” and “you want to attend this course on the weekend, but you have children, will they be ok?” She surmised that women who had opted out of work sought to justify their decision/position by finding fault in her choice. To me, this suggests two things:
- a lack of value in the carer role, and
- a perception men are not fit for the role of carer.
So is it possible that the resistance to change is as prevalent in women as it is in men? Where should the focus be to drive cultural change?
We need a way to measure equality and currently the most prominent measure seems to be career success. Ms Slaughter refers to career as traditionally the world of men (of course that’s changing and that’s the point). But for now, when we measure success we give an unequal waiting to the importance of a career versus caring, because career is still seen as primarily the domain of men and the competition for equality is with men.
“Real equality, full equality, does not just mean valuing women on male terms, it means creating a much wider range of equally respected choices for women and for men. In the workplace, real equality means valuing family as much as work.”[i]
This was an excellent and thought-provoking TED Talk which leaves me believing we need to focus our attention on valuing and applauding the work of carers and family. I know there are lots of reasons why we go to work, but one of the primary reasons is to provide for our families. We don’t have families so that we have a reason to go to work. So why then are we valuing career above caring.
Real equality needs women and men valuing family as much as work.
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Gender Equality – It’s not really socially acceptable – is it?: Is gender equality really socially acceptable?… http://t.co/XRGEt8wEYR
— Peter McKelvie (@PeterMcKelvie) June 1, 2014