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Working mothers from checkout to corner office have long struggled to manage work responsibilities with responsibilities at home. And while many fathers are rolling up their sleeves and doing more work at home, it’s still moms who bear the brunt of the work.
There are several issues at play: The sharing of home responsibilities between men and women. The reality that only women bear children. The special demands on single parents of both genders. The work-life attitudes of the Millennial generation. The discrimination that mothers face in the workplace, regardless of how much support they have at home.
Expectant moms are asked — by both men and women — how they’ll handle work after the baby arrives. I’ve never once heard a first-time father asked how a new baby will affect his career plans.
I’ve written previously about the “motherhood penalty,” the assumption that women with kids aren’t as capable or committed as men with kids, regardless of their actual caregiving arrangements. This throwback to the “Mad Men” era needs to change. (For more information, download NEW’s “Women 2020” report at newonline.org/women2020.)
Change is Coming
The Canadian TV documentary “The Motherload” shows how working moms shoulder the bulk of family responsibilities at home, how they’re judged differently from dads at work and the price women pay for these dual inequities.
But things are changing. As more men begin taking on more home responsibilities, dads are questioning their own work-life balance.
“‘The Motherload’ is not just a women’s issue, but a human rights issue,” filmmaker Cornelia Principe said in a recent interview. “The factors that are affecting working mothers are starting to affect working fathers.”
Almost as many men (50 percent) as women (56 percent) find it difficult to balance work-life responsibilities, according to a Pew Research study. But as more men recognize the problem, “the idea that this is a women’s issue will evolve and become something worthy of discussing in the workforce and as social policy, and not ghettoized as ‘women complaining,’” Principe said.
How you manage the work-life stress points of your employees will determine the productivity of your work teams and your ability to hire, develop and retain high-potential talent of both genders. “The work world must be cognizant of the fact they can’t expect people to work 24/7,” Principe said.
This is especially true of Millennials, who, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study, are “unconvinced that excessive work demands are worth the sacrifices to their personal life.”
All Parents Not Considered Equal
Virtually all dads (98 percent) stay or return to the same jobs after the birth of a child, according to a recent Boston College study of 2,000 mostly white-collar men.
That retention rate is far lower for women, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Companies can retain talented new moms by providing more flexible hours, granting more family leave and assigning work that requires less travel. With this support, women who have or are planning a family are much more likely to “lean in” to their jobs, take on challenging assignments and stay loyal to the company.
It’s essential, however, that companies not just offer flexible options, but also promote their use. When leaders fail to use such options themselves, it sends a signal that they’re not really meant to be used.
As long we operate under the false assumption that working more hours leads to higher productivity — and ignore the real cost of employee turnover and stress — work-life balance will continue to be an issue for women, men and your organization.