In 2005 I had an exchange with my friend Mike Hughes about gender that stuck hard. When it came to women having half of the top jobs, the advertising guru who led The Martin Agency for most of his career put it this way: "Nothing will ever change until men do half the child rearing." I knew exactly what he was suggesting: men given responsibility would redesign business to make it viable for them to do both jobs. At the same time, his belief was clear and I shared it: "Well that will never happen."
Picture the massive benefits of the fantasy coming true, for a moment. In industries designed for te success of parents, all employees would benefit from more flexible hours, no stigma for taking advantage of that flexibility, no stigma for leaving work to look after school or health-related needs, no stigma for women or men for taking parental leave (let's go all the way and imagine it's available in equal amounts to both Mom and Dad). The outdated concept of value being tightly attached to number of hours spent in the office and on timesheets would finally be replaced by performance and results. On site care would become the norm, freeing up coutless hours and income for other uses. Productivity would rise, retention rates would be up, stress levels reduced, and women would stay on track to top jobs with no reason to lower their pre-baby goals. They'd be promoted by men who appreciate their unique perspectives on problem solving and management styles that are collaborative, empathetic, and less driven by ego. Quality of decision-making and profits, up. Nirvana!
Now consider this: Scandinavian countries are virtually there. They look at North America in bewilderment that we're still so far behind, missing out on ways of running business that means greater profits, better retention, happier, healthier employees and happier children. It's not a coincidence that Denmark was just ranked the happiest country in the world in the World Happiness Report, which cited gender equality and the support of parents in the workplace as a top factor.
The up side to business designed to support the success of employees with children would be so dramatic, it's baffling that North America isn't pulling out all the stops to make it so. I have new faith we'll get there, because the benefits of gender diversity at senior levels are being discussed more than ever before, and a sustainable future for industries will be insured by it.
In the meantime, right here, right now, many women could take one big step that would assure they have more sustainable careers and happier lives: hammering out a routine with Dad that means sharing child care equally.
While bias and outdated systems do their part to limit women's advancement, what's happening at home has a huge impact as well. And this is well within the individual's ability to change.
I've always worked with many women with children. It was amazing to me how often I learned chronically exhausted women did most of the child-related duties -- and has never broached the subject of sharing the load. Looking more closely at what's going on, there's a pile of reasons women keep doing the lion's share without much pushback, while dads have five forty-hour weeks worth of leisure time more than Mom per year*. TThere's the mom guilt of being at work when some part of us says 'your child needs you more'. We need to be perfect, in a time when the measure of what a good mom looks like (complete with 800 activities critical to Junior's success) is impossible to achieve. Many of us are in our comfort zones with the complete control. There's often an assumption the partner would balk, that it would be impossible to manage any other way. And of course the gender stereotype that says it's just plain wrong to leave the 'essentials' to anyone else, even Dad, is still very much alive.
But for all the effort to do it all, women are on track to have strained relationships, and kids who have less of their father than they want. Certainly, it's not a win fo the career if you're verging on burnout and unable to do your best, or you lower your goals because no, You. Are. Not. Superwoman.
A Better Life Is A Talk Away
There are how-to's for just about everything, and though I won't compare this to 3 simple steps to installing your new garburator, I believe most women would find these not-totally easy steps would lead to a breakthrough that means a better career path and better life experience for the whole family.
1. Broach the subject.
Make it happen with no distractions. Paint the picture of your reality, for context, first. Help him appreciate what you're really going through -- the price you're paying. And by extension, the cost to the family. You may actually find a very receptive father who has always been prepared to do more. If you hit resistance, see debate and conflict over this as part of resolving a big problem, and worth the discomfort in the moment.
2. Work together to create a plan.
This shouldn't be you dictating an arrangement -- even as the need for a new strategy should be framed as non-negotiable. There are infinite possibilities on how to work it out. Start with what each is best at, then be ready to compromise. He makes the bed like a first grader? Get over it. Let go of perfect. Life will be messy and really, everyone will live.
3. Check in regularly together on how it's going.
You may find it's time for a re-jig of duties when walls are being hit too often for you or him (maybe homework duty on all sciences, or all the weekend driving, is now making him crazy).
Single parents have greater challenges still. It's hard to take this suggestion, but worth serious consideration: move if necessary to be close to family or friends who can help. It's the oldest model in human history for managing through child rearing.
Mike Hughes was right. The day equally shared parenting is the norm, workplace gender equality will have arrived. I think the world is changing for the better with men steadily putting more time into parenting, and some day it really is possible we'll get there. The more women and men embrace 50-50 routines at home, the faster it will happen.