At Work: Men, Childcare, and Gender Equality

father and childThis is how I see it.

Culturally, the biggest obstacle to gender equality in the workplace is childcare. As long as rearing children remains by default “women’s work,” the structure and attitudes of the workplace will always favor men.

I don’t look to corporations or government to provide childcare. I look to couples to privately negotiate fair and equitable childcare agreements.

If both mom and dad have jobs, why is it mom who’s expected to look after a sick kid? Why is it mom’s unspoken responsibility to run the carpool? Why is cooking and cleaning only on mom’s to-do list?

Sadly, statistics show that married women still do 2.1 hrs of childcare for every one hour contributed by married men.

One of the unintended consequences of the recession may just change all that.

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Sue Shellenbarger reports on “Extreme Child-Care Maneuvers.” She tells the stories of couples who have been forced by economic necessity to fully optimize their childcare strategies, using both mom and dad as fully engaged parents.

What a concept.

I wonder: Why is it that when mom is juggling work-and-kids, it’s standard procedure, but when mom and dad juggle work-and-kids, it’s “extreme”?

In any case, when the time comes that the men in the office are rushing out to the nurse’s office as frequently as the women, then the workplace will become more flexible for everyone. When men take paternity leave as often as women take maternity leaves, then time taken off for babies will not be viewed as suspect. When men commit to childcare as deeply as women do, then professionals who request temporary part-time reassignment will not be branded as lacking loyalty or the “right stuff” for promotion.

No matter the specific tactics of the couples profiled in the WSJ, they all share three things:

  1. an explicit, spoken agreement to fully share childcare
  2. an overall plan/strategy
  3. a ongoing system for negotiating who-does-what

If every couple dealt with childcare with such enlightened forethought, we might be able to leave our daughters a workplace where they have equal access to success.

Photo by KellyB.

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