Send fathers home and mothers to work.
Tim Smedley at People Management suggests that the solution to end gender inequality in the workplace is to send fathers home and mothers out to work. He’s on to something.
The key argument I’d like to highlight is the following: There are three elements which are closely interlinked and that need to be seen as a total in order to drive through social change in our societies. The three elements are put in place by three players:
- The government
- The corporation
- The individual parent
When these players find ways to make up a team, social change takes place.
First, social welfare incentives supporting both fathers and mothers investing time in raising their children is the founding blocks in order to attract both parents to spend time with their children. Such incentives may encourage more fathers and mothers to achieve a better balance between the way they share their time at work and rearing their children. Men are way too often the main bread winners and women tend to sacrifice their career ambitions in order to take care of their kids. Let’s call it default by gender.
Nevertheless, trusting the government to be progressive is risky business. The Economist brings an illustrative point to this, pointing to the current situation in Germany (see chart for further information).
So, HR and executives, get out on the field and change the rules of the game, please. That’s where the corporations come into the picture.
Thus, enter HR. How can they change the game?
1. Encourage fathers to take time off work and seize responsibility at home. Yes, that’ll create an outcry. But it’s fascinating how hints and suggestions can gain a large impact when fathers actually start spending time with their kids.
2. Make sure to thrill corporate stake holders’ interest in how the times they are a changing: Corporations must adapt to new social realities, unless they want to see their talented people move to competition who offer more flexible employee relations.
3. Allow flexible hours for talented people: A lot of mothers and fathers want to do a career AND be caring parents. Employees taking responsibility at home have proved to deliver at work as well.
Third, the last player is the individual: Fathers need to realise that they must fight for their right to be full-time dads. Women have fought for access to male-only arenas within all sectors of work during the 20th century. Likewise men must stand up and seize a different part than their historically ‘work only’ part.
A brief look at how much women have struggled to gain influence in the public space, one can imagine the need for a revolution in order to bring men forward.
I’m an optimist, though. Scandinavian countries have managed to bring fathers home and women out working. There are good prospects for a similar change to take place in other parts of Europe.
Want to read more?
- Check out my summary of the brilliant book Why Women Mean Business (2008). Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Alison Maitland suggest companies need to grasp how their markets and talent pools have changed, requiring new angles for surviving today’s business landscape.
- Take a look at my post on talent management as the Big Four global accounting companies can teach other corporations to understand how gender shapes people and companies: Accounting for good people.