Who run the world? Fast Company is going to have to stop you there before you start shaking your hair like Bey and point you in the direction of a groundbreaking report on fatherhood unveiled this week at United Nations Headquarters (UNHQ) in New York with the help of Chelsea Clinton. The report, titled “State of the World’s Fathers,” covers the impact of men’s reluctance to share the workload at home, the consequences for a child of having a violent father, and suggests that engaged fathers enjoy better health and a more productive life. Just in time for Father’s Day!
The findings are not so great for women, however. There’s no Jackie Collins-esque plot denouement in the 288 pages, the work of the NGO MenCare, where our heroine, having overcome setbacks, dramas, tragedy, and epiphany, gets her revenge, the penthouse office at Megacorp, as well as the guy. Instead, the story ends on a crushing note: If you’re hoping to see gender equality in your lifetime, it suggests, don’t hold your breath. Eighty-eight percent of women aged 30-39 saw their earnings decline when they had children and, of the 500 largest corporations in the world, just 23 have a female CEO. Women earn, on average, 24% less than men due to their burden of care work. The change might come in time for your daughters to balance home and work, but Gary Barker, one of the lead authors of the report, expects change in 30-40 years–after all, it even took the progressive and wealthy Swedes two decades to make any headway.
The proof lies in one sentence. “Engaging men into caregiving cannot be reduced to only meaning men’s time-use, it is nothing less than a fundamental reworking of social norms, practices and power dynamics between men and women.” Barker is more optimistic, however, than this author. “There are days I look at the data and our advantages and feel encouraged,” he told Fast Company via email. “On the other hand, we also know the data in Brazil that from 2000 to 2010, men’s time use in caregiving increased to a depressing eight minutes per week. Men now do about three hours of caregiving and domestic work compared to women’s 20–hardly the gender revolution we’re working for.”
As well as positive discrimination and boardroom quotas, Barker advocates throwing the kitchen sink–along with a pair of man-sized rubber gloves–at the problem. “Quotas move us in the right direction. We need to teach boys (and girls) caregiving from the earliest, as part of sexuality education, in school, in home. We need paid, non-transferable and equal leave–the same for fathers and mothers. We need to look at all our key social institutions–schools, health clinics, day care centers, the workplace–to see what they can do to be father-friendly. To see that men are as capable and need to be as responsible for the care of children. That requires training, changing internal policies, making noise–protesting when fathers are excluded, for example–and big, splashy media campaigns to change the norms.”
It’s going to take time. And it’s not just a top-down solution that’s needed, with government campaigns and legislation–the U.S.’s GDP would increase by 10% if the gap were closed, says the report–but change also needs to come from the bottom up. By exercising their civil rights and pushing for change, educated women will find themselves $230,000 better off over their lifetime. So what can women–and men who would like to see their daughters having a crack at a decent work-life balance as they bring up their grandchildren–do to hasten the demise of the gender gap?
The introduction of paternity leave in the U.K. has seen an increase in men getting up to deal with their children in the night which, although great, is a distraction to what women really need. Scrap it–and maternity leave while you’re at it–and introduce parental leave, as they do in some Scandinavian countries. In Sweden, either parent is entitled to take up to 480 days off until their child is 8 years old, and of those 480 days, a portion is compulsory for the dad. A senior operations manager of a tech firm I interviewed last year for a story on paternity leave explained the downside of maternity leave: “You don’t want to make your employers think they can live without you. I know women who’ve been laid off during or right after maternity leave–that’s not supposed to happen, but it does.”
Explain to them using the analogy of how the dinosaurs (here you point to your boyfriend behind his back) were wiped out by a giant meteorite (the inevitable feminist movement, headed by Queen Bey wearing a pair of mink-trimmed combat pants). In the introduction to her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg wrote: “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. I believe that this would be a better world.”
The downside of this is that most A-list tech firms, although they have the best parental leave policies in the U.S., prefer their employees, in the main, to work on-site. Hence the campus hairdressers, dry cleaners, cafes, and restaurants. This is not what women with children want. Founder and CEO of the Craft job site, Ilya Levtov, believes that firms will soon have to create a culture at work in order to get the best talent around, who will insist on flexible hours and working from home.
As Gary Barker puts it, “If possible, fall in love with men who see that being a man and a partner means doing fully half of the hands-on care work. I know that last one sounds easier than it actually is.” He admitted that the huge amount of travel in his job precludes him from doing his fair share of the domestic chores, but that he helps out by doing the cooking. “As my daughter reminds me: Talking to other men around the world about being involved fathers doesn’t let me off the hook. But I’m trying!”