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Fifty Shades of Gender Balance

Updated: Oct 9, 2020

Anyone out there know what today is? Anyone? Anyone? It’s 50/50 day…a day to celebrate the #GettingTo5050 movement. And, for those of you who know what I’m all about, I'm sure you'll agree that it’s a rather apropos day for me to begin my journey as a blogger (For those of you who are just stumbling upon this or haven’t paid any attention to anything I’ve said - or texted - the past few months, give a lil’ poke around here:

I had planned to kick-off this much anticipated milestone by creating some wonderfully, empowering and thought provoking masterpiece for the working mother who is too overwhelmed and exhausted to think about getting out of bed to go to work, yet alone think about actively engaging and moving forward with her career. But something has been nagging at me to talk about working fathers instead.

I’m not going to lie…this is a bit perplexing to me given that the past year or two I’ve been all, “Rah-rah! C’mon, my fellow working mamas! Let’s create equality at home…like, REALLY create equality at home. Let’s free ourselves once and for all from this pesky social norm that makes everyone - including ourselves - think that we should be the ones to own household & family management.” I had to really dig in to this one and let my mind percolate over why…WHY on THIS DAY is my brain churning with thoughts about working dads?

Could it be that the #GettingTo5050 movement’s focus on the benefit for everyone of a more gender-balanced world ignited the thoughts? Or that the seeds planted by SEO-induced Google results about the benefits of actively engaged fathers, men choosing to opt-out of the workforce to focus on their family and daddy shaming were starting to grow? No…no. It is simply that I feel bad for working dads.

Yup, that’s right. I said it. I who am championing the need for a shift at home to a more equitable division of labor in order to free up women’s energy and motivation… I FEEL BAD for working dads. And, quite frankly, I feel all the better for admitting it.

You see, most working women are very well aware of how, um, different a career climb is for women vs men. And, as working mothers, many of us are very well aware of the preconceived notions that colleagues, managers, and leaders have of us. When we take our full maternity leave, nobody baulks. We are mothers, after all, and are expected to take that time off…no matter how short that time is and regardless of whether or not we get paid. In fact, if we don’t take that time, some people think of us as bad mothers (a la Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer). If we request that a meeting be rescheduled because it conflicts with a parent-teacher conference, it makes sense…because we are mothers and mothers are expected to put their children above all else, right?

The very social norms that we, as women, are trying to change are the ones that allow us to prioritize family over work without other people…society…from questioning why we are doing so. After all, we are women and mothers and, according to social norms, we are suppose to put home and family first. But working fathers…

…working fathers - who, by the way, are participating in household and child care activities a whole helluva lot more than in the past - really have it hard. In the same way women wanted to expand their role in to the workforce and be accepted as equals, men are now looking to expand their role in to home and family. And while many workplaces have policies in place to support this (e.g. flexible work arrangements, parental leave) it is primarily women who make use of these policies to juggle career and family demands because…

…there is still a great stigma attached to men who prioritize family over work. Social norms dictate that it is not a masculine role to do so. And thus, working fathers are more likely to feel that it is not “ok” to makes use of their organization’s full parental leave or request a change to a meeting time to accommodate a family need. They may feel judged or that there will be consequences or that their masculinity will be questioned. And, sadly, in many cases these things do happen. As women, and especially as working mothers, we know all too well what it feels like to have social norms thrust upon us, to be judged or for their to be consequences. We know what it’s like for our femininity to be questioned when we put just as much value on our career as we put on our family.

So today, on 50/50 day, how about we make a pledge? Let’s make a pledge to champion the working fathers who want to see social norms change for men, too. Let’s applaud the working fathers who say “no" to a scheduled meeting so that he can participate in a parent-teacher conference. Let’s cheer for the working fathers who shamelessly take full parental leave to be with their partner and child during this critical time. And, let’s support them - as they have supported us - in changing social norms and moving towards a more gender-balanced world.


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