Gender Equality: Gaining Ground and Giving Way

Changing mindsets is paramount

My Family Care asks: With Gender Equality always a subject of interest, it is usually women who are in the spotlight. However with changes to Paternity leave and women climbing the corporate ladder, how is the role of a father in the workplace changing? What differences are you noticing as the balance of traditional roles changes? And how can both men and women learn to adapt to these changes?

Gender Equality is always a subject of interest. And usually it's women who are in the spotlight. But with changes to paternity leave and more women climbing the corporate ladder, the role of men in the workplace - and in society - is increasingly the focus. As the balance of traditional roles changes, both men and women have to learn to adapt.

What are both men and women willing to give up?

I watched a great movie the other night - Date Night, starring Steve Carell and the brilliant Tina Fey as a professional couple trying to rediscover the magic in their marriage. (It's much funnier than it sounds, honestly...). Carell's character - faced with a wife who feels she's overwhelmed with work, parenting and housecare - turns to her at one point and asks her to put more trust in him and allow him to participate more in their homelife.

That highlighted for me a huge unanswered question in the gender debate: what are both men and women willing to give up?

If more women are to make it onto boards, more men will have to stay out of them. More men may find themselves having greater roles within the home. And just as some boards will need to adapt to female members, women will need to make space for their partners at home.


For some, this is easier said than done. How many times have you heard someone lamenting that it's easier to "do it myself" than ask a partner, as they'll no doubt do it wrong? (Often those same people will miss out on promotions at work because they can't delegate in any walk of life. But that's another story.)

Perhaps the reality is that their partner might just do the chore differently to them or at a different time. And maybe they're really saying that they don't want to relinquish their role as the primary carer, even though it's killing them to get everything done.

Even though our working identities are creaking under the strain of being the star worker, we still want to be the one at the school assembly. We want to be baking cakes in a pristine home... that these days can only be paid for by having two incomes. We don't want anything to give - so no wonder we feel pressurised.

Balance between mom and employee

Example: I couldn't be at my daughter's school open day as I was launching a new training programme at work. Luckily, her dad works flexibly. He was delighted to go. So why did I feel like such a terrible mother, and that I was letting my daughter down? Why did I think it was more important for me to be there than her father?

I had allowed myself to fall into the trap of outdated gender stereotypes. I love my family life. I'm lucky enough to love my job. I have a partner who has a flexible schedule - and doesn't, like some men still do, feel threatened by taking on roles traditionally assigned to women. That means I can enjoy both work and home life. So I shouldn't punish myself with gender expectations that are no longer helpful.

Splitting the workloads

Many women at the senior level who have children also have partners who either do not work or whose work schedules offer more flexibility than their own. (The FT's Lucy Kellaway wrote a brilliant column on this a couple of years ago.) Yes, more workplaces are offering flexible working options. But you can bet that the majority of flexible workers are women. So we need to make it culturally acceptable for men to see flexible working as realistic options for them too.

It's time to change the focus from what we're giving up to what we're gaining. As well as organisations implementing measures to ensure that women can make it to the top, they also need to create an environment that enables men to have meaningful roles in the home. Both men and women, as individuals, need to relinquish the space that was historically theirs to help make that happen.

Jenny Barrow, Head of Diversity & CSR, mother of a bossy toddler