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How Men Can Help Advance the Position of Women in the Workplace Through Leaves

By Tyler Wray

February 2021

It’s no secret that women have struggled for gender equality in the workplace for decades and despite substantial progress in recent years, researchers estimate that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic may have set that progress back several decades. Economists estimate that in 2020, the wage gap has been widening toward where it was nearly 20 years ago. Women are leaving the workforce at four times the rate of men, and men are twice as likely to say that working from home has benefitted their career. The gap has largely been tied to women stepping away from their careers to start families, or to pass on or be overlooked for promotions due to the stigma that caring for children means they are unable to also deliver as an employee. To think this is just an issue for women is a mistake. The equality gap impacts families and creates undue burden on men who look to take an active role in some of these familial events, including taking time away from work. If we are to change the status quo, it will require an active and involved effort from male colleagues and leaders. Researchers have found that historically men tend to show up as allies by vocally supporting and acknowledging gender inequality, but fail to  effectively take action to reinforce their beliefs. The good news is there are a few actionable steps that our fellow male colleagues and leaders can take action on to support women and overall gender equality in the workplace.

Proclaim their own family priorities: Involved parents often face conflicts between their work and personal lives and may choose to take time away from work to be involved in the lives of their families. Rather than quietly leaving the office early or coming up with a an excuse for leaving work early, men should embrace their decisions to prioritize family responsibilities over their work. Normalizing the conversation that you are missing work to take care of a sick child or leaving early to go to your daughter’s soccer game starts to weave in transparency and inclusivity of the nuclear family responsibility. Boldly embracing your commitment to family can help reduce the stigma for other parents in the company, and women, who often feel a distinct societal pressure as caregivers that can interfere with work.

Be transparent about family responsibilities: Share  familial duties with  coworkers and take the time necessary to fulfill those obligations. A Care.com survey, found that 51% of working dads occasionally hide their parenting responsibilities because they fear their colleagues won’t understand their decision. For example, this can take the form by men not taking the full parental leave that is offered (something men historically do not take full advantage of) or failing to request flextime arrangements to support a partner’s career and household duties. By publicly embracing these benefits, men can help to destigmatize the utilization of these benefits and the domestic work than tends to be linked with a “motherhood penalty” for women trying to build their careers and families simultaneously.

Dedicate time for mentorship: Whether your company has a formal mentorship program or not, set regular time aside to check in with the women you mentor. This is also a great opportunity to develop new mentoring relationships with women whose mentors may have recently left the workspace or have not developed any mentoring relationships yet. Ideally, these conversations should be used to create open channels of communication, experiences, validate the challenges and concerns faced by professional women, open doors that otherwise may be inaccessible, and most importantly to listen.

Champion flexible work and inclusive benefits: Men hold roughly 75% of C-suite jobs and are the key to lending strong support to initiatives like paid parental leave, creative remote work arrangements, and childcare support. These benefits can be hugely beneficial to employees across the company, but especially young mothers who may not have as much representation among senior leadership to
advocate for their needs. Encouraging and modeling the utilization of these benefits by other senior, male employees can further destigmatize the benefits for the rest of the organization.

Advocate for specific attraction and retention efforts for women: Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic to date and have left the workforce at alarming rates. When men in recruiting positions find themselves able to hire and replenish their depleted staff, there must be specific attention paid to attracting qualified women. In particular, the women who were laid off due to cost saving measures enforced by COVID-19 should be given the opportunity to resume their old jobs or new positions within the company. Further, men in recruiting have a responsibility to revisit their benefits packages and ensure that they are inclusive across
genders and appealing to attracting and retaining professional women.

To take a closer look at actually applying some of these tips, Tim Allen, CEO of Care.Com, shared some of his own personal experiences after becoming a parent in an article with the Harvard Business Review. After becoming a father to twins, Tim describes his inability to fully step away from his role as CEO of IAC, continually hopping on calls, answering emails and looking at spreadsheets before eventually returning to work before his leave was up. This is not an uncommon finding, according to the U.S. Department of labor, about 70% of men tend to return to work after about 10 days and frequently cite unsupportive leadership as why. Tim recognized that by working on leave and not taking the full leave package he was failing to be a supportive spouse, an involved parent and a business leader representing the best interests of his people. Although the benefits may be in place, there can be a disconnect between the written policies and the company culture of utilizing them.

Since recognizing his initial failure, Tim has taken an active role as a leader in destigmatizing the use of family benefits and encouraged other leaders in his company to do the same. Now Tim makes sure to emphasize that he is a father first and expects others to do the same. For Tim, that meant reminding a colleague who was supposed to be on vacation to stop joining Zoom calls and spend time with his family instead. It also means being vulnerable, honest, and empathetic about life as a parent. Generally, Tim has worked to set a new standard as a leader that it is ok to prioritize your family and that you will not be punished for utilizing the family benefits that the company has in place. I personally hope that other male leaders around the world can make use of these tips and Tim’s experience to have an impact on their companies.

In order for the gender equality and income disparities to halt in their separation and trend forward, it will take joint effort of both men and women. It is up to organizations to take a look at benefits and culture to identify areas of opportunity as their workforce remains virtual or shifts back to the office. Ultimately by male colleagues and leaders destigmatizing how we utilize our most precious asset, time, will pave the way for greater strides in normalizing and equalizing genders in the workplace. 

 

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