October 31, 2014

Man Up on Family and Workplace Issues: A Response to Anne-Marie Slaughter

By: Kunal Modi

A response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in TheAtlantic entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

For weeks, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent op-ed in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” has ricocheted across traditional and social media. It touched a nerve among the Facebook generation’s twenty-something set, just days before Sheryl Sandberg became the iconic Gen Y company’s first female board member. The resonance of Slaughter’s article rests in an uncomfortable truth underpinning the progress our society has made towards gender equality and work-family balance: We’re not there yet.

While a range of responses have been written, an imbalance persists. Even though Slaughter notes that more men are joining the debate, the subsequent dialogue is still happening primarily among women.

However, the issues Slaughter raises are not merely women’s issues, they are American family and workplace issues. Although most American men either rely on the partnership of a working woman or were raised by a single mother, our office parks and corporate organizational charts still resemble the Mad Men era.

Men, just as equally as women, must take ownership of these family issues, which are core to American economic competitiveness. So men, listen up, here’s five things you ought to do:

  • Learn the facts. Women earn 57 percent of undergraduate degrees and account for nearly 60 percent of all graduate school enrollment. However, in the disciplines that continue to define America’s economic future — engineering, computer science, mathematics, and physical sciences — women earn less than half of all degrees. Women comprise only 17 percent of Congress, 16 percent of Corporate C-suites, and are underrepresented (or misrepresented; put the eye-opening documentary Miss Representation on your ‘to-watch’ list) in media and popular culture.

In a study of men and women in professions most likely to run for political office, it was found that women take sole responsibility for household tasks 43 percent of the time, compared to 7 percent of men. Moreover, women take primary responsibility for childcare in 60 percent of cases, compared to only 6 percent for men. At best, men help share the load; at worst, women are left to do it all themselves. If you think we’re living in a post-gendered world, you’re sorely mistaken.

  • Do your job… at home. According to a recent White House report, “Employed wives spent about 40 minutes more time [per day] than their male counterparts doing household activities such as cooking, housework, and household management.” Despite 57 percent of all married-couple families relying on dual incomes, women still disproportionately bear the burden of domestic responsibilities and child-rearing, a phenomenon the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild famously coined the “second shift.”

Raising children and running a household are not “women’s’ roles,” and treating them as such is counterproductive to your own family’s economic well-being. While you may take out the trash and mow the lawn at night or coach your child’s Little League game on the weekend, those are not the activities that can stunt career progress. On the average workday, 87 percent of women performed household chores compared to 65 percent of men. However, on those same average workdays, employed husbands typically found 30 more minutes for sports and leisure time.

Men must increasingly take ownership over the morning school carpool, the mid-day doctor appointment visits, parent-teacher conferences, meal preparation and waiting for the cable guy. Working women don’t clock out as “Mom” between 9 am and 5 pm and you cannot expect to clock out as “Dad” either.

  • Do your job… at work. Despite earning a majority of undergraduate and graduate degrees, women hold only 16 percent of Fortune 500 corporate officer positions and board seats, according to the latest Catalyst Census. So what’s going on?

According to a Columbia University study, the United States is — shockingly — one of only four nations, along with Papua New Guinea, Liberia, and Swaziland, not to guarantee paid time off for new mothers. As a result, an increasing number of families have delayed pregnancy, with nearly a quarter of women giving birth for the first time in their thirties, compared to just 4 percent in 1970. While certain states and companies have proactively provided paid benefits in lieu of federal policy failures, many families still face the difficult choice of raising a family or building a career. Within their own companies, men should advocate for paid parental family leave — that both de-stigmatizes paternal leave and ensures family economic stability.

A recent McKinsey & Company study reported that internal research at Hewlett Packard found that women only applied to open positions if they felt they met 100 percent of the criteria, compared to only 60 percent for men. Separately, a study at Lloyds TSB found that women tend not to ask for raises, despite being 8 percent more likely to meet or exceed performance expectations. This is particularly troubling given a recent Harvard Business Review survey which found that “women are rated higher in 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership.”

For the sake of American corporate performance and shareholder returns, men must play an active role in ensuring that the most talented young workers (often women, as stated above) are being encouraged to advocate for their career advancement.

In the 21st century economy, talent is king, and companies cannot afford to lose the next Sheryl Sandberg to archaic organizational charts and male-centric policies. Flexible work arrangements and high-quality, on-site child care should become staples of corporate work structures to attract and retain millennial workers.

  • Get involved at the ballot box. While we engage in major national debates regarding issues, such as healthcare reform or economic recovery, 83 percent of our Congressional representatives, 88 percent of our state governors, and 92 percent of the mayors of our 100 largest cities are men. According to a recent American University School of Public Affairs study, the United States ranks an appalling 90th in terms of female representation in our national legislature.

Since our representatives craft policy ranging from employment support structures and child care benefits to health care and trade agreements, we do ourselves a disservice to largely exclude the perspectives of women — often reported to be stronger across many governing dimensions, including constituent responsiveness and consensus-building.

Furthermore, the American University study found that women — across all demographic groups and political party affiliations — are 16 percent less likely than men to even consider running for public office. Moreover, the study reports that women are less likely to receive encouragement to run from colleagues, spouses, family members, party officials, and political activists.

Men must play a role in encouraging talented, capable women to run for public office with the understanding that having more women in our political process leads to better, more representative solutions in our democracy.

  • Be aware. The structures of our corporations, the pressures of our domestic lives, and the representatives in our government affect men and women alike. Capitalism works because talent, whatever the demographics, is propelled to achieve its full potential. Democracy works because a government that truly represents its people promotes greater equality, security, and prosperity. For the prosperity of our economy and the vitality of our democracy, we each must do our part to ensure that the organizational structures of our institutions reflect the demographic realities of our times.

So men, let’s get involved now — and not in a patronizing manner that marginalizes this as some altruistic act on behalf of our mothers, wives, and daughters — but on behalf of ourselves, our companies, and the future of our country.

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post. Kunal Modi is pursuing a Master in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and a Master of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He currently serves as Co-President of the HBS Student Association. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net

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