On April 8, 2019, my colleagues and I at Deloitte launched a report, called The design of everyday men, that we’ve been working on for the better part of three years. The report sheds light on men’s relationships with work, family, and masculinity in a world where gender roles are changing. The goal is to bring a new additive and complementary perspective to the gender equality conversation that rethinks how we get more women in senior levels of organizations. We didn’t want incremental change—we wanted to change the game entirely.
I encourage you to read the report in full to get the complete picture, but here I wanted to talk about how this report came to be. This was a very personal journey for me, one that began just before the launch of Mate Modern over two years ago and has now culminated in this report on how men can show up differently to help women, organizations, and men themselves succeed.
I remember it was a cold and dark night. Erin and I were walking in the west end of Toronto towards a friend’s house. We had babies on the mind. We had both been incredibly lucky and privileged to find careers that were fulfilling and relatively stable, get married, and buy a house. The next logical step: start a family.
As we were chatting back and forth on the sidewalk, the topic of parenthood came up. I knew Erin wanted to get the best of both worlds: a fulfilling career and a strong presence as a caregiver to our future children, as any new parent would want for themselves. What did that really mean for me though as the future father? What kind of roles would I have to play to make that a reality for her?
We were talking about how fatherhood is perceived today. I had mentioned some “daddy blogs” that I had visited, where a somewhat cheeky character blogs about typical dad life: dressing the kids in matching outfits, getting dirty in the backyard on weekends, dealing with lack of sleep and defiant eaters. It always seemed like this game; this sort of tragic figure going against the grain and being the “anti-masculine” jokester that sat outside the realm of real manhood.
I told Erin I didn’t really identify with these blogs. They made fatherhood seem like something different entirely than what I was used to working in the ivory towers in downtown Toronto, surrounded by navy suits and perfect haircuts. Wasn’t that what I was supposed to aspire to instead as man? Fancy clothes, nice car, outsourced caregiving to a wife or nanny?
The two worlds, that of daddy blog and that of Professional Dad, didn’t seem to have an overlap. You chose one or the other: the emasculated cheeky jokester or the ruthless and powerful business titan. Those were the role models I saw in the world, one was all-in on family at the expense of a traditional male role, and one was all-in on breadwinning at the expense of family relationships.
As Erin and I talked, we realized neither one of us wanted to choose between these worlds. We each wanted a little bit of both. We wanted to feel traditionally successful in the working world, with a job that was demanding, satisfying, and rewarding. But we also longed for closeness to our children and each other, with meaningful time and space to foster deep relationships and in my case, an opportunity to finally learn how to care for others and manage the household equally, which Erin had typically shouldered the brunt of to date.
In this moment on that cold and dark street in west Toronto, Mate Modern was born. We realized there was a different version of fatherhood specifically that hadn’t been told yet. It’s a version that women have been living for decades, where they strive to balance their drive for traditional caregiver role along with an equal or lead breadwinner role in their family unit. They are not tragic jokesters nor ruthless titans, they are equal parts both of these figures and do so with strength, elegance, perseverance, empathy, and leadership all rolled into one.
I knew that for Erin to play this role, that I also must play a similar role as well. This was what I wanted Mate Modern to be. A place where a new version of men can come to read, learn, and discuss issues that impact how we build balanced, meaningful lives, specifically ones modeled around the core tenants of feminism that respects, appreciates, and holds up women, and also enables all genders to find the roles and balance that makes sense for them. By default, Mate Modern would be critical of the traditional man boxes that have held men in place for so many generations, while also holding other genders in their place. Mate Modern is meant to be a conversation on how maleness is evolving and will evolve for this new breed of feminist men that want something different for themselves and for others.
As such, Mate Modern was born in January 2017. In parallel though, I knew more work needed to be done to truly understand what was happening with men today. Why weren’t more men asking for this kind of change? Or maybe they already were but no one had asked them? Or maybe, they don’t even realize there’s an alternative?
I remember meeting with a senior HR executive to talk about parental leave. I was ready for this conversation. I went on one of those rabbit hole, blackout-then-realize-10-hours-has-passed-type deep dives into World Economic Forum and OECD data the weekend before. I wanted to know if men taking more and longer paternity leave actually led to better outcomes for women. After scraping tons of data, putting it all into an Excel file, and then running regressions, I had my answer: definitively, yes, men taking more time off for paternity leave is correlated with a smaller wage gap, more women employed full time, and a more equal Gender Gap Index (I wrote the article on this here). Women win when men take leave.
My goal with this HR executive was to argue for more equal leave allowances between men and women. In this particular organization, the maternity leave policy provided almost three times as much full-pay leave than the paternity leave policy. This was true in the Canadian operation, however a month or so earlier, the US operation has just passed four months of full pay leave for any gender, for any caregiver reason (birth / adoption of a child, caring for a sick relative, etc.). Also, in the US under this policy, birth mothers were given additional disability leave to recover from the biological demands of childbirth, in correlation with their recovery time. I thought this US model was far superior to the Canadian model as it treats all gender identities equally when compensating people for playing the caregiver role, separate from the biological impacts of giving birth to a child.
I made an impassioned plea that parental leave policies that provide different leave amounts based on gender perpetuate the expectation that caregiving is a women’s job, which takes women out of the workforce, places increased demands on their time and mental load, and rewards men for foregoing their caregiver role to focus even harder on earning money as a breadwinner.
I remember the senior HR executive staring at me directly in the eyes. She said blankly: “do you really think that men need more benefits?” She then followed this up by telling me that I was the only man coming to her and asking for more paternity leave. In her organization, men almost universally either skipped paternity leave or simply took the even shorter “vacation” version that the organization offered where they could take 2-3 weeks off full pay without having to apply for government EI.
I knew I was sunk. Here I was, a young idealistic cisgender straight white man, for whom the entire world has been tilted in favour of, sitting in front of a seasoned female executive that has fought for decades to dismantle the male-dominated workforce and level the playing field for women and minorities, trying to play the “woe is me” card because men couldn’t access parental leave the same way women could.
I was frustrated, but I understood. I needed to start somewhere else. So, I started making coffee chats with as many male leaders as I could. My main question was: what role do they play as fathers and how do they balance their careers and families? I wanted to understand why I seemed to be the only person that realized that if we as men just accepted and embraced our caregiver role a little more, we could make a world of difference.
In the end, I chatted with over two dozen male leaders, and some female ones as well. I was struck though by the responses. Almost all the people I talked to, who were peak-career breadwinners in a traditional sense, became huge champions of the cause. They didn’t tell me, “hey, get your head out of the clouds and focus on your career to be a great dad!” They said the opposite actually. The lauded a commitment to family. They talked of their own sacrifices as fathers. They even lamented some of those sacrifices to put career ahead of family. Some even wished they could have played more of a caregiver role when their kids were born, but as they told me, taking paternity leave just “wasn’t a thing” when they had kids 10-20 years ago.
In fact, one senior male leader even nominated me to speak in front of all the Partners across Canada at Deloitte to share my story of a new kind of fatherhood, one of involvement and balance, so that my wife would have all the chances to succeed that I would and I could live a more full and meaningful life.
After this experience with these male leaders, I knew there was opportunity. There was an untapped groundswell of interest for men to be different. Not just the kind of different that feminism has traditionally demanded of men, to be allies, sponsors, mentors, and champions of women’s empowerment; this is the minimum bar of behaviour that all people should aspire to. The real ‘different’ that I was hearing from men was something deeper, more foundational. It wasn’t enough to just ally with women. Instead, it demanded a whole new perspective on manhood. A new version that included equal parts of traditionally feminine identities, mixed in with traditionally masculine identities, and shaken up to produce a version of manhood that supports and complements everything that women are already trying to achieve for themselves.
From these conversations and reflections, The design of everyday men report concept was born. I knew there was opportunity here to do something big. I put together a proposal for a research report where we went deeper on these sentiments, one that would follow Doblin’s human-centered design approach where we interviewed men from all sorts of backgrounds in the corporate world and observed them in the workplace to understand why they show up the way they do.
I shopped this proposal around, and then met the lynchpin person that could make this a reality: Carolyn Lawrence, Deloitte’s Inclusion Leader. The two of us teamed up to take it to the next level. She lined up the right leadership support and waved the flag across Deloitte to make this real based on her decades of experience fighting for gender equality. I brought together a team of Dobliners, Minnar Xie and Hailey Kuckein, to do the research and design right. Together, our team performed the research, analyzed the results, and authored the perspective that tells the story of men in the workplace today, while being guided and championed by Deloitte and Doblin leaders Jodi Baker Calamai, Alex Morris, Pat Daley, and Ken Fredeen.
In the end, we had a report that achieved our desired goal: changing the game on how we approach gender equality in senior levels of organizations. Our approach was to focus on behaviours and how those behaviours lead to who succeeds in organizations, specifically from the perspective of men for whom the status quo has benefited so much. In short, men are stuck in their breadwinner roles even as default gender roles change and men desire to take on new outside of work responsibilities that have been proven to disproportionately impact women’s success in the workplace.
The reason for men feeling stuck? Workplace culture. We work in an always on, always available corporate environment where dedication to the job above all else is the best way to succeed, more so than skill or competence. For men, who prioritize status as a core part of their identity, succeeding in the workplace is incredibly important to maintain their adherence to masculinity. Therefore, in a world where always on, always available is the expectation for success, men are more likely to sacrifice their outside of work commitments, which disadvantages women who pick up the slack.
These findings, for me, answered some key questions that had been on my mind. I always wondered why men didn’t ask for more involvement in caregiving or household management. Of course, there is a spectrum: some men don’t want to be caregivers, some do but don’t know how or default to their spouses instead, and some really want to but can’t make it work with their workplace responsibilities. What I did find though is that the default assumption that men don’t want to take on more responsibilities outside of work because they are more than comfortable focusing on workplace success instead is decidedly false. Sure, some men want this, but I will say that both in our formal interviews and my many coffee chats, weekend debates, and dinner table conversations, I believe that most men prioritize career out of duty or responsibility, not because it’s easier or more desirable.
The implication here is that it’s not enough to simply tell men to take on more outside of work responsibilities to help women succeed at work. The solution is far more nuanced and deeply ingrained in our culture. Men choose breadwinning over caregiving because it’s “what they’re supposed to do” as a good person. Pulling back on the always on, always available expectation at work to prioritize outside of work responsibilities fundamentally makes men feel like lesser men.
So we have two options: change the expectations at work to create more space for people to prioritize outside of work responsibilities and their whole selves, or change the expectations of masculinity to include more non-traditional roles that women have typically embodied. I think we can do both.
Reams of research show that overworking without scheduled or predictable time off leads to poorer business outcomes related to productivity, errors, employee turnover, and health insurance costs. In other words, predictable and scheduled time off improves business results. For any business leader, eschewing the always on, always available expectation should be a business priority to maximize performance. And the benefit is that women, who shoulder the most outside of work responsibilities, will succeed more in this environment. Men will also get to enjoy their outside of work selves more. Organizations win too because a more inclusive workforce leads to better financial performance and innovation.
Pharmacists are a great use case of how women win when work is structured. Historically, pharmacies were sole proprietorships that were run by individual business owners. This meant both serving patients and running a business in a more always on, always available environment. However, over time pharmacies have been acquired by large corporations (think Shoppers Drug Mart or Rexall). As such, pharmacy as a profession has become more family friendly where pharmacists can better balance their outside of work responsibilities. The reason for this is that pharmacist work has become more scheduled and predictable, where you show up for your shift, then go home, and don’t have to worry as much about extraneous concerns. As a result, the gender pay gap for pharmacists has moved from 66% in 1970 to 92% in 2010. Harvard gender wage gap economist Claudia Goldin authored the report that uncovered these findings and called pharmacy “probably the most egalitarian of all professions in the United States today.”
For our second option to change the confines of masculinity, I believe men are ready. A recent survey on millennial men showed that those who were the happiest were the ones who most equally shared their outside of work responsibilities like caregiving, household management, and supporting their spouse. I compare this to the anecdotes I heard from senior men about the sacrifices they made to prioritize breadwinning above spending time with family throughout their lives. More than once I heard a story of a man who generated great wealth in his career, only to find when he retired that he had alienated his children and divorced his spouse. He was working to provide a better life for his family, but when all was said and done, he had no family left to provide for.
Here, I think men need to take ownership over a new form of manhood. We by default need to first be good people, not disadvantaging other genders or minorities through violence, sexual control, or discrimination. Again, this isn’t about being a good man, this is about being a good person in this world. But, this won’t be enough. It won’t be enough for other genders, and it won’t be enough for us as men.
We need to strive for more. We need to strive to prioritize empathetic, vulnerable, and meaningful relationships with our families and the people most important to us. We need to strive to prioritize taking a primary role in fostering a safe, healthy, and productive home environment for our family to grow and succeed in this world. We need to strive to put others’ needs ahead of ours so they can equally achieve their own dreams.
I believe that women are our role models in many instances. They live longer, they commit less crime, they’re less violent, they don’t kill themselves as often (or kill others as often), and as the feminist movement has shown, they support and champion each other in the face of extreme evil and suppression. Why wouldn’t we as men want to aspire to some of those qualities?
The time is now for men to ask for something different and fight for it. That’s the only way we’re going to start to meaningfully push gender equality for the benefit of everyone.
As we’ve been socializing The design of everyday men report with senior male leaders, there’s been an interesting reaction we’ve seen. There’s this moment in each conversation, where the senior man becomes a little more quiet and leans back a little bit from the discussion. We can tell the wheels are turning in his head. More often than not, the next comment out of the man’s mouth is something we hoped would happen: it’s a personal story about how these findings have impacted his life as well.
And I think this is what makes The design of everyday men report unique. It’s not a report that the status quo male leadership can treat as “someone else’s issue”. It doesn’t focus on women or transgender people, who rightly have been the key voice in gender equality to date and should continue to have a primary focus. It doesn’t focus specifically on minorities, who also should continue to be a primary focus in any inclusion conversation. Instead, it focuses squarely on men, who are the status quo leaders in many organizations. As a result, it’s personal for many men. It can’t be treated at arm’s length; it needs to be digested and reflected upon to make sense of the findings and understand how men are uniquely affected by workplace culture and contribute to gender inequality.
In many ways, The design of everyday men is spurring a separate conversation to that of the plight of other genders. It’s not meant in any stretch of the imagination to diminish the perspective of women or transgender people, instead it’s meant to personalize how men interpret and react to gender inequality. It’s a conversation that men can have with other men in a way that’s vulnerable and empathetic. It’s also a conversation that all genders can have together which complements the experiences of women and transgender people without reducing the primary focus they should have in any gender equality discussion.
And that’s the real purpose of this report: make gender inequality for status quo privileged men something personal and impactful. Show men how gender inequality limits their lives as well. Make them want to fight for something different just as much as women have fought and fought and fought. Bring all genders together towards wanting to build something more inclusive, participatory, and positive.
And with that, the movement has just begun.