I'm told by my more bookworm-y friends that throughout your lifetime, there may be a handful of books that you read that can truly change your life. These are the ones that seem like, as you turn each page, you can guess what the author is going to say next. Each sentence and paragraph seems like it was written precisely for you - or that you were even the one that wrote the book yourself.
The book warrants aggressive head nodding and 'uh hunh's as you scroll through the pages. All the thoughts and opinions you have felt building inside of you are suddenly written out in clear and precise prose for your review. Periodically, you exclaim "Yes! This is what I'm trying to say!" in response to the author's most poignant thoughts.
Over the past few weeks, I think I've found my life-changer: it's called Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Anne Marie Slaughter, and I couldn't agree with her more.
You may recognize Ms. Slaughter's name from her The Atlantic article entitled Why Women Still Can't Have It All. In it, she talks about leaving her prestigious post as Director of Policy Planning for the State Department under Hillary Clinton to return home to her husband and care for her two children (and return to her tenured professor position). She talks about the trade-offs and conscious decisions she had to make. And in her conclusion, the thought of 'having it all' just wasn't a reality given her situation.
This article has been the single most read article in The Atlantic's history, with millions of views. Also, it served as the launching off point for Slaughter to write her book, Unfinished Business.
Slaughter's book is loaded with fantastic evidence-based and opinion-based thoughts on creating a more gender-equal society, for both women and men. Really the only way to get the full picture is to read the book yourself. However, here, I've chosen one thought that really stuck with me - what if gender equality in the workplace isn't a gender issue at all?
As a (white) male that spouts opinions on gender issues, I've always been sensitive to that hard line between being a feminist (where I want to be) and a men's rights activist (definitely where I don't want to be). It can be a tricky limbo at times, both trying to bring a male perspective to gender issues but also not falling into the trap of blind privilege, self-centeredness, and woman-blaming. But when I read Slaughter's take on gender equality in the workplace, suddenly I felt extremely liberated and informed to start speaking out about what I thought men's role could be in this discussion.
So what does she say? In short, we have a care issue, not a gender issue. As a society we have placed less value on the role of caregiving, and in the workplace we penalize people who want to be caregivers. The interesting part here is that this isn't innately a gender problem. The underlying issue is caregiver vs. breadwinner, not necessarily woman vs. man. However the result of this issue is that it disproportionately affects women over men, because women still take more caregiver roles than men do.
We can debate why society places less value on caregiving. The prevailing thought is that it is valued less because it is traditionally women's work, and therefore seen as less valuable. That could very well be true. But that's only half the problem.
The Global Chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young wrote a wonderfully fantastic article on LinkedIn for International Women's Day called How men can do their part on International Women's Day? (don't hire EY anytime soon to audit your grammar and punctuation, apparently). In it, he hits the nail on the head. His first point for men is: 'Take advantage of parental leave and flexible work arrangements'.
I believe this is the crux of the problem (and links back nicely to our first Mate Modern post on the benefits of the 'Daddy Track'): why don't men value caregiving as much as breadwinning? It's like some blind spot in our genetic make up where we choose to define ourselves based on our job title and paycheck instead of dirty diapers and a clean kitchen.
I think the problem is not that - as a society - we don't value caregiving as much. I think that, quite specifically, we - as men - do not value our own role as caregivers, and place much less importance on this aspect of our lives.
There are many aspects to this problem, many of which we discussed in the previous Daddy Track post. One area that's been on my mind lately though comes back to Slaughter's book. Here's a somewhat controversially titled article from TIME magazine that's a direct excerpt from Unfinished Business: Women are sexist too (probably not the title I would have chosen). In it, Slaughter talks about the double standard placed on men in the home versus women in the workplace. We assume a man is lost in the home - and treat him somewhat like a second class citizen when it comes to house work. We would never dream of doing this to a woman in the workplace. We don't assume men are better than women at business or science or labour. We should not assume women are better than men at caregiving, regardless of our genetic and biological differences.
So what's the solution here? I think campaigns like #GoSponsorHer which my workplace is actively supporting are fantastic ways to get more women into the upper ranks. But again, we're solving half the problem. How do we get these same men to show their male colleagues that it's okay, even a benefit to both families and the workplace, to have more career-driven men take time out for caregiving?
We need to break the stereotype that a man's role is in the office. This requires our leading men to set the example and show how much caregiving means to them. On top of this, we need to have strong and enabled women support - and mentor - their men to take on caregiving roles.
We live in a society that wants to raise girls into leading women in the workplace. When will we show our boys (and girls as well) that a caregiver role is just as valuable as any C-suite position?