I first wrote a post in 2012 asking are children a corporate inconvenience? I have updated it at intervals ever since. In 2023, I am still asking the same question.
Men and women are reporting negative fallout when they wish to assume ongoing responsibility for parenting and childcare. My thoughts were further compounded after reading that women of child-bearing age are considered to be employment risks. In many geographies lack of adequate childcare facilities or the cost of childcare, is driving mainly women out of the labour market.
The phrase “maternal wall” has entered our lexicons. We read about the Motherhood Tax which is the cost women incur for career success. But even in doing this we are assigning childcare responsibility and the cost of that care to women. That in itself is part of the problem. The couple surely bear the cost of parenting unless the woman is a single parent. Why don’t we call it the “Parenting Tax”
Change of mindset
Given the global problem of declining populations, ageing work forces and skill shortages it’s clear that a mind set shift is required. But for the future of global economies, it does strike me, that governments and businesses need to examine possibilities to create effective workforces with greater urgency. They need to factor in that children should also be raised in healthy environments, physically and emotionally.
Historically, this role has been assigned to women, but it is only necessary for a very short period of time, for self-evident, biological reasons. As such a high percentage of educated and qualified personnel are now women and it seems crazy to sit back and allow their skills to be under utilised. They either leave the workforce or choose to work below their capabilities so that they can raise and nurture their families.
But today in changing times, what happens when men and women alike want (or need) both professional and child-care responsibilities? Instead many couples are delaying starting families or women are deciding not to have children at all. It is too hard and expensive, especially if women are well educated and have too much to sacrifice.
To me it seems nothing short of a confused mess.
In 1977 only 50% of married men were part of dual-income households, which has increased today to roughly 75%. To achieve work life balance/integration, whatever you want to call it, women in the 21st century are being constantly urged to re-negotiate the responsibility for household tasks within their own relationships as they are still doing most of the work at home. This situation was worsened by the pandemic and possobly accounts for the reason that Italy is ranked 63 in 2022 in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report. Italian women are doing most of the housework.
But for balance at home to become a reality, men have to then negotiate their own roles with their employers. An increasing number of men are now citing work/life balance as a major factor in career choice, an element which is strongly endorsed by Gen Y and now Gen Z starting out on their careers. Children have two parents even if they don’t live together.
Fatherhood has been perceived by potential employers as a guarantee of corporate drive and career commitment. On a longer term basis, a wish for workplace flexibility for family reasons is considered to be the “mummy track” to career suicide. Men are frequently advised not to pursue those options, even becoming “supernumerary” following such requests. Single parent fathers with custody obligations and sole responsibility for their children at specific times, are also on the increase, adding to the numbers for whom flexibility is a need, not a desire.
So if men want to achieve parity in the home and be active parents, like their women colleagues they risk falling behind in the workplace. It is not always about a case of stereotypical macho slothfulness and a desire to watch the World Cup with a beer. It may not even be the maternal gatekeeping of their partners who are unwilling to relinquish domestic supremacy, although both can play a part.
This is about outdated business models and both social corporate cultures which mitigate against all.
Michael Ray, Aussie Top Voice for Gender Equity is vocal about what he calls the Parental Value Gap and is seeing the “constant mischaracterisation of fathers as uninterested, unable, or the tired, outdated offensive media gender stereotype of the “buffoon”, “man child” or “lazy dad” tropes removed any imperative for workplace, organisational or societal initiatives to call out and address the problems?”
Women were told that they could have it all, and that was a lie. Men were told that there was only one role for them, and that was a travesty.
New approach to parenting
Sweden became the first country to replace maternity leave with parental leave. A study published by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation in March 2010 showed, , that a mother’s future earnings increases on average 7% for every month the father takes leave. It also indicates penalties and loss of benefits imposed for men who don’t take this leave. Parents may use their 390 days of paid leave however they want up to the child’s eighth birthday — monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly. There has apparently been a commensurate reduction in the divorce rate.
The fact is that despite all the economic and social factors which would suggest we urgently need flexibility of mindset, today companies still make children a corporte inconvenience.
What do you think?
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Note: updated in 2016, 2019, 2022 and 2023