Work-Life Balance: what’s the role of men?

The rise of women in the workplace has given greater consideration to work-life balance and the focus on families. Women, as working mothers, face a unique set of challenges here. What is often forgotten is the role of men and where they can fit in. We’re discussing choice and who dictates it, the parameters that come with that are important in defining success, without noting the role of everyone we can’t expect to get the best result.

family portrait 3 l Work-Life Balance: what's the role of men?
Shutter Daddy / Family Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

Women are typically primary-parents, facing career-breaks and being the full-time carer while also managing employment and common struggles for many. Accessing flexibility and choice at work is essential for families, beyond its practicality it gives parents the right to be there for their children while still giving their best at work.

While there has been research conducted in America by Citi where most women responded noting that they’re managing the work-life balance quite fine, we all know anecdotally that this is different. We don’t have to look too far to hear from mums at schools or in our workplaces who find it a struggle have successful careers and home lives. When I discussed this with some mums I found that merely getting through a day was success enough, when traditional notions of success mean going above and beyond. Mothers are setting boundaries on what they consider achievable.

For flexibility to be a part of businesses and companies, it typically lies with the people in positions of power or influence: their choice and beliefs dictate on what can be achieved. With more British women starting their own businesses and thinking about entrepreneurship they will have the choice to manage when they work around their other needs, but for women in existing companies the dilemma is different. Female entrepreneurs have grown in number and prominence since the 2003 National Strategy for Women’s Enterprise, with more than 700,000 women leading businesses. That’s 700,000 women who can command their own flexibility.

It takes two to overcome discrimination

The choice of motherhood isn’t a privilege, businesses need to recognise this. The expectation on women to forfeit their careers when they have children still exists, and we need to see men call this out for what it is: discrimination. A healthy respect for mothers in the workplace is essential, this often comes with having discussions that outline the issues faced by mothers and families in the workplace. Issues of discrimination can be overcome by giving a human face and story.

Women need to ask the men in their lives, including colleagues, to call out the subliminal and soft-comments that create situations where women are written off and families can’t succeed. There’s no place in our workplaces for sexism or belittling.

On the other hand, the role of second-parents, typically men, needs to be acknowledged. Men face significant pressure to perform as the primary family earner. The cost of raising a child has risen by 58% since 2003 to £222,458, as noted in research by LV=. When we include women’s career breaks, not just time off but also a limited amount of promotion when they return, the situation becomes more concerning because of the growing pressure on parents to provide for their children’s education and health expenses – a role which new fathers are stressing about.

Having a healthy and open discussion in our workplaces about the role of men to both facilitate and step-up to the plate and allow women to succeed at work will give us more options when it comes to workplace flexibility. We all have a role to play, we just need to make that more accessible.

We can start to make work-life balance a more active and relevant discussion if we all have it, irrespective of where we are in our careers or whether we’re the primary parent or earner for families.

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