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Equality Starts At Home

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In mid December, I started writing a blog about inequality in the workplace focusing on the accounting industry. The research I compiled and the thinking I did on the subject knocked my confidence. As a soon to be middle aged white man should I be involved in this conversation?

Am I part of the problem?

Silent Barrier of Gender Stereotypes

In today’s evolving workplace, inequality persists as a silent yet formidable barrier. A crucial but often overlooked factor contributing to this inequality is the influence of gender stereotypes, deeply rooted both at home and in the workplace.

In many modern households, the echoes of traditional gender roles continue to influence daily life, often perpetuating a cycle of inequality.

The values, morales and principles instilled at home permeate through us and into the workplace. How can we change inequality in the workplace without first addressing it in the home.

Historical Context of Gender Roles

From the early days of industrial society, gender roles have been sharply defined – men as breadwinners and women as homemakers. Although these roles have evolved, it still influences modern workplace attitudes, subtly dictating expectations and perceived capabilities.

It was commonplace for men to be educated and therefore provided the better opportunities and careers leaving women to make do at home. This led to men being perceived as the upper echelon of society holding roles as doctors, accountants, and bankers. With wealth generation becoming the customary barometer of which a person’s contribution to the household was measured.

Home Stereotypes and Workplace Perceptions

Stereotypes at home often translate into workplace biases. Women, traditionally seen as primary caregivers, subtly nudging them towards domestic responsibilities and may be unfairly viewed as less committed to their careers. Men are often portrayed as providers, leading to an expectation of focusing on work outside the home.

From a young age, individuals are exposed to cultural narratives that define ‘appropriate’ behaviours and roles based on gender. This narrative has long-term implications for the distribution of household and workplace tasks.

Impact on Men and Women

Men often face societal pressure to adhere to traditional notions of masculinity, which can discourage participation in domestic roles or certainly the admission that they do. This pressure can lead to a lack of engagement in household tasks. Conversely, women frequently juggle career ambitions with a disproportionate share of domestic work, leading to challenges like career limitations and burnout.

The Modern Family Dynamics

These traditional roles continue to influence family dynamics. Studies show a significant imbalance in the division of household chores and childcare, with women and girls typically assuming a larger share, even when both partners work full-time. This imbalance not only perpetuates gender stereotypes but also places undue stress and limitations on both parties.

My mum often worked two or three jobs at a time, dementia nursing homes, nightshifts, mentally and physically draining work and yet she still came home expected to be the domestic Goddess while my Stepdad went to the pub and slept on the sofa.

The Career Impact of Stereotypes

These stereotypes tangibly affect career trajectories. Women are underrepresented in leadership positions and often face a wage gap of up to 16%. Studies highlight that women hold only 25% of managerial roles globally. Similarly, men in traditionally ‘female’ professions might struggle with career advancement due to prevailing biases.

You can start to see the pattern and why equality must be ingrained in the home.

Psychological Impacts

The pressure to conform to these stereotypes can lead to psychological distress. Women might experience imposter syndrome, feeling they must overcompensate to be deemed competent. Men, on the other hand, may encounter stress when their career choices are at odds with traditional gender roles.

I love the fact that we have mixed football teams at youth level. The girls are often the best players on the pitch. I put that down to them working more than twice as hard as the boys to prove their place on that pitch. And boy do they do it – but should they have to?

A Contrarian Perspective

Some argue that gender disparities in certain sectors are a result of personal choice rather than systemic bias. While personal preferences play a role, it’s crucial to recognise how societal conditioning influences these ‘choices.’

A female friend of mine works in the construction industry in a Board level role. She is in the minority across any top construction company in the UK. The emotional and psychological torment endured is horrific to hear. Frustratingly individuals will flag this behaviour up as being wrong in private but not call it out in front of colleagues.

Why persist? To pave a way for others to follow. Someone must break the back of those views, opinions, and stereotypes but at what price? We need to alter our mindset fast.

Real World Positive Change

There are, however, emerging examples of families challenging these norms. In Sweden, for instance, parental leave policies encourage both parents to share childcare responsibilities more equally. Such examples highlight the benefits of challenging traditional roles, including stronger family bonds and a more balanced life for both partners. I wish the UK adopted such a policy rather than the 2 weeks Paternity Leave for fathers.

My first son was born with jaundice and spent the first week of his life in hospital. There was no paternity pay or parental leave back then. The visiting hours meant I could not get to the hospital before or after work and I was sitting my final exams, so all holidays had been used up. You do not get those times back. We have a strained relationship and I believe it stems from being vacant in his early life. I struggled to find a place for myself as Emma was chief ‘caregiver’ and I was relegated to primary ‘breadwinner’. It is something I bitterly regret.

Combatting Stereotypes: Strategies for Change

Families looking to break free from traditional gender roles can start with open communication about household responsibilities, creating a shared plan that values the contributions of all family members. Education and positive role models also play a crucial role in shaping the attitudes of future generations towards domestic responsibilities.

Lead by example – be the change you want to see. It starts with baby steps right at home.

“That’s a girl’s job, can’t Poppy do it” should begin and end at home and then we won’t see it in the workplace.

Here are a few things that we have put in place over the last few weeks to ensure a harmonious living environment.

  1. Collective responsibility – there are no gender specific roles we all muck in equally, chores and jobs are simply tasks no one individual is better suited than another.
  2. Fair allocation of tasks – don’t assign tasks, don’t allow unconscious bias to creep in, let people pick what jobs they would prefer to do, don’t make it about the level of difficulty or the amount of time spent, negotiate from there.
  3. Cross training – there will be times when you can’t complete your jobs and that is OK but we all need to know how to do those jobs so we can cover. We are a team. You will also appreciate others for doing the jobs you dislike.
  4. Open eyes open mind – be open with your communication and accept the fact you might hear some things you might not like – initially. Make sure everyone knows why their jobs are important. If you do ‘x’ I can do ‘Y’ which means, there is more time for us to play football together/go on holiday etc – purpose is key.
  5. Checklists are king – boys and men are inherently lazy in my opinion. If you want them to contribute, give them a list, no list no contribution. A list is a competition between you and the list and you and the household. We all want to win.
  6. Learn new skills – just because you can’t cook a roast from scratch doesn’t mean you can’t cook, and Emma should prepare every meal. How about starting the kids on lunches and breakfast prep? We introduced a slow cooker and an air fryer to get me more involved. Give me a cookbook and an easy way to make a meal and now we are talking.

The Future of Gender Roles in the Workplace

The future could see a shift as societal norms evolve. With the rise of remote work and an increased focus on individual well-being, traditional gender roles may become less relevant, paving the way for a more equitable workplace.

For example, working from home means I can run the hoover round while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, during lunch pop the slow cooker and genuinely be more present. It doesn’t all have to fall on the shoulders of one person. Running a household or a business is a team sport.

The way in which we interact is shifting. We want experiences not material things; we don’t want everything to be automated we want to be shown care and affection. We want authenticity and trust something that AI will not give us, but a stereotypical ‘caregiver’ has all these things wrapped up in abundance. This is where I see the playing field being levelled and those gender stereotypes holding women back becoming the new Superpower and creating an equal environment for all.

We might all be different, but we are equal.

Conclusion

Achieving gender equality in the home is a journey that benefits all involved, leading to healthier relationships and a more balanced society. It calls for a collective effort to challenge and redefine the traditional roles that have long dictated domestic life. By doing so, we can pave the way for a future where household responsibilities are shared equitably, and where everyone’s contributions are valued and respected.

By actively challenging these biases, we can then create a workplace that truly values and utilises the potential of every individual, regardless of gender.