Jack Koban, a geologist and engineering project manager, is working from home during the pandemic shutdown while his wife, Ashley Saucier, works long hours as a paediatric emergency physician. In a recent call with Jack, he reflected, "I don't remember the last time I've cooked three meals a day and done the dishes for three straight weeks. It's been nice being home, having more family time, and being more involved with the kids. We've definitely achieved a new work-life balance."
Not everyone is seeing a silver lining in the shutdown, though. Families are struggling with unemployment, keeping small businesses afloat and having to work to survive in the absence of paid sick leave. What's more, many individuals are now discovering what it's like to spend so much of their time managing work, child care and a household.
For most women, this is nothing new. Despite the fact that women outnumber men in the paid workforce, women still do more of the domestic work and child care — almost twice as much as their male partners. Even with expanded use of telework and flexible work arrangements by many businesses, working from home isn't necessarily easier when parents are juggling job responsibilities, full-time child care and supervision of children's education.
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Because 44 per cent of all US households with children are comprised of married dual-earner full-time working couples, and because 1.57 billion children are currently out of school globally and most noncritical workers are now teleworking from home, a seismic shift in the traditional division of household responsibilities is likely. It is not a stretch to expect that men are doing more housework and child care during the pandemic — an enlightening experience for many.
Although many men have experienced traditional role reversals for short stints, most have never worked from home for an extended period while leaning in as primary caregiver for children. Nowhere is this more evident than among men who are partnered with women who are essential health care professionals, currently required to work even longer hours outside the home.
Real alliance and gender partnership demands that men do their fair share of household chores, child care, transportation for children's activities, the emotional labor of planning and tracking activities and supporting their partner's career. When men genuinely enact equal partnership at home, it accelerates gender equality at work in three ways.
First, women with equal partners at home are more successful at work. When people are less concerned with the impact of their job on family responsibilities and able to focus and commit more fully to their work, it's no surprise that they're more productive and able to take advantage of growth and advancement opportunities.
Second, fathers who are equal domestic partners role model equity for their children, shaping expectations of our future workforce.
Finally, men who equally share unpaid work at home aren't afraid to ask for and talk about why they need flexibility in their work schedule. When women alone request and use flexible work arrangements, paid sick leave, and parental leave, the perception that these programs exist solely for women creates a stigma that deters men from using them.
This pandemic has created a golden opportunity for men, as allies, to purposefully leverage their newfound domestic partnership chops. Men can start with considering how to intentionally lean in to being a better ally to their partner at home. Here are some recommendations to jump-start better male alliances at home today:
Do you fair share of chores and child care
There is no time like the present to check in with your partner and ask for a domestic performance audit to assess how you're doing. And when she tells you that you need to do more, don't get defensive; figure out how to be better.
Take on the emotional labour of tracking, planning and organising family needs, activities and special occasions
The mental lists that women are more likely to maintain for their family are another form of unpaid work — cognitive labor. Grocery lists, holidays, birthdays, children's school requirements, children's clothing, medicines, pets' needs — the list is seemingly endless. Men need to do their fair share of this labour.
Be purposeful in prioritising work and family responsibilities
To help you prioritise, use "ruthless compartmentalisation" in setting boundaries between work and family and adhere to them. As you set goals for work, do the same at home.
Support your partner's career without reservation
This may mean putting your own career on hold, reducing current work responsibilities or changing your work hours so she can have the time she needs to not just do her work but explore opportunities for professional growth. We find some couples creatively striking a balance by designating paid work (telework) days and nonpaid work (kids and chores) days for each parent. This establishes a clear and shared priority for child care and household duties.
Deliberately role model your alliance for your children
Depending on the age of your children, openly communicate family and career goals. Life is messy, so show your kids how to disagree, listen and respect others' perspectives. Be transparent with your children in how and why decisions are made through compromise and balance. Your positive attitude toward child care and household responsibilities will send an enduring message of commitment and alliance to your children and your partner.
Be authentic and transparent about your current work-family situation
This includes transparently managing your daily schedule and availability so that you can prioritise family responsibilities. Most people now realize that when you're working from home with children, pets, and others in a shared space, it's futile to try to create an image of peace and serenity. Accept and normalise it for yourself, your family and your co-workers. Authenticity makes you more effective in all your roles.
Leverage your partnership at home to build connection and community at work
We've all learned that it's not only OK to talk about family and domestic challenges right now, but it's actually quite powerful and meaningful in building relationships, emotional connection and a caring community.
The current crisis is presenting new experiences for everyone at home and work — especially men. The silver lining for men may be the ability to engage in gender equality and partnership in a way that we have not seen before. The benefits of equal partnership at home may be the catalyst to finally create a workplace that is equal for women.
Written by: David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson
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