Why Gender Equity is Important to Everyone

Jann FreedLeading, Learning, Living Leave a Comment

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to hear Anne-Marie Slaughter speak in Des Moines at the IWLC Conference.  She is the author of Unfinished Business:  Women Men Work Family which followed her article in the Atlantic “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” (July/August 2012).  This is the most popular article ever published in the magazine.

After reading her article, a group of women from my women’s executive group formed a taskforce to see how we could move the needle and help more women move into leadership roles.  We met once a month for three years and created the EPIC Challenge.  Slaughter’s research was one of the foundational pieces of our research.  One of our drivers was how to create equal opportunities for men and women at work and at home.  We concluded this requires organizations to be more flexible and to move away from assumptions and stereotypes.

In her presentation, Slaughter said a couple of times:  “If family comes first, work does not have to come second–it all comes together.”  She explained how her thinking continues to evolve on this topic and has changed in the last four years since she wrote her book.  To summarize her thought provoking remarks:

  • Make all policies gender neutral.  Have parental and family leave–not maternal or paternal leave.  Change the way we think and talk.
  • Work on your own sexism.  Ban “working mother” from vocabulary.  Talk about working parents.  Working caregivers.  Use the term “lead parent” or the parent taking the lead in that situation.
  • Change how we manage.  Millennials expect to work anywhere, anytime, and any how.  Focus on results–not facetime.  It is not about time spent at work, but performance.  Focus on work that needs to be done and hold people accountable.
  • Government needs to invest in the infrastructure of Care.  Making workplaces more flexible is an economic, equality, equity, and security issue.
  • Change how your hire.  Don’t fall to ageism.  She mentioned “returnships” to help people get the skills they need to be marketable in these uncertain times.

Slaughter continued to coach us using herself as an example of how she had to change her thinking.  She said, “I mentored college students for years and reminded the women to think about how they would combine work and family.  But I admit I did not ask the male students the same thing.  Why not?  I have changed and now I do when I have the chance.”

She said husbands don’t “help” at home.  We need to change our perception of what a strong, attractive man looks like.  Strong men need to challenge the norms and push back on gender roles.  According to Slaughter, “We say we value caregivers, but as a society we don’t. Many men want more balance in their lives too.”

My husband was a great teammate.  Since I worked out of town, he was the one who picked up the kids from school if someone was ill.  He was the one who had to return home and get the notebook or book if one of them forgot it.  And I am guilty in the past of referring to him as a “babysitter” so I could go to my book club or calling Mr. Mom as a compliment.  But as a result, he has a close relationship with our adult sons that some fathers may not have.  He was also fortunate to have a job where he had flexibility to be the lead parent since I was working out of town.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to pick Anne-Marie up at the airport the night before her presentation.  It was a thrill for me since her work has been so instrumental for the work of our taskforce.  One story I shared with her was about a college course I took in the 70s titled “Women’s Liberation.”  To this day, I remember a research paper I wrote titled “Women’s Liberation = Human Liberation.”  The premise was if you free women from gender roles and expectations, you free men.  Why should men feel pressure to be the primary breadwinner and support everyone else.  She responded, “That is basically what I am going to be talking about tomorrow.”  Needless to say, I felt as if we were soul mates on a similar journey.

We have made progress, but we still have a long way to go. 

If you are still working and either raising children, caring for elderly parents, or doing both–you know the importance of valuing caregivers.  It is important work and ultimately will have an impact on how we are remembered–our legacy.

Review the list of bullet points above. 

Are there some changes that you can make within your sphere of influence at work and at home that could make a positive difference in your life and in the lives of others?  

Start making the changes now.  There is never a better time than NOW!

If you learned something from reading this content, please share it with friends, family, as well as business associates.  Thanks in advance for “passing it forward.”