I've written a lot about women and work. I've spoken at length about the gender wage gap. I consider myself one of those people who is attempting to "have it all". I do feel that women have a tough time making a balance between work, family and even squeezing in some time for themselves, and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. I think it's time to take some of that pressure off. We think men can have it all, and we aspire to that, but I don't think they actually do have it all.
Without question, women are still considered to be the primary caregivers for both children and elders, and that is not only an actual burden that we bear, but a perceived one, as well. It is that perception that often contributes to an achievement gap at work, and the effect of the extra duties at home often leads to women making choices at work that mean fewer promotions, raises and opportunities. To be sure, parity in this area would be a tremendous step forward. What we need to realize, however, is that men are more with us in this struggle than we may realize. Those same perceptions that place women in the caregiver role put men out of it.
The other night I was watching TV and saw a commercial that portrayed a single dad teaching his daughter how to shave her legs. It seems like a small thing, but commercials like these can be important culture changers. The more often than men can be shown as caregivers without being stigmatized for it, the more likely that men will feel comfortable making those choices for themselves. More importantly, male leaders in business will be more likely to see parenting as something that both men and women share. Some of those perceptions that hold women back in the corporate world can start to be dismantled when softness and caring are not just seen as female qualities.
To be sure, there are plenty of men out there who want to be soft when the situation calls for it, but often there is a pressure for them to be hard, just as women face pressure to be soft. Men must be assertive, while women mustn't be bossy. Men must be sharks, while women must go with the flow. It is critical for both men and women to be together in this fight, to ensure that they both feel comfortable expressing who they truly are. It helps both sides win in the end.
My challenge to everyone is to engage each other in conversations about what we really want at work and at home. Be willing to be frank about what we experience, and what we'd like to experience. We can't keep silent and hope things improve. We have to be able to have courageous conversations.