There are many men I have spoken to who harbour a secret. They wish they could spend less of their time physically in the office and be more involved at home. Whether that is triggered when they become fathers for the first time, or when their marriage is under strain, it could be a need to care for their parent or partner who is aging or ill, perhaps study or sport – whatever the reason, and there are many, they don’t actually take that step and ask for the flexibility they need.
We keep hearing that men get ahead because they are more assertive than women and don’t hold back from asking for pay rises, promotions, plumb project assignments, so how can it be that in this arena they are so fearful?
It isn’t comfortable for us to admit, but this fear is based on an overt and very real discrimination against men, underpinned by a strong social expectation about the role of a ‘proper male’. It’s ok to put your hand up to advance your career, that is what is expected of you. But put your hand up for flexibility and men suffer a fate worse than the infamous mummy track.
Corporate men know that as appealing as flexibility is, it equates to certain ‘career suicide’. Their peers and their leaders deem them to be no longer serious about their careers. They are passed over for development, opportunities, promotions and pay rises. Sound familiar? It should. It’s exactly the same discrimination but the shoe is on the other foot. The exception it seems is divorce. Once a man has to concede that on certain days of the week he has no other option but to pick up kids for example everyone understands and clears the way, noting what a dedicated father he is….it’s a high price society pays for this exception to the familiar norms.
Many women I know smirk at this problem and say, about time. It’s not only spiteful, but short sighted. It compounds the issues surrounding the gender pay gap. The reason women need to take more interest in this issue has nothing to do with the high moral ground, it has to do with rational economics – which brings me back to the title. We will never achieve gender equality for women, until we also achieve gender equality for men and society has been looking at this issue from through a narrow lens.
Until we address the reality of men working flexibly currently being the end of their corporate progression, couples and families will make rational economic decisions, something like this: “We both need to work, but one of us needs to work flexibly (for whatever reason). I can’t risk asking for it, but you can…” You can see where this is going. It will almost always be the female in the pair that takes time off, leaves early, arrives late, is called by hospitals and schools when help is needed. This is a major factor limiting the equality of pay and the seniority of women in the corporate world.
So let’s put a stake in the ground, everyone is juggling something, young or old, male or female. We don’t need to know what it is, we need to manage outcomes not time in the office, we need to build the skill in our leaders and managers to create high trust, high performance teams to effect real change for anyone.