Tuesday, August 26, is the Congressionally designated day to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 giving women the right to vote and to take stock of women’s progress in gaining full equality. While women have in fact made many strides since the 1920s, making up nearly half the work force, closing the gender wage gap, and gaining more seats of power in today’s companies, there is, in President Obama’s words, “more work to do.”
Women have been waging campaigns, voting, and otherwise fighting for equal footing in the economy. But it may be time for men to step up and join them in some key ways.
Help around the house: Today’s fathers have taken on much more of the domestic burden than the fathers of past eras. They do more than twice the housework and nearly triple the amount of child care that they did in the 1960s. Even so, the work still falls mostly to women. On a typical day, about half of women will do housework while just about 20 percent of men will do the same. And women spend more time doing it: the average woman spends 2.6 hours on household activities and an hour providing physical care to children while a man will spend 2.1 hours and 26 minutes, respectively, on these things. When it comes to caring for elderly parents, daughters do nearly all of the work while sons do as little as possible.
This ends up pushing women out of work in a way that doesn’t happen for men. About four in ten mothers say they have had to reduce their work hours or take a significant amount of time off at some point to care for a child or family member, while just about a quarter of men say they’ve had to do the same. Caring for parents also pushes women out of the workforce while it has no impact on men. Little wonder that half of working mothers say it’s made it harder for them to advance in their careers, while only 16 percent of fathers feel the same. It’s time for men to step it up at home so women can step it up at work.
Take paternity leave: Men need to change their ways in the workplace as well. Mothers are seen as less competent and committed to their jobs and they make less than childless women, while fathers make more than men without children. Part of this penalty is because women are pushed out of work by their caregiving duties, but even when they stick to it they are seen as riskier because they are expected to take maternity leave if they have children or take a day off to care for their kids when they get sick. Employers don’t necessarily expect male employees to take paternity leave.
If men start taking leave, however, that dynamic changes. If one man takes paternity leave, his male coworkers are 11 percent more likely to take leave themselves when they have children, and the impact is even more pronounced when managers take leave. That can change employers’ views of who will be likely to take time off. To be fair to men, paid paternity leave is relatively rare. The United States doesn’t guarantee it, unlike 70 other countries, so just 14 percent of American fathers get leave. And when they are offered it, many take as much time as they are given. Yet there are plenty of dads taking no time off and very few taking three weeks or more.
Commit to diverse hiring: As more women climb the ranks to reach the top, some have hoped that will mean they’ll pave the way for even more women to rise. But that doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case, and that may be because women and people of color get penalized for hiring diverse candidates, while white men get rewarded. Women also experience a backlash at work when they behave assertively, including asking for promotions or raises. This may be part of why women still make up less than 15 percent of executive officer positions at the largest American companies and haven’t made progress in four years.
So men need to take on the project of increasing workplace diversity, particularly at the top. As Avivah Wittenberg-Cox writes in her ebook Seven Steps to Leading a Gender- Balanced Business, “The single most predictive element of the success of a gender initiative is leadership. In companies that successfully rebalance, the issue of gender balance is strongly and visibly led by the CEO.” Given that women are just 5 percent of Fortune 1000 CEOs, that’s going to come down a man more often than not.
Wittenberg-Cox writes of one example of how potent this can be: the top French law firm TAJ is evenly split between genders at all position levels. That’s because head Gianmarco Monsellato “was involved in every promotion discussion… He personally ensured that the best assignments were evenly awarded between men and women. He tracked promotions and compensation to ensure parity. If there was a gap, he asked why. … When clients objected, he personally called them up and asked them to give the lawyer three months to prove herself.”
Pay female workers equally: The average woman who works full-time, year-round makes 77 percent of what an average man makes, a number that hasn’t moved much over the past decade. Some of that gap can be explained by the jobs women end up in and the fact that they are more likely to go part time or drop out to care for children. But not all of it — women make less than men in virtually every job and at every education level. Some of the gap, then, is very likely due to discrimination. Given that men are so much more likely to be at the top of an organization, making decisions about salaries, they can stop allocating twice as much money for men as for women in a negotiation and generally pay closer attention to pay scales to make sure both genders are getting paid fairly.