Last week I wrote that I suspected many men don’t actually want workplace flexibility because the status quo, where women carry the unfair burden of family life, happens to suit them.
Cue the backlash.
Didn’t I know that if men asked for workplace flexibility they would be penalised? Do I realise that paid paternity leave is the equivalent to the minimum wage and many men can’t afford to take it?
To which my answer is yes and yes.
I agree that our current workplace culture, in general, does not support men to prioritise family life. I also agree that paid paternity leave is grossly inadequate.
But my question to all those people outraged and offended by my article is: What are you doing about it?
If men really want a more flexible workplace so they can spend more time caring for their children and taking responsibility for unpaid domestic work, then they need to fight for it. Just as women have been fighting for similar workplace rights for decades.
Women have fought for — and won — far more difficult workplace battles than men’s fight for workplace flexibility. We had to fight for our right to be let through the door of many industries and not be automatically sacked when we got married. And let’s remember that most of the decision makers in workplaces are men. Most men are far closer to the centres of power than women have ever been.
Of course there are some men who are already balancing work with family life, but to the men who aren’t there yet, or feel they can’t do it despite genuinely wanting to fight for a better work/family balance, then there is much to be learned from the millions of feminist activists who have come before us.
1. Use what you already have
When my husband asked our doctor for a medical certificate so he could take carer’s leave to care for our sick daughter, the doctor was visibly surprised. He glanced over at me and then back to my husband, as if to say: “What do you need a certificate for, when you’ve got a wife?”
Even when both parents are working, it’s still often assumed that the woman will use her leave to care for the children. The mothers I know are constantly rearranging their rosters, meetings, and catching up on work at home so they can attend concerts and school award ceremonies. Dads? Not so much.
Women do not have an extra “mother duty” leave allowance that is denied to men. We just use the leave we have and maximise our existing workplace flexibility options. When more men start doing the same it will be seen as normal to do so.
2. Make workplace flexibility a recruitment issue
Companies know family-friendly policies are important to women, so they develop these policies and use them as extra juicy carrots to attract and retain the best female talent.
If high performing male employees also have workplace flexibility as a criterion for joining and staying at organisations, companies will provide it. Companies put a lot of time and effort into recruiting the best people they can. The reason workplace flexibility is not used as a drawcard for men the way it is for women is because companies have assumed men don’t value it. Show them that you do.
3. Make it an election issue
Family-friendly work policies are so important to women voters that Tony Abbot made paid maternity leave his flagship election issue. Imagine that: a conservative politician, whose statements on women often came straight from the 1950s, campaigning for paid maternity leave. But he did it anyway in the hopes that women would be impressed.
Other political parties also spruik mother-friendly policies to attract the votes of women.
If politicians and their advisors thought workplace flexibility for dads would sway male voters the way workplace flexibility for mums sways female voters then it would become an election issue faster than you could say “tax break”.
If men want greater workplace flexibility, they need to let political parties know it’s important. Write letters to your local members and ministers. Raise it at the grassroots branch level. Write opinion pieces and letters to the editor. Publish books about it.
And, all other things being equal, reward the political party that prioritises workplace flexibility for men with your vote.
4. Fight for it collectively
I’d be hard-pressed to think of a single women-in-business event I’ve attended where workplace flexibility has not been a hot topic. Women talk about it all the time. We share our stories, strategies and best-practice for fighting for a better deal at work. We discuss it with our mentors, write about it in our newsletters and share articles on social media.
How often is workplace flexibility for men discussed at corporate events that don’t have a female focus? How many times has it been on the agenda at corporate strategy workshops or business planning sessions? You need to get it on the agenda. And not just once, and not as the last item of business. You need to talk about it as a priority, over and over, in every forum possible.
5. Support other men
Men tell me that they can’t use family friendly policies because they would look weak. Their co-workers — other men in particular — would question their commitment to the job. This macho culture needs to be broken from within; one man at a time, until a new normal is created.
Don’t laugh along the next time a man is called “pussy-whipped” for leaving early so he can see his daughter’s school play.
When a male colleague takes a day off to care for his sick child, support him. Hopefully he will support you back.
As any woman who has ever fought for workplace change knows, resistance is inevitable. But the reason women have chalked up so many workplace victories over the decades is because we keep fighting, in spite of the backlash.