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The Long Tail of Gender Inequity

Posted by Amy Wilson on May 4, 2010

Quick answer: it’s childcare.

But I’m not talking about sticking childcare facilities in companies to ease the cost and hassle burden.  Though that would be nice and helpful – it still wouldn’t solve the problem.  The problem is bigger than that.  Even if we put state of the art facilities in every company, women would still be at a disadvantage.  When the child is sick and must be taken home, who is responsible?  When the facility shuts down for repairs, who is responsible for finding back up?  When the facility closes early on Wednesdays, who must find a suitable alternative?  Meanwhile, day care lasts for just a couple of years.  Soon, the child will be in school and someone will need to figure out what to do with them after 2pm or during school holidays.

If we all agree that having and growing children is necessary for our future existence – and I’m pretty sure we do – then we will need some portion of the population figuring this stuff out.  Did I mention it’s a lot of work?  It’s also a major strain on an individual’s ability to meet the demands of their job.

The burden of this work falls, in most cases, on women.  The result is often frustration at a critical point in a woman’s career trajectory – just promoted to manager, recently developed highly sought-after expertise, on the track to executive.  Instead of pushing to the next level, women often leave the workforce or take a less demanding role; it often starts as a short-term thing, but the reality is that the childcare burden lasts much longer than we like to think.  Last week, the Harvard Business Review highlighted that we have made very little progress in moving women into leadership positions – and those that have an executive title are disproportionately childless.

And so, we are losing a large segment of our top talent at a critical juncture in our pipeline.  We have narrowed down the problem to a particular demographic.  We have considered workarounds like onsite childcare.  We also have a potential solution that works with societal norms and realities – career lattices and mass career customization.

I still think we’re missing the point. We need to make it OK for men to take responsibility.  Change the expectations, the social norms.  Broaden the conversation to women and men.  Make it a workforce concern, not a women’s concern.

I speak from experience.  I believe stay-at-home dads will change the world.  Take a stand.  Change the world.


photo credit: eastbayexpress.com

4 Responses to “The Long Tail of Gender Inequity”

  1. Wow, is that what you get to eat for dinner if the dad stays home? Nice! I’m in.

  2. Meg Bear said

    I’m in too! Where do we find these?

  3. Amy Wilson said

    Oh yes, the stay-at-home dads are a special breed … particularly when they get hooked on cooking shows 🙂

  4. Travis said

    Greetings from the other side: I speak to you as a stay-home dad.

    I see at least 2 significant barriers to dads staying at home. 1) cost of living and expectations about lifestyle; and 2) the ego of the professional male. Both are vexing.

    For #1, this is something that we all can work on. For our family, the matter of lifestyle came into focus one day when I realized that my children could not afford me at my billing rate – they could not afford a dad (or a mom). And apparently I intended for that math to determine their entire childhood experience, and to define the culture of our family. It prompted some deeper questions about ENOUGH. How much is really enough? Do our kids really need to be driven in a Lexus SUV or will a Honda suffice? A beach trip to Hawaii or here in California? Kids sharing a bedroom, or a new house with plenty of rooms and a respectable mancave? So far we’ve figured this part out, but it’s a question that will continually arise, especially as we revisit plans to save for college and retirement.

    As for the ego of the professional male, I say: Good luck with that. This feels like pioneering work to me. It’s my hope that by the time the next generation enters the work force parenting will not seem so exotic to men.

    PS – Daddy blog is forthcoming.

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