Yes, it is true that women struggle with work-life blend more than our male counterparts. Women are certainly more likely to voice those concerns to peers and ultimately to tender resignation because they aren’t able to find it the right balance. However, according to the Mercer When Women Thrive Research Report, “Men in the workforce increasingly value the same things that women do – flexible work structures, extended leave to care for their families, innovative work/ life experiences, challenging opportunities, and options for joining and leaving the workforce at different points in their life cycles. Greater gender equity in the workplace can improve equity in the household and afford opportunities to both men and women*.”
It’s firmly my belief that (most) men in the world are not trying to prevent women from ascending but that they often don’t know what to do or what role that they can play in making a more female-friendly, family-friendly work environment for all.
So to all of those thoughtful male colleagues, fathers of daughters and guys managing direct report teams of both men and women, here are some easy recommendations on what you can do TODAY to make work-life blend more attainable for yourself and for all of those men and women who work around you.
- Utilize Available Programs. Research shows that “leave and flexibility programs can help or hurt gender diversity. The impact of these programs on gender diversity depends on who uses them and how well those who take advantage of them are managed. If taking advantage of a leave program, for example, is frowned upon or is acceptable only for women and not for men, its existence will tend to undermine the attraction, advancement, and retention of women.*” Recently, I was having a chat with an expectant father as he shared that his company offered 4 weeks of paid paternity leave. To my surprise, even though he knew the program was available he planned on only taking a few days off work depending on when his new baby was born. What did he say when I pushed him on the why? He said that he wasn’t the one that was giving birth, that he didn’t think he would be that much help with a newborn baby and that he might even be in the way of his wife, the baby and his mother-in-law.
PRO TIP FOR MEN: Take the time off. Whether you are helping with the baby, mowing the lawn or playing golf. Even if you aren’t on full-time baby duty, you can make a difference by showing your direct reports, colleagues and family that work-life blend is important.
Oh—and by the way, when a man takes 4 weeks of leave, his partner’s salary increases by 7%. If you can’t find any other reason to do it, do it for the money*!
2. Be More Transparent. Men are just as likely to want to leave the office early on occasion for a family dinner, football game or college visit as their female counterparts. Is this how you are most likely to handle that situation: Finish up emails, grab your coat and turn off the light in your office?
PRO TIP FOR MEN: Tell someone. Your transparency shows those around you (both men and women) that prioritizing family is encouraged. Next time you’re on the way out, be a little more transparent with those around you. Try saying “Headed out early today to take my wife to dinner.” Your honesty will show that you that you lead by example.
3. Invite Conversation. Men often acknowledge that they are unsure about what is both legal and appropriate to ask related to an individual’s personal life or work-life blend. Is asking “How’s your work-life balance?” once per year enough? Are you satisfied with a one word answer? Or are you avoiding the conversation?
PRO TIP FOR MEN: Change the question from “How is your work-life blend?” to “Tell me about your work-life blend.” If you’re a real pro and ready to go next level then ask this, “What would you like to change about your work-life blend?” While the changes that you may be able to make could be minimal, you’re opening yourself to future conversation, building relationships and recognizing recurring themes.
4. Acknowledge Differences. Women are known to self-impose ceilings. That means that if I have achieved a comfortable work-life blend in my current role and with my current leader that I might not pursue additional challenges or advancement opportunities because of my FEAR about how those changes might effect my work-life blend.
PRO TIP FOR MEN: If qualified women are not inviting themselves into conversation, seeking new challenges, or applying for new positions then commit to finding out why. Your goal is to build the best, highest performing organization that is possible and understanding that the perceived barriers are different for men and women will allow you access to more diverse talent.
5. Understand the Financial Impacts. Diverse teams outperform their all-male teams consistently. Understanding that a concerted effort can help increase gender diversity and work-life blend for all people can improve business results. In fact, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to show returns higher than their industry mean. (HBJ2016 -Why Diverse Teams are Smarter)
Work-life blend, agile workplace initiatives and gender diverse teams are goals that many men and women share. Recognizing opportunities to improve, committing to education (less than 30% of organizations offer any leadership training or support on how to help teams navigate in and out of leave) and inviting challenging conversations are the next steps for all of us.
MomSource Network offers an enterprise called Balance Benefits that offers work-life mentors, leader training and leave planning programs on behalf of progressive organizations who are committed to constant improvement.
*All research cited is from the 2016 Global When Women Thrive Report.