Time for men to ‘woman up’! The #HeForSheAtHome challenge

by Patrick Ottley-O'Conner @ottleyoconnor   Father and Husband

 

The United Nations @HeForShe movement has reported that they are seeing the stereotypical gender roles of women at home become more apparent during lockdown and want to highlight positive male models with their new lockdown hashtag of #HeForSheAtHome. Globally women do more than men at home and @HeForShe are asking men to share photos to amplify support & show how you are being #HeForSheAtHome and amplify the aspiration for gender equality.

 

Although I agree with the aspiration, I felt a little uncomfortable simply sharing an image of me cooking and vacuuming at home, basking in the ‘likes’ and comments telling me how good I am for being #HeForShe. In recent years, I have become more comfortable having uncomfortable conversations with myself, understanding the systemic and societal issues which may have played out in my lucky career is eye opening and allows me to use this privilege to amplify those who do not have it. However, I also know that my #HeForShe allyship must not be self-defined, instead, the work and efforts must be recognized by those you are seeking to ally with.

Consequently, I asked the wonderful #WomenEd community how they think I should respond. As usual, I was not disappointed by the support and challenge that I received! Hannah Wilson, @Ethical_Leader and @WomenEd Co-founder offered support, shared some LeanIn articles exploring this, as well as providing a simple cartoon image to highlight the plight of women.

Inequality

 

Alison Kriel, @AlisonKrie,l raised some important questions:

'…it’s great that the world is waking up to the fact that most women do at least two jobs, one that’s paid and one that’s unpaid. I think it’s great to share positive images of men supporting in the home, and I’ve no doubt that it’ll be retweeted and celebrated widely. My question is, if #HeForShe is about amplifying the voice of women so that we can be heard, what can be done to celebrate women in the same way. If an image is shared of a man washing up (‘doing the right thing’ as you say), it will be ‘liked’ many times over. What can the movement do to get as many ‘likes’ for a woman doing exactly the same thing? …so how do we level the playing field? How do we highlight the disparity? How do we all become heroes for doing domestic chores?'

There is a danger that my words could sound patronising, or ‘Patrick-onising’ as Mel, my wife, likes to call it! It’s against this backdrop and advice given to me that I cautiously offer my opinion as a man who passionately believes in gender equality and genuine allyship as #HeForShe. That involves me continually investing my time in supporting others, holding myself accountable when mistakes are made, apologising and being prepared to rework my approach towards gender equality as needs change. I’m listening to women to ensure my words and actions are in sync with their message. Without this, words without actions can be detrimental and work against changing the culture.The COVID-19 pandemic has made us all reflect on life, priorities and what really matters. It’s affected all of us in some way. In addition to those who have contracted and suffered the consequences of Covid-19, many families are struggling with financial hardship, bereavement, domestic violence and mental health issues. In addition, many men are now discovering what it’s like to spend much of their time juggling work, childcare, and a household to manage! The work/household juggling challenge is nothing new for many women. Despite women being a significant proportion of the paid workforce, they still do disproportionately more than their fair share of unpaid household work and childcare.

The pandemic has closed schools and childcare providers, exacerbating the stresses and strains of home-schooling, child care and household tasks. Naomi Ward, @Naomi7444. told me that:

This theme is arising in my coaching, especially for the #MTPTproject. My observations are that when this happened and all cards were thrown into the air, is when they feel we defaulted into traditional gender roles. So, caring for the children, house work and teaching / on-line learning pile up into many more hours than usual. Work is interrupted so it takes longer. And there is the mental load of keeping everything going which traditionally falls to women. It's about communication, honesty, the vulnerability to ask for what we need. The pressure on relationships is real…I guess we all know that this is more complicated and messier than a social media campaign! If it starts a conversation, that's a good thing.'

The increase and ease of communication, for those with digital access, has enabled working flexibily from home during lockdown; but not necessarily made life easier when parents are juggling job responsibilities, full-time childcare, and supervision of children’s education…again, this juggling has left many women doing more than their fair share. With almost 1.6 billion children out of school globally, combined with non-keyworkers working from home, more men are in a position to do more housework and childcare during the pandemic.  What a great opportunity for men to dive into the daily routines of running a home and caring for their children.Men are increasingly taking shared paternity leave; however, most men have never worked from home for an extended period, as well as managing the housework and childcare.

The pandemic lockdown presents a perfect opportunity for more men to share more fully in-home duties for an extended period of time. This has the potential to start to turn the tide of gender inequality, both at home and work.

Men homeworking during the pandemic could grasp a greater appreciation of more traditional women’s experiences. They could develop a greater understanding of the value of flexible work arrangements. They could adapt to create a new gender balanced role model, to become more equitable gender role models for their own children. Hannah Wilson shared some of her MA research into flexible working:

'research shows that an organisation is more likely to agree flexible working arrangements if men are requesting these adjustments to their working patterns. I anticipate a surge in requests for flexible working to include part-time, job share and compressed hours as a result of the pandemic. The business case against flexible working in schools has imploded. Perhaps more men will consider fully leaning in to domestic responsibilities?'

#HeForSheAtHome needs men to do their fair share of household tasks, childcare, home learning, planning of activities, and supporting their partner’s career. A genuine equal partnership at home, will surely support gender equality at work as well. In short, I believe that women with equal partners at home have the potential to be more successful at work. If women are less concerned with the impact of their work role on family responsibilities, they should be able to focus more fully to their work and be able to take advantage of career development opportunities.

Mel and I try to role model gender equality for our 5 sons, shaping expectations for their futures. We have to believe that our sons, who have seen us role model equal partnership in our household duties, have a perspective of greater equality for women’s and men’s roles at home and work.

Although I found it difficult as a younger leader, I am now not afraid to ask for and talk about why I need flexibility in my work schedule, e.g. with my children’s/parents’ medical appointments. If it's only women who request and use flexible work arrangements, paid sick leave, and parental leave, it perpetuates the perception that this flexibility is just for women. In turn, this perpetuates a stigma that stops men from even asking for flexible working. If men do their fair share in creating equal partnerships at home, then we could begin to normalise flexible working for everyone.

My 10 tips for how men can help to bear the load of unpaid work and do their fair share as #HeForSheAtHome:

  1. Deliberately prioritise work and family responsibilities…and then stick to it, model being #HeForSheAtHome;
  2. Have a genuine conversation with your partner about household tasks and childcare. Don’t become defensive, but use it as an opportunity to do your fair share;
  3. Engage with the social family planning & organisation, e.g. organising birthday arrangements, holiday planning, shopping lists, medical appointments;
  4. Let go of your purely personal aspirations and make a concerted effort to support your partner’s career without reservation. Once you’ve done this build your own aspirations back up in genuine partnership, establishing a clear and shared priority for careers, childcare and household tasks;
  5. Model how to navigate the messiness of life, by openly communicating family and career goals. Life is messy, so show your kids how to disagree, respecting each other’s viewpoints. Let your children see how and why decisions are made through balance and compromise;
  6. Develop a positive attitude towards childcare and household responsibilities, to send an enduring message of commitment as #HeForSheAtHome to your children and partner;
  7. Be authentic in what you do and say. Most people are living the same reality of juggling work, household tasks, childcare, pets, sharing space etc, so avoid creating a utopian image of peace and quiet;
  8. Let people know that you are doing your fair share at home, by being transparent with your family, friends and paid work colleagues. This will help you to manage your availability and work schedule, to enable you to prioritise family responsibilities;
  9. Shine a light on what you’re doing as #HeForSheAtHome by talking about the highs and lows in achieving genuine allyship and partnership, so that others feel more comfortable to sharing their own reality;
  10. Use your #HeForShe as a badge of honour to call out unacceptable language and behaviour towards woman and be heard. i.e. don’t just leave it for women to challenge everyday sexism and discrimination.

I was once explaining a strategy to a senior group of executives, when the most senior man interrupted me and stated: “We need to man up and grow some balls!” Although, several there had previously warned me about his behaviour, both male and female jaws dropped at his comment.

I paused, before suggesting that in my opinion: '…they were a very vulnerable and delicate part of the male anatomy, that when only slightly knocked leave a man writhing around on the floor. Why not say ‘woman up and grow a vagina’, because women seem much more resilient after passing humans out of their bodies?'

The pandemic is presenting new challenges, but the opportunities are now greater as we move forward out of the pandemic. Men now have the opportunity to reinvent their allyship and the ability to act on gender equality to create a new future. The more that men can become #HeForSheAtHome, then the closer we will get to achieving equality for women in the workplace as well. These actions will support also your journey in becoming the dad and partner you know you want to be!

In conclusion, my call to men is to:

**  regularly communicate and listen to your partner, adapt your thinking, continually revisit and rework what you believe to be correct and become more comfortable being uncomfortable;

** ‘Woman up’ and in the words of @WomenEd be 10% braver in using the pandemic as an opportunity to become more #HeForSheAtHome;

** Join the United Nations @HeForShe movement in challenging stereotypical gender roles of women and use your voice to highlight positive male models during lockdown by sharing an image     and message with the world to champion gender equality with #HeForSheAtHome.

 

Access further articles and resources here from Leanin.org

https://leanin.org/article/women-shoulder-most-of-the-extra-work-because-of-covid-19?amp=1&__twitter_impression=true

https://leanin.org/article/womens-workload-and-burnout?amp=1&__twitter_impression=true

https://leanin.org/education/what-is-maternal-bias?amp=1&__twitter_impression=true

https://leanin.org/virtual-circle-resources/juggling-work-and-family-during-the-pandemic#

 

 

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