Leadership & Communication

Gender Agenda: The kids are all right!

30 Jun 2015, by Informa Australia

Jenny Strachan
Jenny Strachan

WAY back in the early 1990s, my teenage daughter started to feel I was asking her to do too much around the house. I disagreed and she, instead of throwing a tantrum or storming out, set about cataloguing what contribution she, my husband and I were making to the family welfare. The result was the Strachan Family Housekeeping Roster which she drew up in Word 3 or whatever it was at the time and printed out in a typeface big enough and dark enough to be read when pinned up on the family notice board.

When she pointed it out to me I found it hard not to laugh out loud for it was a document that could have been drawn up by a firm of solicitors, a pre-indication perhaps of the degree she was to take in a few years at Sydney Uni. I still laugh when I see it now, but it makes for interesting reading when I start thinking about gender roles and work.

The first entry was: Stacking the dishwasher. This was my husband’s job; unstacking it was hers. Bread winning was definitely the job of the parents but everything else was neatly divided up among the three of us, from feeding the cat to hanging out the washing.

My daughter is now in a job she loves and a relationship in which everything from breadwinning to kitchen cleaning is shared on a reasonable basis. And, it turns out, that is no coincidence. A new study from Harvard Business School, “Mum’s the word! Cross-national effects of maternal employment on gender inequalities at work and home”, has found that daughters growing up in a house where the mother works, far from being disadvantaged, actually benefit from it. Sons don’t get the same advantage but suffer no ill effects either.

The study, which covered 24 countries in North and South America, Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East found that adult daughters of employed mothers are more likely to be employed, more likely to hold supervisory responsibility if employed, work more hours, and earn marginally higher wages than women whose mothers were home full time.

For men there were no significant effects on labor market outcomes. However, there is a definite effect at home.

“Sons raised by an employed mother spend more time caring for family members than men whose mothers stayed home full time – and daughters raised by an employed mother spend less time on housework than women whose mothers stayed home full time,” the report concludes. “Our findings reveal the potential for non-traditional gender role models to gradually erode gender inequality in homes and labor markets.”

Considering that women now make up 45 per cent of the workforce and that 63 per cent of those women are mothers, these findings can only be good news for both employees and employers. The most basic anxiety felt by working mothers is that they are somehow letting their children down if they go out to work. The next worry is that, despite the fact that both partners are going out to work, when they get home, it is the woman who does most of the work.

Get rid of both of these problems and women are freed to concentrate on their employment when they are away from home which should mean improved performance and thus an incentive for businesses to employ more women and to give them equal status in the workforce.

The Australian Institute of Management recommends that organisation sign up to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles which call on them to:

  • Define clearly the strategic case for advancing gender equality in the organisation.
  • Establish a monitoring mechanism for benchmarks and progress and report regularly.
  • Include goals for progress towards equality in job descriptions and performance reviews.

This, of course is only the start of a movement that aims for complete equality in the workplace. AIM’s White Paper: Gender Diversity in Management has a comprehensive list of steps that can be taken by management to make women’s path in business more of a level playing field than a narrow mountain track but one of it’s immediate aims (sorry, pun unavoidable) is to create a climate in which:

  • Women will want to work for companies that will support them.
  • Society will not support companies that perpetuate inequality.

Now business has more evidence to support these aims and women can stop worrying and get down to work in the knowledge that the kids really are all right.

By Jenny Strachan

Jenny is an award winning author and international conference presenter and trainer with over 25 years experience in the corporate sector. She has designed and delivered communication, influence, personal presence and leadership programs, and as an executive coach to facilitate change in organisations.

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