It is well understood that a key step for building a gender equitable world and for creating equal opportunity for women is to ensure equity of roles and responsibilities in the home. Creating an ecosystem where women can aspire to thrive in their careers and advance economically would require changing the limiting patriarchal mindsets and breaking the stereotypes in division of family duties between men and women.
But the question is HOW?
What specific actions can help create the needed change in every household and every woman’s life – a change which still feels like fantasy or something closer to “science fiction”!
We feel that there’s a lot that women themselves can do to bring the change in their own homes – without waiting for men to miraculously change or for society to become supportive of their aspirations.
So here’s a list of things we’ve learnt from recent publications by women leaders and from speakers at Talentnomics India’s Annual Leadership Conferences:
1.Women need to ASK their spouses to take specific actions– Sometimes men just need to be told what exactly to do, because they just don’t know how to help out.
Melinda Gates, in her recently released book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World shares an anecdote where she says that she discussed splitting family tasks with her husband Bill Gates – and that made Bill volunteer to handle school drop-offs. Infact, she says that in turn had funny spillover impact: about three weeks after he started drop-off duty, she saw that suddenly more fathers were dropping off students at the school. One of the mothers explained what was going on: “When we saw Bill driving, we went home and said to our husbands, ‘Bill Gates is driving his child to school; you can too”
2.Learn to hire help and delegate tasks– Women are often guilty of wanting to do everything themselves because they feel no one can do it better than them. Or very often, the husbands don’t support the idea of having someone else cook the food or look after the kids – even though they themselves refuse to pitch in. But it is time women learn to delegate at home to create that space and luxury of time for themselves and their aspirations.
In her memoire “Becoming”, former first lady of America Michelle Obama talks about hiring a chef to cook healthy food for herself and her daughters, while she was a full time working mother and her husband Barack Obama was almost always travelling for his political commitments. She says she did this to ensure the family eats healthy food – even though having a chef was something that was not fully supported by her husband at the time.
3.Allow men to learn on-the-job without judging their abilities – Very often, men are reluctant to perform household or caregiving duties even if they want to, because of the fear of not doing it right or making blunders. And that’s because men are not conditioned to perform tasks at home that are stereotyped for women, while women tend to judge men when they try to perform housework or manage the kids. The key to getting men to help out is to encourage and “empower” them to get the tasks done, without judging.
Recently, a “State of the World’s Fathers 2019” Report found that 85% of fathers say that they would be willing to do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months of caring for their newly born or adopted child. One of the major factors holding them back from doing is so is “the restrictive gender norms that position care as women’s responsibility, alongside the perception of women as more competent caregivers than men. The report finds that significant proportions of men and women agree that “changing diapers, giving baths to children, and feeding children should be the mother’s responsibility.” There is also a perceived competence gap on parenting, and men rely more heavily on their female partners for knowledge and information on parenting than vice versa”
4.Teach your kids the un-stereotypical ways of life – apart from working on men, it is important to give children a “gender-neutral” upbringing, so that future generations will not suffer from the crippling effects of patriarchy.
Following is a list of such actionable advice by Thought Leaders and speakers at the last four Talentnomics India Annul Conferences:
“I advise my two sons that, “men have made this world unsafe, now you have to make it safe for girls”
“Even within more traditional families, women can create space for growing and meeting our aspirations and giving our girl child the freedom to meet theirs”
“We should resolve to support our daughters get the best education and opportunities to meet their aspirations.”
“I don’t tell my son that “boys don’t cry” instead sit with him and know what has happened. And these childhood memories are embedded when they grow”
“I taught my son, Nahi means NO. It may be strong or polite, but it needs to be said”
“We need to watch our language and actions – and start relooking at gender stereotypes in our choices of colours, toys and professional paths we offer our kids”
“Empower children with the right role models and set the right examples. Children learn by example. If you don’t practice what you preach, it won’t make a difference”
“Make your girls understand that financial independence is overhyped for boys and underhyped for girls but it is equally important for women”
5.Marry right! – Most women who’ve “made it” will tell you that they could not have made it without supportive husbands who had the courage to break stereotype roles at home and be equal partners. While some married supportive guys, many had to really work on changing their partners outlook to get the support they needed for their careers. The one’s who could not change the mindsets of their husbands either had to compromise with their careers or build other external support from in-laws and family members or chose to walk out and re-build support!
Like what Sheryl Sandberg advised in her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead – “When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.”