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So… Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer recently put a policy in place giving new dads eight weeks of paternity leave. This is half of what mothers at Yahoo now have (sixteen weeks), but more than dads have pretty much anywhere else outside of Silicon Valley.
This is all well and good, but what I want to talk about today is a subject Nanette Fondas wrote on last Wednesday in an Atlantic piece:
Dads (on average) don’t play as active a role in their children’s lives as mothers do.
In my opinion, the elephant in the room here is that this fact is the primary reason that women occupy only a fraction of the leadership positions (both in corporate American and in government) that men do. Only 20 of 100 senators are female, and there are an even smaller percentage of fortune 500 female CEOs – just 20 out of 500 (4%). These numbers are ticking upward, but very slowly.
Across all walks of life women are much less likely to be in leadership positions than their male counterparts. I don’t think this is because of discrimination in the workforce, either. There is no way to definitely prove this, but I think that (for the most part) we’re beyond gender discrimination in the workplace (at least in white collar professions).
The evidence supports this. When women are single and childless, they outearn men, and when controlling for profession, experience, education etc. the pay gap between men and women is nearly non-existent. It is only once women get married and have children that they fall behind men in earnings and career trajectory.
For the most part, married men do less of the caretaking (of children and elderly parents), homemaking (cooking, cleaning etc.) and make fewer sacrifices in their careers for their families than do married women.
Yes, no, maybe so? Image Credit: <introtosoc.wiki.usfca.edu>
This taps into a cultural legacy issue: Just what role should men and women play in the workplace and at home, respectively? Should there be any differentiation (and if so why)? Historically there has been, and this shapes attitudes. According to a Pew research study, just 21% of mothers with minor children (17 and under) consider full-time work an ideal situation. 19% of women with minor children would prefer not to be working at all. Further, when a woman earns more than her male spouse both the man and the woman often resent it and the marriage suffers.
Nanette is hoping Marissa Mayer’s paternity leave policy will change this. As she states in her article 1, there is some powerful evidence that giving men more time with their children soon after birth has a dramatic impact on the way they view gender roles. This leads to more equality on the home front when it comes to dealing with “time inflexible” duties that women typically address the lion’s share of (at the expense of their careers).
I want to be clear that (as I see it) this is not a work-life balance issue. Companies have a duty to their shareholders to earn the maximum possible profits, and that means promoting whoever is working the hardest and being the most productive. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman that’s taking time off to deal with home / personal issues – top performers should be promoted (and those are often the people putting in the most hours). 2
With that said, what I think HR departments (and by extension corporate America) can do to help gender equality along is shift expectations around what is acceptable behavior for a working father. If men and women alike are sharing equally in household duties then we’ll have a more even playing field in the workplace.
This is a good thing, because as Warren Buffett recently said in a Fortune article, this will (paraphrasing); “…allow us to maximize the talents of the half of the population we’ve been under-utilizing for much of our country’s history.”
Warren Buffett says this is good for business. I tend to believe Warren Buffett on things related to business.
As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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