One of the things we know for sure about the gender pay gap is that it is a complex problem to untangle. There is no easy fix.
It’s not going to be one program, action, or philosophy that leads to a reversal of course. It’s going to take a series of efforts to turn things around. Both men and women will need to participate. Let’s take a closer look at how and why one company is encouraging men to work part-time in an effort to move toward improved gender equality.
Flexibility for Everyone
GHD, an engineering and design firm headquartered in Australia, recently rolled out a flexible work policy that encourages both male and female employees to work part-time if they wish.
“We can only make flexibility the norm if it is seen as normal for both men and women,” Phil Duthie, GHD’s general manager, who says he works flexibly on a regular basis, told AFR Weekend.
Senior chemical engineer Chris French has been working four days a week for a year in order to take care of his two young children. His wife sometimes needs to travel internationally for her work, and this arrangement has helped support her professionally. French had some initial concerns, mainly because working part-time is less than typical in the industry, but they were quickly overcome.
“Perhaps my biggest nervousness was not my team but my clients and how they would respond to me not being around. But I found if you’re up front and transparent about it, the vast majority of my clients are supportive…and I’ve found that a really positive reinforcement,” French told AFR Weekend. “I feel like I have better balance in my life. I know my kids better, I have fun with my kids. It’s just meant I have a much closer relationship to them than I would have by taking this extra day when it’s just me.”
Work-Life Balance Needs to Apply to Everyone, Male and Female
Men working part-time is a big deal when it comes to supporting gender equality efforts. Too often, women play a much larger caretaker role than their husbands do. Women are much more likely to stay home from work when the kids get sick. These kinds of cultural differences lead to all kinds gender inequality issues — women over 65 are twice as likely to live in poverty as men, for example.
Men participating in programs like those offered by GHD is essential to changing the culture around caregiving and work-life balance. We’ll make progress more quickly as a society as men learn to be more open about their need for family time, because men’s work-life balance has a huge impact on women’s lives.
Equality isn’t just about women being equal to men in the workplace, it’s about men sharing a fair share of the responsibilities at home. As Gloria Steinem said many years ago, “we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” Men spending more time at home is a significant step toward that effort.
It’s certainly had a positive effect for GHD: this month, they will be dubbed an “employer of choice” by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
Tell Us What You Think
How do you feel about companies encouraging men to balance work and care-taking responsibilities through their programs? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.