How America Became A Work-First Nation, Why That Sucks, And What We Can Do To Change It

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The following is an excerpt from CNN journalist Josh Levs’ new book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, And Businesses — And How We Can Fix It Together.

It starts the second our kids are born. We join the revolution that is reshaping parenting in America. The roles of moms and dads have stretched out, becoming busier, more varied, and more complex than ever before. Men and women are sharing child rearing and household responsibilities, supporting each other’s careers, making financial decisions together, and building futures as partners. We’re engaged in all aspects of family life.

“Dads are not down the hall with a pipe in their mouth, the Don Draper type, like my father was,” says Doug French, who has two sons. “My father is still freaked out that I watched both my children emerge. He can’t fathom that!”

But the structures that shape our family lives remain rigid. It’s an astounding disconnect. Our laws, corporate policies, and gender-based expectations in the workplace are straight out of the 1950s. And they’re taking a hell of a toll, preventing us from living out the equality we believe in. Millions of stay-at-home moms want to get back to work and advance their careers. Millions of working dads want more time at home to raise their kids. But society doesn’t allow it. It’s boxing us in.

Why hasn’t the corporate world kept up with American family life? Because the people in power are often oblivious to the realities of modern families.

When dads try to take paternity leave, they’re often rebuffed. When they manage to take it or pursue a flexible schedule, many get punished. Men face derision, demotions, and even loss of their jobs when they make family a priority. Women, meanwhile, often face the opposite pressure. They’re punished for working full-time by bosses or coworkers who think they should be home more. “It is shocking how many policies still discriminate,” says Keith Cunningham-Parmeter, one of the top attorneys fighting to end such policies. “It’s like the Wild West days.”

“Today’s gender-discrimination polices women into caregiving roles and men out of them,” says attorney Joan Williams of the Center for WorkLife Law, another leading warrior in the effort to break out of these structures. “Men are being policed into a very specific form of masculinity.”

Why the disconnect? Why hasn’t the corporate world kept up with American family life? Because the people in power are often oblivious to the realities of modern families. Most executives are men who acknowledge they don’t make family a priority. Few women make it to the executive suites, and those who do are less likely to have children than their male counterparts. The vast majority of top executives see work-family conflicts as primarily a “women’s problem,” a recent — and, sadly, completely unsurprising — study found.

“Today’s gender-discrimination polices women into caregiving roles and men out of them.”

It’s a vicious cycle. People who don’t have a family or make it a priority are rewarded in the workplace. They rise to positions of power. They, then, are responsible for the rules and culture.

In my new book, All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses – And How We Can Fix It Together, you’ll learn the story of a dad who took off just three days after his daughter was born in an emergency situation. When he returned to work, his boss rebuked him. That boss was a pregnant woman. You’ll hear about the case of a lawyer who was a star at his firm until his pregnant wife attempted suicide. He took time off to be a caregiver and, when he came back, was insulted for it. He lost opportunities and was soon fired. You’ll read about a teacher who decided to take two years off to care for his baby without losing his job, since his contract said any teacher could. But then his bosses said, “Oops. We only meant for that to apply to women.” You’ll also learn about the case of a state trooper who was refused the time off he was legally entitled to because, according to his boss, women are supposed to do the caregiving unless they are “in a coma or dead.”

This isn’t discrimination against men. It’s discrimination against men and women. These one-size-fits-all presumptions take choices away. Moms end up doing more at home, dads do more at work, and the time warp of the American workplace remains alive and well. Often, moms don’t even go back to work or don’t get the chance to pursue professional opportunities, because their husbands aren’t allowed basic flexibility.

It’s time for dads and moms to rise up together and tackle the backward laws, policies, and stigmas that are holding us back. Together, we can bring about important changes — improving businesses and life for the modern American family.

All In, by Josh Levs

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