If you want to help women achieve gender equality in the workplace, it’s time to give more support to men.
We are two professors who study gender equality and injustices in the workplace. One of us reviewed 186 published papers on gender equality in the last decade. Our conclusion: One of the biggest problems in contemporary policies aimed at gender equality in the workplace is that they leave out men.
For many women with young children, taking on more responsibilities at work means their responsibilities at home need to decrease. And for that to happen, men need to step up – and be encouraged to do so. Here are three ways companies could do just that.
1. Men need family-friendly policies, too
Family-friendly policies such as flextime, telecommuting, and a compressed workweek have been seen as supporting women’s traditional roles and hence as more needed for women to take advantage of.
While most companies offer flextime policies to both men and women, some studies show men’s usage has been stigmatized and discouraged – and may even hurt their careers.
It may depend on why men take advantage of such policies. “High-status men” who sought flexible hours to advance their careers were most likely to get it – as opposed to those who sought to take on more child-caring duties. Men who sought flextime for this reason also anticipated more backlash for such requests.
Companies could overcome these stereotypes and fears by encouraging men to take advantage of these types of family-friendly policies and by proclaiming that there’s no penalty if the reason is to take on more domestic responsibilities.
2. ‘Fathers-only’ leave
Parental leave is another common policy targeting mostly women. Most countries with nationally mandated parental leaves provide significantly more time to mothers than fathers.
Even when parental leave is accessible to fathers, men are far less likely to use it because of financial costs, gender expectations, a lack of organizational support and the fear it may hurt their careers.
Yet research shows that men who take parental leave become equal partners in raising their children, beyond the time they take off before or after a baby is born.
Organizations that don’t offer paternal leave should, of course, do so. But even those that already provide it should do more to encourage men to take advantage of it. One way is by offering “fathers-only” paid leave in addition to whatever is given to mothers.
In many countries where parental leave is mandated, such as Canada and across Europe, leave can be shared between men and women any way parents like. Data show that mothers typically take the majority of that leave, while fathers take very little.
Canada is a good example. Across the country, only 15% of new dads take any leave out of the available 35 weeks of shared parental leave. But in Quebec, which has been offering fathers-only leave since 2006, over 80% of new dads took the five weeks reserved for fathers only. Given its success, in 2019 the rest of Canada added a similar policy of reserving leave for fathers.
By setting aside a certain share for fathers only – without reducing the number of weeks available to new mothers – companies can signal that they want men to take parental leave too.
3. Cutting down on long hours
Another common practice that undermines gender equality is long work hours.
Research shows that in nations that foster a culture that rewards overtime work, men do less housework and women do more. This undermines both men’s effort to engage in their roles outside of the office and women’s effort to engage in their careers.
Not only that, studies have also found that long hours do not lead to more productivity and, if anything, can be counterproductive and unsustainable.
The research clearly shows offering these policies isn’t enough. Employers need to encourage men to use them, without fear of repercussions, for the policies to be successful.