Every Man Can Support Gender Equality

Every Man Can Support Gender Equality

Conrad photoI firmly believe that for gender equality to be achieved men need to support women. How they do that varies on their situation, but I know it to be true. I have seen it professionally and personally.

Back in the 1987 my parents were raising my two older brothers. The unwitting feminist that is my father had decided to take just under a year off work to be the primary parent. This was not a moment too soon, says my mother. She was able to return to work earlier than her boss had expected and continue to develop her career. Dad lived the emotional and mental toll that looking after two very young children takes. It was an insight he took with him, and that Mum valued.

When I was born a couple of years later my dad changed the hours which he worked so that he would get home early to pick my brothers up from school. You might think this is rare now, but this was the 1980s and 90s! In such masculine fields like the trades it is truly inspirational. Back then my father wasn’t just any man, Dad was a tradie. Visualise a blokey, masculine Greek guy and you’ve got my Dad. Hardly the stereotypical forward-thinking father. He learned tolerance, mental strength and the child-rearing skills he wants to employ again as a grandfather. Mum was able to get back into the workforce and bring some stability to her life from the hazard of raising children.

So when I hear men claim they “can’t” take time off I call them out on it. It isn’t just my father’s experience, but also last year when the CEO of NAB Cameron Clyne stepped down, he was explicit – he wants to be married for longer than being a CEO. I’m sure he enjoyed running one of the four big banks – but after six years he realised that there is more to life. It annoyed me that there wasn’t a greater emphasis on this. The man holding one of the great corporate offices in Australia decided to prioritise work-life balance.

Frustratingly, those who do undertake flexible arrangements face stagnation. As the Committee for Perth found, of the people they interviewed 90 per cent who had taken flexible working arrangements found that their careers had gone on hold. The perception is that these roles are less strategic, less valued and less remunerated.

When more men step up and take time to invest themselves in their families and communities, by taking flexible work arrangements, we will see the impact on women be less. Because so few men actually take flexible arrangements there are a lack of examples at all levels. Earlier this year the Workplace Gender Equality Agency sourced a group of very different men at different stages in their career to experience different forms of flexible working arrangements.

The Equilibrium Challenge videos are insightful and accessible showing that business outcomes can still be reached when work is flexible.

As my generation progresses in the workforce they will expect flexibility and more men will take it. For us, examples will become more important. Parents and families will need to make decisions in their best interests – and that will mean deciding who takes parental leave. This is one of those issues when more people act the less stigma there is for the next person.

It is time to step up, man.

Steel Heels says:

Thank you Conrad! Not only for being our first male blogger, but for sharing a unique male perspective on workplace flexibility. So here are just a few things you personally can say or do to ‘move the dial’ towards mainstreaming flexibility…

  • To the naysayers who don’t need it: could you possibly need to care for an elderly parent in future? Like to avoid the commute 1 day a week? Pursue an educational opportunity? Renovate a house? Play a midweek game of softball? Let’s make them realise that flexibility has universal appeal far beyond just the working Mums.
  • To business leaders: Flexibility can turbo charge your business. Not only is flexibility proven to improve productivity but companies with flexible workforces are more sustainable and adaptable to change. Also, a funny thing can happen when staff are entrusted to get their job done their way. Often they are more engaged, work harder and their appreciation is translated into loyalty.
  • To the dinosaurs: Remind them that an exemplary employee shouldn’t be the one who is seen first and last in the office and hasn’t holidayed since Madonna first sang the song. The beacon of light should be the person who is adding the most value through their productivity and contribution.
  • And you? Well aside from promoting it at work, if flexibility is available to you, use it. Show them that you can do a great job and have a life full of other things. You never know when you’ll really need it. Also, you know the boring workplace surveys? As they are usually unavoidable, use them to give frank and honest feedback about how your leaders are doing in the ‘leading by example stakes’.

Finally, we support you Mr Liveris and Cameron Clyne and will continue to sing your praises for prioritizing work-life balance. Pioneers like Conrad’s Dad should have been bottled up in 1987 and cloned up and down St George’s Terrace, Collins Street, George Street, Elizabeth Street and all the other Streets!

Conrad Liveris
Conrad Liveris is an advocate, adviser and researcher on the politics and economics of diversity.