International Women’s Day is here again, and this year the theme is “Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all.” We can’t really argue with that, can we? Because while steps have been made, and laws have been enacted, there is still too much inequality between the sexes.
The tables, however, could be turning. There has been talk recently of the “mancession,” as more men than women have lost their jobs in the downturn, and women have become the main breadwinners for their families. There are mutterings about boys needing a helping hand in education in the US, as there are now more college degrees awarded to women than their male counterparts. women can increasingly be found in middle management.
There are even some who say that the push for equality has gone too far, that men are now at a disadvantage. To those people I would say this: international men’s day is because every other day of the year but this one. If you look at the make-up of senior management it any large company, women will be hard to find. If you look at access to advanced education in the developing world, there will be more men than women. If you think about who still bears the brunt of caring for children or relatives, it will not be the men. When you look at who does the bulk of low-paid and part-time work, it will not be the men.
As I said in my Valentine’s Day post, women need to be very careful about how they manage their careers, especially if they plan on having children. Men suffer no such constraints, but that is not to say that they are not also disadvantaged. The long hours, presenteeism and inflexibility of the modern business model harm both mothers and fathers who would like to spend more time with their children. The expectation that women are the more nurturing sex means that many men are put off or actively discouraged from entering professions such as nursing or teaching. The lack of females in the boardroom means that decision-makers are deprived of the experience and insights that are unique to women and girls.
Women make up half the world’s population, and the days when they would quit work and retreat to the home once they married and/or had children are long behind us. If businesses want to preserve the talent of their workforce, they need to ensure that women are able to continue working. With modern technology, it’s astounding that this change still hasn’t happened. Change needs to come, because that would not only benefit women by providing a better work-life balance, but it would also benefit men. In order not to discriminate, men would also need to be entitled to work flexibly, to spend time at home, or to take leave to attend to family obligations. A happy workforce is a more productive workforce, and this benefits the bottom line. There is already pressure for changes to be made; let’s hope the men — for it is they who are still in charge, mostly — are listening.