“Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.” – Gloria Steinem
One of the many motivations for bootstrapping Grace Papers in its early days was my understanding of the impact both individuals and systems had on women’s experiences in the workplace – my own included.
I have always wanted to create opportunities for others – I’m a long-time human rights advocate – and I fundamentally believe there is a better way to work. So around seven years ago, I took a leap off my own professional cliff and transformed my small gender firm into a digital platform. This wasn’t accidental – it was purposeful. We kept talking to women who had spent their entire lives building careers and then there was this one moment when they stepped away from their career. I knew that this was a problem I wanted to solve – so together with my partner Ben, we created Grace Papers to help reinvent the workplace to fit women as much as men.
And while some may think I’m living the tech-start-up / founder “dream”, let me tell you the reality has been very different! When we imagined Grace Papers, our children were 4, 3 and just 6 months old. I was breastfeeding, sleep training, coaching and consulting – doing the whole thing! So the career coaching platform I was creating was as much for me as it was for our clients. And we continue to pursue new kinds of working and living every term as a family. For instance, when we started Grace Papers, Ben took three months off to care for our family – and there’s no way we would have got off the ground, without Ben becoming “Chief Parenting Officer”, as he calls it.
Yet the bias that stumped me most at that time was the bias towards men taking parental leave, stepping up to care, and embracing workplace flexibility. The response to Ben becoming, “Chief Parenting Officer”, was met with bias – and discrimination – that impacted us both.
When it comes to gender equality and the concept of unconscious bias, it seems ironic that we continue to frame gender equality almost solely as a women’s issue. Sure – for as long as gender-based violence is experienced by 1 in 3 women, 1 in 2 women continue to experience pregnancy-related discrimination and women are paid 15% less than men, it is an issue that affects women. But to see gender equality through a prism of power and privilege that only affects women implies that freedom for men is absolute. Which it is not.
#BreakTheBias – begin with disruption of gendered stereotypes
One needs to look no further than the bias associated with the taking of parental leave, with women taking 93.5% of all primary carer’s leave, whilst men take only 6.5%. And when our first baby was born, I was part of that 93.5%.
You see, while slightly older than the average age of first time mothers (they are 29) and fathers (33), we are one of the majority of couples with a 4-year age gap between us. So when we had our first child, not only was Ben 4 years my senior, he had 4 years on me in the workplace, meaning his salary was significantly greater than mine. To be honest, when we had our first baby, we never even contemplated that I wouldn’t return part-time. We never contemplated his career not being the priority, because of one simple fact: he earned more than me.
And nor, it seems, do our workplaces. We sourced data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. It suggests that, when we look at the 2.5million employees working for organisations that employ more than 1000 employees, there is an almost equal split between genders. Yet we expect the primary responsibility of men, when they become a father, is breadwinner. Only one in 50 Australian men take parental leave, and only one in three eligible for Dad and Partner Pay from the government takes it up.
Yet research consistently reveals that some 60% of working fathers would like to work part-time, and with good reason. We need to look no further than at us, mothers, for evidence of the meaning women derive from caring for and spending time with our little people, than the fact that women have demanded paid parental leave, flexibility and part-time working arrangements: Caring is the greatest expression of our humanity. Yet those freedoms women demand have not yet been afforded to men. And until they do, women will remain exceptions at the top of corporate Australia.
So what’s the catch?
Firstly, #GenderBias and #FlexStigma.
It speaks volumes that in Australia the father/breadwinner stereotype is so strong that men’s requests for flexibility are more likely to be declined than women’s, and 1 in 4 men experience discrimination for seeking to take or taking parental leave. And as a consequence, society continues to perpetuate a patriarchal stigma that says Real Men Don’t Flex.
And secondly, money.
In a majority of heterosexual couples, men are earning more than their female partners when they welcome their first child, purely by virtue of their domestic age gap. Throw in a gender pay gap, financial & career progression penalties for women when they take parental leave, and the default position for most couples is father/breadwinner, mother/carer.
It is no wonder new dads rank their primary concern as job security. The short-term financial thinking by new parents ignores their potential for greater wealth over the long-term, including in retirement, by ignoring the earning potential of one parent.
I am passionate about this mission. Workplaces should empower psychological safety for all people regardless of gender, and gender equality should be the norm, not the exception. We should live in a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
Find out more about how Grace Papers’ gender equality interventions, as validated in this independent research and evaluation paper, Dismantling The Parental Wall empowers workplaces, leaders to build a culture of flexibility and inclusion for working parents and carer, boosting employee wellbeing, career work-life balance, as well as effectively supporting LGBTQI+ and culturally diverse staff (who experience the highest gains of empowerment)
If you’d like to know more about gender equality and how Grace Papers can help your business talk to us Grace Papers