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Although Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made headlines for taking two months of paid parental leave, most fathers either don’t work for a company that offers leave or don’t take more than a day or two of it (HANDOUT/REUTERS)
Although Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made headlines for taking two months of paid parental leave, most fathers either don’t work for a company that offers leave or don’t take more than a day or two of it (HANDOUT/REUTERS)

Brigid Schulte

Women aren’t the only ones trapped by gender roles Add to ...

This commentary is part of Work in Progress, The Globe's look at the global struggle for gender parity. Brigid Schulte is a journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time. She is director of the Better Life Lab at New America.

Tuesday is International Women’s Day, and it’s time to start talking about men.

It is also fitting to reflect on how far women have to go before this year’s motto, Pledge for Parity, becomes a reality. The World Economic Forum estimates that the global gender gap won’t close until the year 2133, when my 14-year-old daughter will (if she’s lucky) reach the ripe old age of 132. And I’ll be long dead.

That’s why I want to talk about men. Because reaching parity can’t and shouldn’t mean that women become just like men except still doing all that caregiving and housework stuff. That’s the way it is now, and it isn’t working.

Reaching true parity will require rethinking the role of men, and recognizing that men and women have children and elderly parents that need care. It will require rewiring workplace cultures and policies to reflect that shared reality, rather than rewarding total work devotion and ever-longer hours on the job.

As long as women are expected to be professional men, plus traditional women, is it any wonder that women, who have been graduating from college in greater numbers than men for decades in North America, and, in the United States, earning more master’s degrees and PhDs, still remain stuck in the lower to middle rungs of the workforce in virtually every profession, industry and company, as well as academia and politics?

For too long, we’ve blamed women for that imbalance: They just aren’t smart enough (thanks, Larry Summers), ambitious enough or confident enough, or they don’t lean in far enough. But let’s be real. As long as women are expected to do the bulk of the caregiving and housework, and work cultures respect and reward people who don’t, women will remain at a disadvantage. So will a host of men (particularly young millennial men) who want to work in a different way, with time for life outside of work, and who want to be full partners or even in charge at home.

To me, the clearest indication of how these still powerful traditional gender roles continue to imprison both men and women is a brilliant 2012 study by Joya Misra, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, and her colleagues, of the way men and women in academia spend their time. The men and women in their study spent roughly the same amount of time working on the job. But women worked a longer day, once child care and housework time was counted, spending the equivalent of 28 days, roughly one month, more a year than men on domestic duty.

That exhausting longer work day, and the mental and physical juggling of both work and home roles meant that women cut back on the most time- and thought-intensive work: research. Men spent about 15 more days a year than women doing the kind of work that leads to breakthroughs, publications, promotions, positions of power and prestige.

So, that’s why things don’t change, you might think. Men have it so good. But all you need to do is read the burgeoning number of dad bloggers who want to bust out of their traditional gender roles, or listen to a growing number of fathers, as I had the opportunity to do recently at a Dad 2.0 Conference in Washington, and you’ll see that’s not the case at all.

These are dads who yearn to be more than a distant paycheque, to play a vital shared role at home. They’re tired of being seen as “babysitters” when they care for their own children. They speak of the absolute joy of being a parent and want the time to be a presence in their children’s lives. They’re dads who are demanding equal parental-leave policies – and to live and work in cultures that support their use. Right now, the United States is the only advanced economy with no paid parental-leave policy for either mothers or fathers. And although Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made headlines for taking two months of paid parental leave, most fathers either don’t work for a company that offers leave or don’t take more than a day or two of it. Even in Canada, with its comparably generous 13-week paid paternity leave policy, recent research found that, outside Quebec, only one in 10 eligible fathers actually uses it.

But take note, business leaders: These are motivated and talented men who are beginning to exit the corporate world when outmoded work policies and cultures box them in. A case in point is Christopher Veal. Six years ago, Mr. Veal, a former Marine Corps officer, was a project manager for a construction company in southern California. He was raised by a single mother, he told me – his main paternal role models were his stiff-upper-lip English grandfather and the “goofy and bumbling” dads he saw on television.

When he and his wife were expecting their daughter, he stumbled into a boot camp for dads and realized how much he wanted his child to experience what he never had: a father’s unconditional love. When he asked for the six weeks of paid paternity leave California offers – one of only three U.S. states to do so – his company’s leaders didn’t say no, but they made clear they didn’t approve. “There were a lot of behind-the-hand comments like, ‘Isn’t raising a baby something that his wife should do?’” Mr. Veal said.

After six weeks caring for his infant daughter and his wife (who’d needed an emergency caesarean section), his outlook on life had changed. “I realized I wasn’t willing to go back to working 60, 70 hours a week, and commuting an hour and a half each way,” Mr. Veal said. Then he did what many women have for decades: He opted out of the corporate world and started his own business. Now, he provides training in organizational and leadership development, and, as @Realdaditude, helps coach other men who want to make a similar change.

“When men become more involved at home, that gives women more opportunity,” Mr. Veal said. “And that’s when parity will happen.”

So, on International Women’s Day 2016, let’s talk about men. And keep talking.

Let’s keep showing how we can all move beyond traditional gender roles and a culture where dads get high fives for taking their kids to the park but shame for taking parental leave or flex hours to care for a parent. Where women are shamed and guilted if they don’t solely fulfill the traditional role of wife and mother at home, whether they have children or not. Let’s keep doing the research that shows businesses are actually more profitable and higher functioning when they promote diversity, and all workers have time for life.

If we can keep talking, then maybe I – or at least my daughter – may live to see the day when true gender parity has finally arrived.

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