When it comes to campaigning for more equality in the workplace should the burden fall on men or women?
We’re all speaking louder since lockdown began back in March.
Partly that’s due to social distancing. On a sort of school trip in June with some other children from my son’s class all the parents arranged themselves two metres apart and found themselves raising their voices to be heard.
Then there’s all the Zoom calls. Just as we all used to shout into our phones when mobiles first became a thing (Dom Joly’s silly shouty phone character was funny because it was based in a recognisable reality) so it seems a default setting to speak loudly in virtual meetings.
The issue of voices came up in an interesting webinar this week on the career costs of Covid for parents.
Controversially one of the panellists suggested it is up to women to call for better workplace rights for men. Sonia Sodha’s argument was that everyone, particularly women, benefit when men have a more sustainable work life balance. So while it may rankle a bit women need to put their shoulder behind campaigns for more paternity leave and flexible working by default.
She pointed to the example of Iceland where the government legislated for three months paternity leave on a use it or lose it basis. Suddenly the conversation among men switched from ‘why are you extra time off?’ to ‘why aren’t you taking up your entitlement?’
But this doesn’t seem fair. Women have been arguing for equality since Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Women over two centuries ago. Why should they have to continue that battle even further?
It’s a point I addressed in my book Dads Don’t Babysit, which was published almost exactly two years ago. It’s up to men to take on the struggle for equality. Like or not men’s voices carry further in the corridors of power.
I had a chat with Diana Parkes, a leader in the field of gender equality this week. She didn’t want to give away the results of her latest research. But one headline she was happy to share is an observation that men are giving responses previously only coming from women. So they are questioning their work life balance. Unhappy that they have to speak louder to be heard. It’s only now men are working from home in unprecedented numbers that the issue of remote workers being overlooked for promotion is being taken seriously. That may seem unfair but it confirms that when men speak out about issues they are addressed.
But maybe Diana’s findings will just point up Sonia Sodha and I both being right on this.
Men and women benefit from a more equal workplace culture. Let men and women work together for the change we all want to see.
The answer is not for men and women to speak louder. Every parent knows that they can eventually screen out a baby’s screams or a toddler’s yelling.
It’s when your children can reason cogently that you must listen and respond.
Those in power – politicians, employers – will find demands for change irrefutable if all of us speak clearly and in unison.