While the role of women at work has taken seed, changing the dynamics of their role as caregivers, the traditional role of men as sole breadwinners should be reviewed as well
“So is fatherhood the end of a man’s career …?” reads the provocative headline of an article by one of the most influential people in the global media — the recently appointed political editor of the Guardian, Anushka Asthana, who shares her job with another woman Heather Stewart.
Asthana has called out the deep, often unconscious, gender bias that is “prolific” in the workplace, even in the world’s most developed economies. She is among the many women and men highlighting the need for a cultural re-wiring, and re-socialising of the workforce, and men in particular, to recognise their own patterns of bias. On the account of parenthood, she quotes Anne Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of New America Foundation, on how “…lives of women have been transformed, but lives of men much less so” but that “you can’t have half a revolution”.
In 2013, Sheryl Sandburg’s book Lean In coined the catch phrase which resonated with millions of readers from Silicon Valley to the developing world. Subsequently, the Facebook COO disclosed on the high-profile TED conference how, even after the book’s monumental success, people had warned “talking about women on TED” would “end her business career”.
In Asia, diversity programmes, flexible work are fast gaining currency in the media, with increasing examples of companies with skin in the game. These include blue chip stalwarts in traditional markets, Hindustan Unilever or the Tata Group in India for instance, as well as high-growth startups disrupting the way business and work is done.
A report by McKinsey Global Institute predicts that bringing women at par with men will add US$12 trillion to the global economy, but even in the corporate world — where there is arguably more leverage for gender equality — highly educated, qualified women continue to be unemployed, or underemployed. The Malaysian government launched its flexWorkLife.my initiative in an effort to increase workforce participation; a World Bank study suggested that more women working in Malaysia could achieve a 4 per cent growth dividend, but restrictive attitudes such as the fear that flexible arrangements would negatively impact promotions remain a challenge.
What Asthana, Slaughter and other influential voices are drawing global attention to the fact that the problem of gender inequality, diversity, or flexible working is not, as it has traditionally been slotted, solely a women’s problem. In fact, that men have a major role to play in the re-socialising of work.
Slaughter points to the need for a re-orientation of the problem of working women, and mothers in particular; for the need to re-address the equal importance of two necessary tenets of human development — bread winning and care giving. While the role of women at work has taken seed, changing the dynamics of their role as caregivers, the traditional role of men as sole breadwinners should be reviewed as well. Exponents of diversity recognise that men who have working wives and young families are among early adopters and more likely understand the need to alter gender bias at work. They are also advocating that flexibility is not just about gender or parenting.
Organisations across the board are recognising that flexibility can have a powerful impact on productivity; the global uptake of the gig economy and the rise of flexible work demonstrate that even beyond the call of parenthood, a deep desire for a work-life balance — greatly enabled by technology — is taking shape among professionals across generations.
This is also happening in Asia, where Millenials, professional women and experienced corporate executives are turning to flexible work options in search for more freedom to craft their careers beyond single-employer jobs, and to invest in their own personal and professional development. Even in more traditional cultures, like India, which have leaned strongly towards 9 am-5 pm jobs, a new era of work is emerging and organisations are increasingly tuning in.
The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your article here.
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