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Sharing the care is the way forward for gender equity

Opinion

Gender inequity is a problem for everyone, writes Equal Opportunity Commissioner Niki Vincent.

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I recently read an insightful article by a father who, quite by chance, began getting the newsletters from his daughter’s day-care centre. What he learned sparked his journey toward more active parenting. As he read through all the activities his wife was expected to manage, he suddenly understood everything his partner (who also worked outside the home) did to keep the kids cared for, fed, schooled and healthy. He was shocked. Of course, she’d never involved him in this invisible life, because she’d assumed all this was just part of being a mum.

The trouble is it shouldn’t be. Sharing the load should be ‘situation normal’. Yet gender stereotyping has us believe this is the natural order of things.

Thankfully, many men and women are starting to give these traditional notions of caregiving a rethink. Men should be able to go to childcare groups, pick up the kids from school and stay home with them when they are sick, vacuum the house, and prepare meals (without checklists written by their partners), while women should be able to pursue their career ambitions without the raised eyebrows, or people asking: ‘how does she do it all?’ (Does a man ever get asked this question?). The problem is this kind of change moves at a glacial pace.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows men still earn $244.80 per week more than women, leaving women with less superannuation when they retire. More than 60 per cent of all employed women with kids under five work part-time to care for them, versus less than 10 per cent of dads.

To make matters worse, the 2018 Household Income and Labour Dynamics report (HILDA) found men spend an average of 13.3 hours a week on housework compared to 20.4 for women, and only 5.4 hours caring for children, compared to 11.3 hours for women. Not surprisingly, despite women making up 50 per cent of the population, only 38.4 per cent of females are managers in the private sector, not to mention the shocking lack of gender diversity in our parliaments.

In short: there’s still a lot of stepping up to do.

So, what’s the roadblock? It’s all of us. Some men report they are made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome at play groups when they attend, colleagues laugh when a male member of staff puts in an application for flexible work to take on more responsibilities at home (which research shows is more likely to be knocked back), mums criticise their partners when they don’t dress the children well enough, or mess up the ironing. Men are viewed as weak if they don’t hold down the best job and ‘wear the pants’. All this needs to stop.

If we are going to change the entrenched gender-bias in society, we need to be more conscious of making it easier for both men and women to take on equal roles in parenting and caring. That starts in the workplace. We need to make things easier so both men and women can create more balance in their lives. Big business has been working on this for a while by pushing for better diversity, promoting parent-friendly leave options, and creating more agile work policies: but smaller enterprises also need to follow. I’m talking about SMEs here. You don’t need an HR manager to consider work-flex options when the requests come in.

In 2019, the SA Chiefs for Gender Equity group will be showing how some of SA’s most successful companies are leading the way in these areas, as well as producing new resources for SMEs looking for guidance to promote better gender equity, and new ways of working. Failure to provide such options for both men and women could be costly in an age where many employees and customers value the right to balance work and family responsibilities.

My New Year wish in 2019 is that more men start making some tangible changes at home and at work that will benefit everyone.

Gender inequity has never been, and never will be, just a women’s problem. It’s a societal issue that impacts us all in negative ways – and we all need to step up to fix it.

Dr Niki Vincent is the South Australian Commissioner for Equal Opportunity and the convenor of the SA Chiefs for Gender Equity group.

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