Recently we learned that a friend of ours was getting divorced and that he would have sole custody of his five-year-old son. It was sad to hear that his marriage had come to an end but also encouraging that he was motivated to take on the responsibilities of a full-time single dad.
This friend, an executive of a multinational enterprise, was very concerned about how the changes in his life would influence his work. He was worried about telling his boss that he would dedicate less time to late-night meetings, cut down on travel, and be less available for last-minute events.
Now, he wanted to be more present in the life of his son. He wanted to pick up his boy from school, take him home, help him with his homework, make dinner for him and listen to his unique plans and ideas.
What if his son woke up sick one morning? he wondered, reminding us of the responsibilities we take on as parents. Our friend expressed great anxiety about how caring for his son might be reflected in performance reviews, which then would determine future promotions and pay.
We saw the dilemma he faced: loving his son yet wanting to live up to the responsibilities of his job. But none of this was new to us. All too often we have had this conversation with our female colleagues but this time it was with a male friend. It was odd for us to see this confident executive expressing fears about the social and economic limitations that are often expressed by women.
The conflicting demands of unpaid care work and the effort required to thrive in the professional field is not exclusive to women. When we advocate for the protection and support of unpaid caregivers, we promote the rights of women and men, and healthier workplaces that are more productive. At the same time we want greater balance in traditional family roles, since it is often women who deal with unpaid responsibilities at home.
Some companies are discussing ways to help women to return to work after maternity leave – by establishing flexible working arrangements, for instance. However, we must also speak about men. They also have needs and many want to take care of their children while working.
One of the most effective measures in creating this balance between work and home is by making child care more affordable, offering flexible schedules, teleworking and comprehensive paid leave systems (maternity, paternity and parental leave). These can’t be dismissed as simply feminist ideas. They are about equal treatment and opportunities for all workers. They have positive effects on the labour market, families and society at large.
Through the SCORE Gender Equality Model (MIG SCORE), the ILO encourages companies to create policies and practices that promote the role of fathers and shared household responsibilities, including the negotiation of paid and unpaid work. We need greater solidarity between partners about childcare and we need companies to stand with parents.