Shifting the Paradigm to Embrace Gender Differences
In 2018, it is increasingly important for both men and women to discuss gender roles. While these conversations may be uncomfortable, they go a long way in creating norms and behaviors in our society.
The current narrative in these discussions, however, isn’t ideal. One simple Google search shows how easy it is to find articles about women’s self-worth, confidence and being successful in the workplace. And while it is also easy to find articles about how women are the same as men (and should not think otherwise), it is more difficult to find discussions of how women are different and why those differences are important.
Women are in a precarious situation. The societal consensus is that women are expected to "do it all," meaning a proper "work-life balance" and the ability to multitask on many activities.
We aren’t asking this important question: Can women really do it all?
I believe that women are being set up for failure.
Society has unrealistic gender expectations. “Success” is measured in terms of everything that men do and provide. As women, we have no choice but to keep striving to be more like them -- even though we are stretched thin due to our childbearing and child-rearing responsibilities. That said, women are different than men. We are biologically different. Society needs to understand and appreciate those differences.
These distinctions are especially critical when discussing children. The glory and seriousness of motherhood are lost. Society treats the unique and beautiful act of creating life as an impediment or chore.
What’s lost is that women have unique capabilities in having and raising children. This job is extremely important for society, as mothers take a prominent role in creating and instilling values in the next generation. Teaching children basic responsibilities like cleaning, cooking and washing is critical for their short- and long-term development. By taking a macro view, it is clear that no other job carries such massive consequences for our world.
Notwithstanding this important role, women hesitate to have children. Often, this is because of pressures and biases at work. Annual reviews often do not account for women’s responsibilities for caring for their children (or even elderly parents). These responsibilities work against women, making it more difficult to rise in their career.
Strive for individuality, not equality
Considering all of this, the debate shouldn’t be whether men and women are superior or inferior to each other.
Rather, we should focus on what both genders have to offer to improve our workplaces and homes.
As a society, we need to return to the basics. If a woman decides to stay at home, both genders must understand and recognize the mother’s service and sacrifice. As a mother, the work is endless, whether it’s preparing meals or snacks, dressing the children, cleaning the house or taming temper tantrums.
This is the full-time job that often is unappreciated or neglected. There are no “days off” or sick days. If there is work, it must be done -- no matter how the mother is feeling.
So, how can we see value in motherhood again? How can we change the narrative where being the main breadwinner is not the only value-added activity?
One solution is creating a better support system for women. Within this support system, men must take an active role. Both men and women need to discuss their expectations, the type of children they want to raise, and deeper questions, like what it means to raise a good human. These discussions will ensure that the mother’s role is more greatly appreciated.
In the workplace, companies should create better daycare facilities and embrace flexible work hours. Along with this, they should provide counseling opportunities for new mothers who are returning to the workforce. Maternity leave is another big issue. America is woefully behind many other countries, which often offer one year of maternity leave. American organizations need to offer at least three months (if not more) of maternity leave.
By taking these steps, corporations can signal that they value motherhood and will support their female employees who want to have children.
The importance of appreciation
Women need to feel that they are celebrated and appreciated. This, in turn, leads to happy marriages and a happy workforce.
But this shouldn’t be a passive activity. Women should be shameless and raise their voice for what is important to them. Ultimately, we need to shift the societal paradigm and set different bars of success.
And as women, we need to look at ourselves and say: We are the privileged ones. We must stop judging other women and stop being hard on them. We find our own happiness and find joy in our own lives.
(By Hina Chawdhry. Chawdry is a tax manager at BDO USA LLP.)