I recently read Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family, by Anne-Marie Slaughter. The chapter entitled The Next Women’s Movement Is a Men’s Movement struck a major cord.
It discusses achieving gender-equality for dual-income couples at work and at home, and the powerful benefits that result. Gender-equality is not solely about women achieving what men have in the workplace. It is also about allowing men to be more than only breadwinners at the detriment of deep relationship with their children.
I couldn’t agree more, and I feel compelled to share proof of these powerful benefits from my tiny corner of the world. Some of us have taken gender-equality from discussion to reality, and our example can provide encouragement that the movement has begun.
My husband, Bill, and I left corporate careers in the 1990s to become entrepreneurs. This may have been our true calling; however, I think we were also driven by the desire for an integrated life of career and family with equality in our engagement of both. We couldn’t have this in corporate society, so rather than fight what seemed to be a losing battle, we went around the mountain.
Our brand-spanking-new company with leadership comprised of equal partnership between a woman and a man, coupled with the absence of historical baggage around women in the workplace made gender-neutrality quite easy to accomplish. It simply emerged as a natural by-product of leadership that was 50% female and 50% male. The best person for the job, independent of gender and life circumstance, ruled and produced a management team that is 2/3 women. We built a company that values quality over quantity as a recipe for success. Employees are not tethered to work 24/7, a multi-faceted life is considered integral to maximizing professional engagement and productivity, and attempting to work on vacation is strongly frowned upon.
And we strived to build a home life of equality that being captains of our own entrepreneurial ship afforded, not because we wanted to help start a movement or become pioneers for change. We simply believed life could be easier under this model, increasing the opportunity for us to both become our best. We have 2 sons, 17 months apart. Bill coached every sports team he could sign up for, ran the sports carpool, and was the king of laundry and weekly linen change for all bedrooms. I managed our nanny and third parent in the early years, care once the boys went to school, the school and activity schedule, and the constant flow of food. The chaos of activities, injuries and illness, and the unpredictability of daily life was a constant focus for the both of us. No ‘mom responsibility’ stereotypes, rather ‘parent responsibility.’ And this included the parenting moments that define pivotal moments in the life of your child – from how to help a child being bullied on the bus to how to assess unhappiness in the first semester of college. The gifts this brought to Bill’s life has been a joy to behold. The beauty of children equally engaged with both parents has been difference-making. A commitment to a life of gender-equality allowed us to become our best professionally and personally, producing benefit for all in our lives.
Our sons are now grown, embarking upon the journey of crafting purposeful lives. I am filled with appreciation for the benefits we have experienced as a dual-income, gender-equal family. I am also fearful that my sons will spend their adult lives longing for the fulfillment of an experience that is not yet a norm and may be too difficult to replicate.
I recently had a conversation with my youngest son, who is 22, about America’s struggle to have two equally engaged parents. He said, “Good thing my generation has had equally engaged parents as our norm.” I realized his experience has created a perception that this is the norm, and if we’ve been doing it for 20 years it stands to reason that we are part of the majority. A hard dose of reality that we are still the exception not the rule. But I believe change occurs one small instance at a time, and we are proof that the movement is underway.
I selfishly hope The Men’s Movement moves into full swing so they can reap the benefits of parenting equally alongside their partners.