Have you ever found a science experiment – or rather some badly rotten food – in your child’s school bag, because nobody checked it for a few days? Ever found clothes on a laundry rack in exactly the same position you put them days ago? Any similar experiences? Then, you must be a working Mum, who now and then goes on a business trip and leaves family tasks to your cherished male partner. Sorry, partners, the above mentioned examples are too common to have been made up by me and, of course, I have some statistics to support my case.
A study done by the Institute for Public Policy Research shows that in the UK eight out of 10 married women do more household chores than the men they are married to, while just one in 10 married men does an equal amount of cleaning and washing as his wife. The shift towards women bearing the burden of household tasks increases when they have children. These numbers vary only slightly from country to country in the developed world and haven’t changed a lot over the last decades. Really, we live like our parents? Just for the record: It’s the year 2013 right now and we are re-living the domestic patterns of the last millennium?
So why are we not tapping effectively into the potential female labor force? Organizations are desperate for talent, even with current high unemployment levels. The pay gap is one obvious element to look at. Data gathered by the OECD illustrates that women in most countries still earn less than 90% of the average male wage. In some markets the female wage percentage is even lower. Women in Japan and in South Korea earn less than 70% of the wage of their male counterparts. The fact that women typically earn less than men means that they have a weaker negotiating position when a couple sorts out the “who will stay home” question.
But the problem is much more complex than that. A team from the University of Chicago and the National University of Singapore revealed some unexpected facts. A woman who could out-earn her husband quits her job more often than a woman in a similar situation who earns less. And if such a woman keeps working, she often doesn’t make full use of her earnings potential and works below her achievable level. Paradoxically, the more she earns, the bigger her share of household tasks becomes. One explanation is that if she does not, she risks not finding a husband at all or that her marriage has a higher chance of ending in divorce. This happens on a more or less voluntary level in the free world of our planet – and is strong meat for the feminist movement.
For me, it seems that well educated and highly skilled women are still seen as a threat to men – even by themselves. But while the world might be afraid of women’s potential it needs them for the (not only) economic future. A recent report from The Futures Company talked about women as “the world’s greatest underdeveloped source of labor” with not even 50% of them participating actively in the global workforce. And if active, they are more likely to be employed in the informal than the formal economy.
So, although gender equality in terms of salary is still a top priority, money might be less relevant to attract and to keep women in a job. It’s probably more important to answer the “how can I have it all” question. By all, I mean a work-life-family-balance.
After the first child, women often feel side-tracked in their career; female employees still hold only a small fraction of senior positions; and women are, as we saw above, still the ones that keep the family running. At the same time, at least in big parts of the developed world, women have higher education levels than men. In addition to requisite qualifications, the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics recently published analysis which shows that companies with female directors perform better and have lower risks of bankruptcy. The Futures Company writes in the Women 2020 report “that companies with the most women on their boards of directors outperform those with the fewest women on their boards, with return on invested capital at 66% higher in firms with strong female representation.”
So, get started! Get women on board and retain their talent, by offering them what they need. And this is for example: access to childcare, and flexible working hours. In many countries it is financially more interesting for a woman to stay home and take care of the kids instead of paying expensive daycare or nannies. Working hours often don’t relate to opening hours of daycare centers or don’t provide the flexibility to, for example, take care of a sick child or provide a ride to an afternoon activity outside school.
You can now call for – and wait for – policy makers to take action. This is, of course, a good idea as the countries which score best on the Women’s Economic Opportunity Index are the ones with a broad daycare infrastructure. But smart employers will not just wait for policies but act now to attract and keep the best female employees by supporting their cause as a part of their business strategy.
You can start with small steps such as only scheduling face-to-face meetings during school hours, offering dial-in-options in the evenings or making other organizational changes. You can also make some financial contributions to young families for example by paying for some childrens’ equipment or giving them some extra diaper money. I’m sure employees will appreciate these gestures. But you can also do it the big way and install the necessary within your enterprise.
It was a relief for me to read that BASF “The Chemical Company”, which is often under fire from my journalist colleagues and myself for other reasons, has now set up the first “Center for Work-Life-Management” at their headquarters in Germany. So the trend having been observed with software and internet companies mainly based in the U.S. finally reached my home country. BASF will offer a kindergarten, fitness facilities and administrative help to its employees. Candidates for vacancies often asked for what the company was doing in terms of work-life balance. Finally, the company’s leaders answered this question by setting up these facilities, in order to attract the best people to work for them.
These are all win-win-situations. But some investors that want to be even more on the winning side, are looking at investing in the first daycare-investment-fund established by the Luxemburg based firm Aviarent Capital Management. The funds will be invested in German daycare centers which are springing up like mushrooms as new laws mean that municipal communities are obliged to offer a place for every child soon. Seems like a good investment given the demand is even driven by regulations! Unfortunately investors don’t automatically receive a place for their own child – which could be an idea for the next investment fund?
Ultimately the solution lies more in changing dogmas than simply asking women to “lean in” more: Separating work and “life” is no longer an option for many of us. We rather need to seek creative ways to combine it all – to “lean out” of our centuries’ old mindsets. And this, of course, is not only a challenge for women and mothers but also for men, fathers and employers in search of talent.
When women dare to outearn men http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2012/12/gender-roles
Forty years of feminism – but women still do most of the housework
Best companies for working Moms in the U.S.