I hate the term Mummy Wars – I hate the idea that we can’t just be supportive of our decisions and move on. I hate the idea that we are supposed to be on different sides rather than all doing our best as parents. Life is too short etc etc
Unfortunately recent research by MIT, Harvard and UNC entitled “Marriage Structure And The Gender Revolution In The Workplace” (ignore the not exactly terribly snappy title and stay with me) has come out with the following, rather alarming, conclusions:
[The study] found that employed husbands in traditional marriages, compared to those in modern marriages, tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavorably, (b) perceive that organizations with higher numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organizations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion.
Because when they say ‘traditional’ they mean one male breadwinner and a stay at home wife/mother and when they say ‘modern’ they mean the two careers, two parents lifestyle.
And just to be clear – the research doesn’t have anything pejorative to say about the decision to stay at home or to work but rather looks at the unwitting consequences of one of those choices.
Those consequences are when given one of two identical CVs for a highly qualified candidate with either ‘Dave’ or ‘Diane’ at the top, among men whose wives did not work, Diane’s prospects of career progression plummeted. The pool of talent available had been halved thanks to a set of subconscious biases.
It turns out that working mothers who have struggled with their male bosses telling them how their wives are so busy raising their children, how being at home is a full time job and how their wives just can’t find enough hours in the day can at least relax confident that it wasn’t just paranoia giving them that feeling that all the cards are stacked against them.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that it is wrong for some women to choose to stay at home and neither is Desai. “It’s unnerving that someone’s personal choices should affect others’ professional opportunities,” she says. “I don’t think that one choice is superior to the other. But the choice one woman makes [to stay home] can affect countless women. Her husband may have colleagues who are women, he may have subordinates”.
That is the worst bit – that there is nothing I can do to change the fact that every other man in this office has chosen to live a lifestyle that means he unwittingly and unconsciously failing to see me as succeeding as a wife, a mother or in my career. In his head he is probably viewing me as someone who probably really, deep down, wants to be at home with my children and who doesn’t really want to the cut and thrust of the business life.
There may be a degree of self selection, these chaps may be deliberately choosing women that ‘fit’ into their perception of a good wife and a working wife doesn’t fit into that box. But no matter how liberal those men think they are, those little comments about ‘oh my wife says looking after our children is a full time job’ betray that actually they aren’t really seeing me or my female peers on a level playing field with the men.
I’m not saying that happy housewives should give up their lifestyle choice, don a suit and head back to the workplace to help me avoid these pitfalls in my career – but perhaps we need to think hard about what we can do to create households that are more equal irrespective of who is working and who is not.
Perhaps we need to move away from traditional gender roles at home and start to show our children that there are a range of versions of male and female roles and that they can be interchangeable.
The awful thing is that if we don’t do something the next generation are going to find themselves in exactly the same demotivating, demoralising, unfair place and I don’t want my daughters to have to go through that.