Let’s Reimagine Mother’s Day and Father’s Day by Ceasing to See Care as Gendered
By Ludo Gabriele
In August 2014, I decided to quit my full-time corporate job to spend time with my son, who was two and a half years old at the time. The immense joy I experienced bonding with him was quickly tarnished by feelings of guilt for not contributing financially to our home for the first time in my life, despite being in no financial need.
This sense of guilt transformed into a loss of my sense of self: Was I still a man if I did not contribute financially to the well-being of my family? Was my desire to take care of my son legitimate? And what did this questioning say about my perceptions of women and caregiving?
This challenging experience revealed deep-rooted biases I had about gender roles and caregiving. Many of us harbor these biases, and often they are revealed at gendered holidays such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
Mother’s Day and Fathers’ Day are important celebrations recognizing the role and impact of parental figures in our lives. However, many workplaces still lack the culture and infrastructure to assist and accommodate the parents and caregivers in their employ. Many parents still face difficulties in making work work for their needs.
Getting Past the Stigma Faced by Working Parents
Parents and caregivers are stigmatized in the workplace, even today, regardless of their gender identity. And while women’s careers can be stunted by their caregiving responsibilities, caregiving men often feel they can’t even commit to those responsibilities without feeling judged for doing so.
The burden of unpaid work remains a significant barrier for mothers in the paid labor force. A 2018 analysis showed that across the world, women perform more than three-quarters (76.2%) of unpaid care work—including looking after children, spouses, partners, or other family members.
Working mothers still face discrimination and judgment in the workplace and often experience a “motherhood penalty” including bias and reduced opportunities at work. As Business Insider says, “The motherhood penalty is a term describing career challenges women face after having a child. It’s based on biased, stereotypical views of mothers, like the notion that they’re less productive.” These biases can lead to fewer opportunities for women to advance in their careers or to make choices that benefit their families, such as taking time off to care for a sick child.
The Covid-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated women’s time spent on unpaid household and caregiving responsibilities. Globally, according to Bloomberg, women spent three times as many hours on unpaid childcare in 2020 than men—an average of 173 additional hours versus 59. A Catalyst-CNBC survey also revealed that 41% of mothers working in the US said they believed they had to hide their caregiving struggles from their employer. Unequal distribution of caregiving and lack of support from employers remain barriers for women at work even after the pandemic, the Washington Post showed.
Men who take on caregiving responsibilities often face a significant amount of social stigma and pressure to conform to traditional gender roles. In the workplace, this can manifest in a number of ways, such as the assumption that fathers are less committed to their careers or less capable of balancing work and family responsibilities.
Catalyst released a groundbreaking report revealing that 94% of men experience masculine anxiety in the workplace. Masculine anxiety is the distress men feel when they do not think they are living up to society’s rigid standards of masculinity. It’s often heightened by combative work cultures.
Men at work are largely not okay. The anxiety preventing them from interrupting sexism at work is the same anxiety preventing men from admitting failure, asking for help, or taking advantage of flexible workplace policies such as remote work, vacation days, and parental leave.
Men may also feel pressure to prioritize their careers over their families, even when they desire to be more involved in their children’s lives.
This pressure can make it difficult for men to take advantage of family-friendly policies and benefits without fear of being stigmatized or losing status in the workplace. As a result, many men may choose not to take advantage of these policies, which can continue to perpetuate traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Additionally, these men will miss the opportunity to spend more time with their children.
Embrace a Holistic View of Caregiving
How can we stop the penalization of women caregivers and normalize men caregivers at work? It starts with de-emphasizing the gender of the carer. Instead of “maternity leave” and “paternity leave,” we can circulate the gender-neutral term “parental leave.” Instead of talking about who has to leave early because they are a “mom,” we can say they are working flex to accommodate childcare responsibilities. Better yet, we can say they are working flex, and leave it at that.
It’s also important to recognize that caregiving responsibilities go beyond parenting, and can include caring for elderly or disabled relatives, partners, and friends. Many members of the workforce are caring for someone other than their own children. These caregivers often face similar stigmas and challenges as parents, and it’s important for leaders in the workplace to acknowledge and support their needs as well.
By expanding our understanding of caregiving, we can create a workplace culture that is more inclusive and supportive of all caregivers, regardless of their relationship to the person they are caring for. This can include offering resources and benefits that are relevant to a wide range of caregiving responsibilities, such as flexible work arrangements, access to mental health resources, and support groups for caregivers.
By taking a holistic approach to caregiving, we can create a workplace culture that values and supports all employees and helps them balance their personal and professional responsibilities.
Leaders in organizations have a unique opportunity to create a workplace culture that values caregiving responsibilities and supports caregivers.
Here are five practical steps that leaders can take to degender care and support caregivers of all genders:
Offer flexible work arrangements: Leaders can provide flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting or flexible hours, to accommodate the caregiving responsibilities of caregivers.
Provide access to affordable childcare: Leaders can partner with childcare providers or offer subsidies to support working parents.
Provide gender-free paid leave for caregiving responsibilities: Leaders can offer paid leave for caregiving responsibilities, such as caring for sick family members or newborns, to support caregivers regardless of their gender identity.
Address bias in performance evaluations: Leaders can address gender bias in performance evaluations, such as assumptions that mothers are less committed to their jobs, to ensure that all caregivers are evaluated fairly.
Address systemic barriers: Leaders can address systemic barriers that prevent men caregivers and working mothers from accessing opportunities for career development and advancement, such as unconscious bias or outdated policies.
Photo of the author by Marina, Your Local Photographer, Cartagena