Page 2 of 2 Previous
Everyone — male and female — complained of exhaustion and frustration with their work conditions. The 25 percent turnover rate was the same for men and women.
Yet the management refused Ely’s analysis, insisting that its personnel problems concerned only women struggling to accommodate the demands of motherhood and career. The result: The men suffered in silence or left. And “the women took formal work-family accommodations that derailed their careers,” Ely says.
Focusing on women’s struggles with work-family balance is a “social defense,” Ely says: a way of fixating on a safe thought (women want to be with their children) and keeping at bay a much more threatening thought (the way we work now is pathological). It also precludes workplace changes that would most effectively enhance women’s advancement — notably, a rethinking of excessive hours and unrealistic productivity expectations that make living a balanced life impossible for everyone.
The British government appears to understand this. Denouncing the current system of one-year maternity leave and two-week paternity leave as “Edwardian” rules that “patronize women and marginalize men,” it introduced a new system of regulations last fall that intend, starting in 2015, to entitle mothers and fathers to fully share a year’s worth of leave after the birth of a child, dividing the time in whatever way they see fit. The point of the new rules, Employment Relations and Consumer Minister Jo Swinson said, optimistically, was thoroughgoing “culture change.”
Progress will be slow. Only 1,600 fathers took advantage of the last round of government reforms in fall 2011 that permitted men to take the last six months of their partner’s maternity leave, and Swinson said the government expected only 8 percent of couples to take advantage of the new gender-neutral leave possibilities.
Let’s hope that William’s gesture of leaning into fatherhood provides greater inspiration.
Judith Warner, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, is the author of “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety.”
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.