By: Mary Beth Ferrante
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Quickly: Take a look at the genders below and the words associated with each one.
- Male: Family, Children, Caretaker
- Female: Career, Money, Leader
Does that seem right to you? Or is the following more palatable?
- Male: Career, Money, Leader
- Female: Family, Children, Caretaker
If you’re like the 76% of participants surveyed in Harvard’s Project Implicit study, your implicit bias suggests you favor the latter set of gender associations. In fact, both males and females were unconsciously gender-biased and considered men more apt for career pursuits, while women were thought of as better homemakers. And though unconscious bias itself isn’t particularly bad, the implications can be dire. These thoughts and perceptions related to gender/work/family not only shape our reality but permeate and often negatively impact every aspect of our culture. In particular, we see the burden it places on women’s careers. However, in Corporate America, where paid family leave is more the norm than not, there is an opportunity for change.
When professional women decide to have a baby and take maternity leave (if they’re one of the lucky 14% of the civilian population who even receives paid parental leave); senior management, as well as, colleagues may assume they’ll be less committed to their work once they give birth. Working mothers who intend to return to the corporate office and do so when their maternity leave ends, often find themselves in situations where they’re asked to Prove-It-Again. When this occurs, colleagues and employers, tend to discount working mothers’ previous successes and question their expertise, repeatedly. Asking working mothers to continually prove their competency, isn’t only insulting, but detrimental to the advancement of their careers.
Which is why these women often find themselves barreling headfirst toward the maternal wall. Working mothers caught in the cycle of proving it again, are viewed as less capable, overlooked for promotions, and given limited access to the leadership pipeline. Though at times, these women may require more flexibility in the workplace when maternity leave ends, more often than not, their commitment to work doesn’t waver. Women don’t have babies and suddenly become incapable of producing good work. It is the unconscious bias against working mothers and what’s perceived as their inability to be both a good employee and good mother that is the problem.
The more working fathers take parental leave, the more we challenge the notion; Male = breadwinner and Female = caretaker. This change in perception, not only stands to benefit women at the office but men at home. Major companies, like American Express, are at the helm of this cultural shift. AMEX is leading the marketplace and has even established a network of fathers within the organization who openly converse about parental leave and where older colleagues encourage new fathers to take it, all 20 weeks of it. Mostly, older men discuss the ways in which these fathers will connect more deeply with their children.
Some working fathers don’t need much convincing. Millennials more than any other generation, prize, above all else, balance. They seek to find work that supports and reflects their personal lives and values. Millienials essentially want what all new and working parents need: flexibility. Millennial fathers also subscribe more readily to the concept of“breadsharers” instead of breadwinners and typically live in dual-income households which affect their perception of gender roles, both in and outside the home. According to Erin Reid, an associate professor at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business, breadsharers, are husbands who value enabling each partner to pursue their work and family goals.
If we are going to level the playing field, let’s support working fathers and encourage them to take their entire parental leaves. The more men normalize parental leave and commit to taking time off to spend with their newborns; the gap between how men and women are perceived narrows and hopefully fewer women will have to prove their worth and abilities when they return to the office. These men send a clear message to management: I’m with her. Though it may not seem revolutionary, this act can slowly and surely alter the effects of gender bias in the workplace.