By: Mary Beth Ferrante
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
International Women’s Day is just around the corner on Sunday, March 8th, and this year’s theme is #EachForEqual. I must admit, my first reaction to this theme was frustration. Once again, women are being told to take equality into our own hands. In the aftermath of Lean In culture, haven’t we all agreed that it’s not women, but entire systems that need fixing?
No, we can’t ignore the long list of structural challenges that face millennial working parents today.
– Only 20% of US employees have access to paid family and medical leave and 25% of women go back to work at just 2 weeks postpartum.
– Maternity leave length has stagnated and we continue to be the only OECD country without a federal paid maternity leave policy. Meanwhile, there is a wealth of data that shows 6 months should be the minimum leave.
– We lack affordable and universal childcare. Rising costs often push parents, particularly women, out of the paid workforce. (Plus, we don’t value the unpaid care machine – which the New York Times recently valued at $1.5 Trillion – that is ensuring this country functions.)
– Technology for all of its advantages has promoted an overworked, always on, always available culture, and a nearly 50-hour workweek is increasingly the norm.
– Reports show that the pay gap is largely attributed to caregiving.
Yet as I sat with the goal of the theme, I realized that #EachForEqual is, in fact, something I advocate for daily at WRK/360, working with millennial working parents and company leadership.
The IWD website shares that “individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations, and celebrate women’s achievements.”
Everyone has the opportunity to take on this responsibility for gender equality, but millennial working parents are especially well-positioned to tackle this daily personally and professionally. We (yes, I am a millennial working parent) are much more likely to be part of a dual-career couple. In fact, according to The Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership at UC Berkeley Haas, 78% of millennials are part of dual-career couples compared to just 47% of baby boomers. And when you look at professional women, that number reaches 89%.
Personally, when you are part of a dual-career couple, you are faced with the daily trade-offs, negotiating with your partner to manage childcare drop-offs and pick-ups, work travel, last-minute deadlines, sick kids, housework, meal prep, and so much more. But these are the conversations that are exactly where #EachForEqual matters. Too many times, I have heard from female clients that in their relationships, it’s just assumed that they will stay home if childcare goes awry or a kid is sick. They wonder loudly when, exactly, their ambition and career aspirations were put on the back burner. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and millennial parents can take a stand.
Eve Rodsky, author of Fair Play, really dives into the value of time and how couples are tackling house and care tasks.
Opening up the dialog is exactly what #EachForEqual is about! It is personal. Mutual respect and support for each other’s goals and aspirations make a difference. When you amplify that by the millions of millennials becoming parents each year, there is a critical mass shifting the norm of how work and parenthood will look going forward.
Mother Honestly, a media company is regularly asking their ~30K followers to share intimate details about the juggle of work and family. And not only are they asking, they are also challenging traditional assumptions. One mother shared that while her partner tries to “help,” it’s not working, Mother Honestly founder, Blessing Adesiyan, jumped in, thanked the mom for sharing but also immediately highlighted that we need to squash the notion that men are just there to “help” and instead expect that they are equal participants in the house and care work.
Beyond pushing conversations online, Mother Honestly hosts an annual summit bringing together mothers and organizations to elevate the conversation on how motherhood at work is still a significant gap towards gender equity. As an attendee and panelist last year, I couldn’t be more excited that this movement continues to grow with experts such as Lauren Smith Brody, author of The Fifth Trimester, and Katelin Holloway, who recently joined Alexis Ohanian at Initialized Capital and the support of companies like M.M.LaFleur which is currently providing free clothing to women running for office.
#EachForEqual is asking us all to be a voice. Policy changes almost always follow cultural shifts. Our voices will open up the dialog at work and home and shift the conversation. We can change the dynamics in our relationships, share with each other, and demand more of our employers, end #secretparenting at work, normalize caregiving across genders, and ultimately narrow the gap towards gender equity.