BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

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Workplace Flexibility: An Issue for Both Genders

Posted by egehl on October 29, 2009

Over the last two weeks there has been a flurry of media activity and discussion about the state of women in our country because of a new report, “A Woman’s Nation”, released by the Center for American Progress in partnership with Maria Shriver.  It’s been exciting to watch the conversation about women unfold in the media’s major news outlets including Time Magazine, NBC Nightly News and CNN’s coverage of The Women’s Conference in California. 

While the impetus to write “A Woman’s Nation” was to explore the state of women in modern society it was also to look at how men and women can have the support they need to reach their potential and lead fulfilled, healthy lives.  To examine this further, the report covers a wide range of issues that women and men face in their personal, professional and economic lives.

To build on “A Woman’s Nation” the cover story of last week’s Time Magazine entitled “The American Woman” included a poll that asked men and women their thoughts and opinions on a whole host of issues.  Included in the poll was a question around whether businesses have done enough for modern families.  The poll found that “Eighty-four percent of Americans agree (53% strongly) that businesses haven’t done enough to address the needs of modern families. Asked what would have to change to make it easier to balance work and marriage and children, 54% of women and 49% of men said more-flexible work hours or schedules; 15% of women and 17% of men said more paid time off; and 13% of women and 12% of men said better or more day-care options.”work-life balance picture

This poll result struck me because it showed that men and women equally view the need for better flexible work options and policies to support their demanding lives. 

Historically work-life balance has been regarded as a women’s issue but that is rapidly shifting as women outnumber men in the workforce, more men lose their jobs and must stay at home, and the strain of balancing work and family falls onto everyone more evenly.  Work-life balance is a family issue that impacts both genders.  However typically it’s been women who have embraced the issue and advocated for policies that will bring about better flexibility, such as paid Family and Medical Leave and paid sick leave. 

Our society has yet to figure out a way to tag workplace flexibility as critical to men despite ample reasoning and evidence that men are happier and healthier if they have opportunities to invest more time and energy outside of the workplace.  Regardless there are very few men who are taking on this issue in a substantive way, and that needs to change.  Men must be involved for there to be stronger political will toward passing legislation and changing the mindset of business.  Women’s voices cannot be the only ones heard in the halls of Congress and corporations that flexible work policies are not just needed, but demanded.  Men must join the chorus.

In a recent article in The American Prospect entitled “Work/Life Balance is Not a Women’s Issue” it goes on to say that “men need to transcend from the personal into the political, as women have done. It’s great to get a good laugh out of playground politics, but it’s imperative to look beyond the purview of the local park and start advocating for change at the federal level.”

All of us have a stake in whether there is a shift in our society and employers internalize flexibility as a key part of running a successful organization.  Anyone who hopes to be a balanced person with relationships and passions outside of work has to speak up, and that includes men. 

However what will it take to get men to stand up for these issues in a powerful way?  The catalyst is unknown but with a disproportionate amount of men losing their jobs during this recession, and a change in gender roles happening in homes nationwide, work-life balance will resonate with men more than ever before.  Work-life advocates should tap into this shift and encourage men to join women in their quest to change the attitudes of business and Congress to support workplace flexibility options.

Now is a great opportunity to rebuild what’s fallen apart during the recession.  As employers rebuild their workforces after giant layoffs it is an opportune time to put back their organizations in a more enlightened and egalitarian way.  Businesses need to be engaged and encouraged through research and evidence about how and why workplace flexibility works and helps their bottom line.

However for this to happen there must be an enormous amount of public dialogue and engagement from both genders to ask for more supportive workplaces so that they can achieve a higher quality of life.


3 Responses to “Workplace Flexibility: An Issue for Both Genders”

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