Could giving men more parental benefits help women gain equality at work faster?

Women still face pay inequity at work and labor inequity at home. Why employers need to help men do more at home.

From a record number of women elected to Congress, to movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, to declaring 2018 another “Year of the Woman,” America is in the midst of a new era of feminist activism and change. Yet women continue to face pay inequity at work, and an uneven distribution of labor at home. The inequity of domestic responsibilities remains one of the most stubborn and profound challenges for women’s rights, in part because of how it affects women’s progress in the workplace.

Could it be that traditional gender roles for home and work are just as harmful for men? A majority of men are rejecting some traditional notions of masculinity and breadwinning, according to a new Ipsos study conducted in collaboration with the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London and International Women’s Day.

Three-quarters of American men believe that employers should make it easier for them to combine childcare with work. And the same number disagree that a man who stays home to look after children is less of a man. Yet women disproportionately suffer a “parenting penalty” when it comes to pay, promotions, and advancement in the workplace.

Men want change, too

What’s more, many men have the desire to pitch in at home (just Google the myriad articles like, “I’m a Dad, Not a Babysitter,” or new laws requiring changing tables in men’s bathrooms). Interestingly, dads are just as likely as moms to say parenting is central to their identity. Yet many feel like they are still spending too little time with their children, according to the Pew Research Center.

“Men are facing a similar challenge in work culture that women have faced for a long time: If I ask for time off, am I seen as not being committed to my job?” says Scott Smith, who lives on the South side of Chicago and has a 7-year-old daughter. “It’s really on us to make sure we are recognizing that in being more present as parents, and that’s going to impact our work life as well.”

How does America move toward a more equitable future for women? For starters, equal pay. The same Ipsos study finds that seven in 10 Americans believe employers paying men and women equally for the same work would have a positive impact on gender equality. Americans also believe equal pay is one of the most important issues facing women and girls in the U.S. (second only to sexual harassment). Yet women are more likely to cite equal pay – and balancing work and caring responsibilities – as important.

And, perhaps, therein lies the issue. America is unlikely to change entire societal structures – both at work and home –without buy-in from men (and employers).

Change the whole culture

“Research shows that programs that engage whole communities on women’s empowerment issues tend to see more progress than those that focus solely on women,” says Meghann Jones, senior vice president, Ipsos Global Affairs. “Supporting women to succeed is valuable and necessary, but we have to shift culture overall if we are going to create lasting gender equality. Women are penalized professionally for the unequal domestic burden they carry, but men are also penalized because their work environment does not enable them to participate more fully in family life.”

What the Ipsos research shows, however, is that a majority of American men and women – and, importantly, and there is no difference between the sexes on this – do believe that women will not achieve equality unless men take action to support women’s rights, too.

These perceptions signal that the time is ripe for action on this cultural shift; action that can help women reach their full potential in the workplace and change work culture to be more parenting-friendly, for both men and women.

Public opinion increasingly supports that equitable parenting structures are not only vital for supporting mothers’ employment, but for employers to attract and retain top talent. In other words, parity in the boardroom starts with parity at home.