Everyone is looking for ways to remain successful in uncertain times. Women especially have a lot on their plates right now with navigating the new normal at work, homeschooling kids or eldercare. If you’re a woman, you are probably looking for ways to manage your family’s needs without sacrificing your career. Unfortunately, in Canada and elsewhere, studies tell us it isn’t going well.
According to an RBC Canadian study, women continue to retreat from the workforce — their participation in the labor force is at its lowest level in 30 years — while men’s participation is increasing. Some are calling this the “pink-collar recession” or “shecession.” On the surface, it may look like this is a women’s problem and that the best people to solve this problem are women. The truth is, this is everyone’s problem — it is affecting 50% of the population and will likely be detrimental to the economy’s recovery. There’s also the human aspect. In today’s climate, women feel stuck, forced to choose between their family and their career. Is this a fair position to put anyone in?
Gender inequality in the workplace is a big issue, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. However, the best place to start is to get to the root cause of the problem. Women are not opting out of the workforce because they want to; they simply cannot see another option.
If we genuinely want to change things, we need to look at the problem differently. We specifically need to address the fact that women can’t be the ones to solve this problem alone. I believe that the real reason that women are struggling professionally right now is because of stereotypes that have been impeding career and business growth for years. These gender stereotypes have been around for a long time, but recent events have highlighted them. It’s more important than ever to address these stereotypes because things will not get better if we ignore them.
One of the most familiar stories I’ve been hearing from women this year is “my partner makes more money than me, so we decided for me to stay home and take care of the kids.” Or “I’m on reduced hours because my partner makes more money than me, and the decision was obvious.” Here’s the problem with this way of making decisions — it is focused on the short-term and can limit opportunities down the road. It also fails to address the fact that having a career brings more to people’s lives beyond the financial rewards, such as contributing to something larger, personal growth and fulfillment.
As half of a dual-career family, I know what it’s like to have to make tough decisions around whose career gets priority. Many of my clients are facing the same dilemma. I’ve learned from my own experience and my clients’ collective experience that putting the responsibility 100% on women does not lead to real solutions.
The government needs to do its part, as do companies and human resources departments. There are numerous ways companies can support working parents but these solutions take time and we cannot hold our breath any longer. We need to take action and start the conversation where we do have control and where we can make an impact. A great place to start is actually in our homes.
Everybody needs to have a crucial conversation about their career aspirations. The most critical element of this conversation is that you need to go deeper than the obvious financial goals. What are your personal and professional goals? What kind of role model do you want to be for the next generation? What do you envision for your future? Figuring out what motivates you internally is important. Before having this conversation with your partner, take some time to get clear on your own goals. This will make the conversation easier.
When you’re ready to have the conversation, the best way to start is to ask your partner these same questions and then listen. Don’t interrupt, just let them talk. When they’re finished, share your answers with them. Once you’ve got it all laid out on the table, then you can make a plan to take action. Stay curious in this conversation about what you can do to support the other person to achieve their goals. Get creative about how you can achieve your goals without sacrificing your partner’s.
In order for this to work, you need to take action right away. Don’t overthink it, just do something small within the next 24 hours. One example? If you need to make a decision as to whose Zoom meeting gets priority, take 30 seconds and ask each other how critical this meeting is to your long-term career goals. Another option is to block out time in the calendar so that each person has some dedicated time in the week to spend on their long-term goals. Everyone’s plan will be different, but it’s important to look for concrete ways you can support one another.
In our society today, we aren’t socialized to have conversations like these. Most of the time, stereotypes take over and it’s the woman’s career that takes secondary priority. Now, it’s up to you. Do you want to continue with the status quo or can you have the courage to get uncomfortable and start this crucial conversation in your own home? If everyone took action, even if it’s small, I believe we can create change, but it’s going to require bold action on everybody’s part. If you’re up for it, don’t overthink it; start the conversation.