June 13, 2019
As Father’s Day approaches, I observe my husband as he thoughtfully models behaviors for our pre-teen daughter and teenage son that he hopes will permeate their budding dispositions. In our family, gender roles are being tested and effectively blurred within a single generation. My in-laws, who live with us, oversee many of our household duties. While they were shaped by and adopted traditional gender roles, there is a striking fluidity in how these social constructions are translated to their grandchildren.
My son has learned to make scones from his father, and my daughter can often be found getting muddy in the yard with her grandmother and trekking in the hills with her father to track birds. My son breakdances, while my daughter builds amazing structures with scraps she finds around the house. With a mother who is a CEO and a father who is a materials scientist, they already have fairly progressive mindsets on the roles of women and men. In our multi-generational home, everyone pitches in where they are needed in a way that has transcended fixed gender stereotypes. My husband covers a range of parenting responsibilities, especially while I travel, and I am sought after for projects on science and math just as much as language arts. My children witness their grandparents taking great pride in all of our accomplishments, without judgment or gender bias.
As a female CEO, I am regularly asked to speak to women’s affinity groups within corporations and on social sector panels focused on gender equality. What I find most striking when on those stages is that, many times, I am looking out at a sea of female faces. While, of course, it is important that women join forces, have private spaces to tackle gender-specific challenges, and make our collective voice heard, I can’t help but wonder how much we limit progress when we fail to target – and to reach – the other (male) half of the population with these same messages. Men need to not only be in the room but to also proactively enable gender-equal environments at home, in the workplace, and in the community. We need to expand beyond women’s leadership circles to action-oriented networks of men and women who, together, are dedicated to promoting gender equality. When collective advocacy and urgency come from female and male leaders alike, everyone stands to benefit.
In his book, “The Time Has Come: Why Men Must Join the Gender Equality Revolution,” Michael Kaufman outlines how the societal definition of manhood comes at an oppressive cost for men that can have detrimental effects on their physical, emotional and mental well-being. Kauffman previously noted that involved fathers are healthier, more productive at work, and report being happier, while daughters in these homes aspire to higher-paying jobs, and sons do better in school. Promundo’s recently released State of the World’s Fathers report provides comprehensive data around the benefits of men being active caregivers and how shared responsibility within the home advances gender equality.
I have met and worked alongside many men who actively seek to erase patriarchal bias and have seen the benefits of their enlightenment. Some are raising girls who will ultimately have access to education and opportunities that go well beyond previous generations of women or men in their families. Some are encouraging their daughters to be the next business leaders and teaching their sons to challenge societal notions of male privilege and entitlement. Some are ensuring female leaders’ perspectives are influential in guiding business decisions, and others are sitting on boards and encouraging female executives, like me, to take the wheel.
To all of these men and to those who will follow in their footsteps, I say thank you. You do not view women’s initiatives as a charitable endeavor, but as a necessary investment for social progress. You lead lives that demonstrate these values and encourage other men to do the same.
You know that gender equality is not only an issue of fairness. You know that both men and women benefit from a gender equal world through higher rates of happiness and productivity and lower job attrition. You know that if girls are told they are entitled to the same opportunities as boys in school, and if they go home to their brothers and fathers who tear them down, then that teaching is lost forever. You know that education interventions that are gender inclusive are powerful. You know that more egalitarian partnerships are stronger partnerships.
There is a movement of men who have chosen to not simply cheer from the sidelines but to run on the field alongside women shooting for collective, ambitious and urgent goals. These partners in the gender equality revolution are doing much more than, as Sarah Grimké memorably requested, taking their feet off our necks. They are lifting up humanity. In a recent high school English essay on feminism, my son wrote, “Eventually all people, regardless of gender, will get the same opportunities in life. Until then…men and women will continue the fight for equality.” His words give me hope that he is developing into an enlightened man. Should he do so, I know many women and men will reap the rewards.