This wasn’t the blog post I had planned for today. But then I read this article in the Sydney Morning Herald and I had to respond.
Essentially what the link says is that it’s ridiculous that women are asked questions about how they balance work and home life and men aren’t (true), and that the answer to this is not to stop asking women this, but to ask men as well. It’s the latter premise which made me go “Woah, WHAT?!”
This idea is so flawed it makes me want to scream. The problem with asking questions like this to women in a male-dominated (or in fact any) workplace is not that men aren’t asked them too. It’s that they are offensive on a much more fundamental level. Firstly, they assume total incompetence on the part of the person being asked. The subtext is always how could someone like you possibly cope with this job and all it entails and deal with anything else. It doesn’t matter if you ask that question to a thousand men and one women, it’s rude, offensive and built on an assumption that they can’t cope.
Secondly, it also assumes that all the people out there who don’t have kids a) don’t have to juggle home life and work, and b) anything they do is far less important than all the kid things other people are doing. Let’s take a look at that for a second. I don’t have kids, but 99% of the things which make a home run like taking out the rubbish, paying the bills, doing the cleaning, making sure there is food in the house, they all still have to happen even though I have no small people demanding attention too. As for part b, well, I have responsibilities in the form of pets, which also need me to care for their every need because they can’t do it themselves. And let’s not forget all those people who are unpaid care workers looking after elderly or sick relatives. Or those of us who do things for neighbours who can’t – for years my husband and I did the shopping for the lady who lived in the flat above us because her mental health problems made that sort of chore difficult for her.
So rather than asking your employees or colleagues such an offensive question as how do you manage it all, why not stop asking it entirely. Instead, start asking the following question:
Is there anything we (the company) can do which would make it easier for you?
And then see how you can implement that. It might be something small, like someone needing to start earlier and finish earlier a couple of days a week because they need to collect their kids from school or get their horse in from the field before it gets dark, or take their neighbour to a support group, or get to training for the sport they play outside of work. It isn’t about why they are asking, it’s about showing them you trust them to do their job and everything else in their life, and you value them enough to want to help them do everything more easily. It’s about recognising that just because someone doesn’t have kids, that doesn’t mean their life is automatically easier, or more manageable, and that regardless of gender, we all have outside stresses which trouble us at work.