Coming out of the pandemic, for what most of us hope is the final time, it feels pretty good. And it’s another milestone – one that triggers reflection. Yet again.
Mine comes as a working mum (I’m not unique in that, 77% of mothers of dependent kids do the exact same thing in Scotland). Although I must admit my boys are particularly feral – the type you avoid sitting anywhere near in a restaurant for fear of a meatball being launched your way. Woe is me!
But to the matter in hand.
Families have obviously progressed over the years. Traditional nuclear families had the dad earning a living, and the mum at home raising the kids and managing the house. Today, 18% of dads take on the role of primary caregiver. And these working women, they still spend an average 15 hours a week more on domestic ‘duties’ than men. So, it’s going in the right direction (women are working, and some men are caregiving), but gees it’s still markedly unbalanced.
And when the pandemic hit, red flags were quickly raised. Any progression made – however slow – had the potential to be undone.
At its peak – with schools and childcare out of action – dual-earners couldn’t both work, and someone often had to step fully into the caregiving role again. It was, unsurprisingly perhaps, predominantly the mum. And when push came to shove, mums were more likely to reduce their hours or give up their jobs altogether if needed, as they tended to be the lower earner. They were also over-represented in insecure roles, and sectors that were hit the hardest. They were 23% more likely than dads to have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Even full-time, high-earning, mums who managed to sustain their careers initially over the pandemic felt the increased strain of the juggle eventually – with a proportion going part-time, or leaving altogether, to cope.
So many mums felt the pressure to take a career break or lost their job. Their skills would likely get stale and their networks probably decrease – obviously making it harder to start back where they left off. You arguably have the perfect storm to set female equality back.
Depressing? Yes, a bit. But then there’s evidence that the pandemic has the potential to really shake gender equality up for the better in other respects. Notably – men appear to have ‘upped their game’ when it comes to parenting/household responsibilities.
I recently sat through a session with Fathers Network Scotland. Their research said 67% of dads intended to parent differently as a result of their pandemic experiences, and 60% said the 2020 lockdown had a positive effect on their relationship with their child. Post-pandemic, dads are generally more engaged, want a better work/life balance and want to spend more time with their children. Win-win-win.
Other research shows chores are being more equally split; 40% of dads claim to cook more, and 30% claim to do more cleaning/laundry (although their partners estimate this to be a little lower, naturally).
All suggesting that increased presence at home has generally encouraged dads to want to be around even more.
And how does the vision become a reality? Obviously, employers need to offer flexible working to help enable this – proper flexible working. Many businesses paid lip service to the idea pre-pandemic, but genuinely delivering it could really turn the tide for gender equality – especially in sectors not known for work-life balance. And we all know the creative sector is up there.
And blanket rules won’t work, we’re being warned. Stating the obvious, but everyone’s circumstances differ, and their ‘homes’ look very different. We can’t continue to penalise men in the home, nor women in the workplace.
These conversations are happening, amongst us all – and that’s a leap in itself.
We’re still on the whole (in Scotland) working from home – so whether men continue to strive for this greater balance once offices re-open, and employers allow them to do so, will remain to be truly seen. And as for my family – we’ve never had more equality in the home than we do now. It really works, and we’ll make sure we continue to make it work on the other side of this too.
Sarah Rowe, Group Account Director.