Written by – Manasi Bharati, Senior Psychology Consultant and Jai Thade, Head of Content on the occasion of Women’s Equality Day
Anthropologist G.P. Murdock spent decades of his life extensively studying the structure of families in cultures across the world. One of his key insights was into the roles that we play in our families. Some play an instrumental role – providing financial support and focusing on the material needs of the family, while others play an expressive role – providing their family with emotional support and physical care.
In a society where child-rearing responsibilities are primarily assigned to the female, career can take a backseat for women. Even though we now live in a progressive, modern society where women are not hindered from working after having kids, they still face the age-old clash between managing responsibilities at home and work – no matter where they are in the world or in which capacity. Even tennis Grand Slam champion Serena Williams said that she had to retire to look after her family whereas a man in her situation wouldn’t have had to (The Times of India, 2022)!
Social norms around who plays what role have been highly gendered – men are expected to play an instrumental role, and women are expected to play an expressive role. Mix that with work and the role somehow changes for the woman (gets complex) and stays the same for the man. In the workplace, a life change such as parenthood is supported with the boon of parental leaves, creches and allowances. However, in an earlier article by In Diverse Company (2021) on parental leave, we spoke about how there are biases attached to the uptake of such leaves and even parenthood in general – the fear of being replaced, the anxiety of moving part-time, the worry of not being up to date. This may result in a ‘motherhood penalty’ and ‘fatherhood bonus’ – the mother becomes a liability to organisations as she is seen as unreliable at work and less faithful at home while the father becomes an asset as he is seen as productive at work and hardworking at home. Surprisingly, parenthood doesn’t automatically make these changes, but the employers perceive these changes due to their expectations (The New York Times, 2014), thus, further strengthening these gendered biases.
Even a superficial look at the data around this would show you how biased the gender roles and expectations are, and how it negatively impacts women:
- More than 50% of recruiters are in favour of hiring men over women after the increased maternity leave period in India (The Quint, 2018).
- Mothers are much more likely than fathers (54% vs. 44%) to report experiencing significant career interruptions in order to attend to their families’ needs (Pew Research Centre, 2020).
- Weekly, mothers spend 14.2 hours on housework and fathers spend 8.6 hours; and mothers spend 10.7 hours actively engaged in childcare while fathers spend 7.2 hours (Pew Research Centre, 2015) – COVID has added an additional 3-4 hours for mothers (McKinsey, 2021).
- Post-COVID remote and hybrid working has positively impacted the mental well-being of 71% of fathers compared to only 41% of mothers (McKinsey, 2021).
- 1 in 3 working women consider dropping out of the workforce or reducing their work due to family commitments (McKinsey, 2020).
Now while norms around women in the workplace have changed with more women joining the workforce, we have not seen a simultaneous change in the expectations of who fulfils what roles to what extent in the home. The bulk of domestic work is still done by women as evidenced in the data points above. Professor Arlie Russell Hochschild in her book called this the “Second Shift” (also known as the “double shift”) – the additional, unmonetized and unrecognized labour that working women often have to contend with once they return home from their ‘first’ shift (i.e. their jobs). With its focus on measuring productivity in the form of physical and immaterial outputs – most economic thought has revolved around the kind of labour that comes with people fulfilling the instrumental role in their families. What has been overlooked is this second shift – the work that playing an expressive role comes with, what we call as emotional labour. Providing love, care and nurturance requires putting other people’s feelings and needs ahead of your own. Planning and executing household activities requires mental effort. When these are absent, families suffer, and unhappy families create unhappy workers, ultimately having a downstream impact on the entire economy. This additional labour is likely to have a spillover effect on one’s ability to perform effectively at the workplace with additional health-related issues for both men and women (Väänänen A et al, 2004).
Not only in the workplace, but also in the households, there may be a subtle social penalty that not prioritizing their family may carry. There is a fear of being made to feel like they are not a “good” partner or a “good” mother and that they are failing in some way by not attending sufficiently to their household responsibilities enough, even when doing so is unrealistic. Such pressures may shape (and also probably explain) the “choice” that some women make to re-route some of their time and energy from their professional lives to their family lives.
The question that arises then is how can this mentality be changed going forward? Perhaps it is time.
Just like we have done a re-think about women’s participation in the workforce, it is worth us re-thinking men’s and women’s participation in the household. The connection and balance of both to the continued forward movement of our modern economic system might be game-changing.
– Yours sincerely,
From a woman conceptualizing and writing this article while folding laundry, cooking dinner, prepping tomorrow’s breakfast and tending to adult care after merrily wishing “Good night” to her partner who logged out of work, had dinner and went to bed after wearily saying “Good night”.
Jain, Neeti. “How can organisations tackle parental leave bias?” In Diverse Company (2021).
“Career or motherhood? Serena Williams says she wouldn’t have to retire to have more kids if she was a man.” The Times of India (2022).
Miller Cain, Claire. “The Motherhood Penalty vs. the Fatherhood Bonus.” The New York Times (2014).
Bhalla, Vineet. “The Flaw in India’s Maternity Benefit Law.” The Quint (2018).
Parker, Kim, Horowitz, Juliana Menasce, and Minkin, Rachel. “How the coronavirus outbreak has–and hasn’t–changed the way Americans work.” Pew Research Center (2020).
Parker, Kim. “Women more than men adjust their careers for family life.” Pew Research Center (2015).
Huang, Jess, Krivkovich, Alexis, Rambachan, Ishanaa, and Yee, Lareina. “For mothers in the workplace, a year (and counting) like no other.” McKinsey & Company (2021).
Lean In. “Women in the Workplace”. McKinsey & Company (2020).
Väänänen, Ari, May V. Kevin, Leena Ala-Mursula, Jaana Pentti, Mika Kivimäki, and Jussi Vahtera. “The double burden of and negative spillover between paid and domestic work: associations with health among men and women.” Women & health 40, no. 3 (2005): 1-18.