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The more things change….

Posted in Life & Love, and Women's issues

Apron housewife vacuuming denReading statistics doesn’t thrill me. As a matter of fact, reading any text filled with numbers tend to make me skim over it. But allow me to introduce you to some statistics I found wildly depressing.

The setting: Harvard Business School.
The protagonists: 7,000 alumni who agreed to participate in a study and answer career related questions.
So that we are clear, we are talking about people of both genders between the late 20s and late 60s, most likely white, high-earners and highly educated. People you would be hard pressed to think of as ever being discriminated against.

Here are the stats:

  • 57% of men were in senior management positions, compared with 41% of women;
  • 60% of male graduates expected their careers to take precedence over their wives’ (and in 75% of the cases it did indeed prove to be true);
  • 80% of the same men expected their spouses to take care of the children, with came to pass in 86% of the cases;
  • Only 25% of the women in the same age group expected their husbands’ career to take precedence, but they did so 40% of the time;
  • Looking at younger graduates (between 26 and 31 years of age only), the stats are only marginally better: 25% of the women felt their partners’ career should take precedence while 50% of the men expected it to be the case. 42% of the women expected to take care of the children while 75% of these young men felt that should be the case;
  • The highest earning female executives with small children spend 25 hours a week on childcare, versus 10 hours for their male counterparts.

I was taken by surprise by these numbers because, in my naiveté, I had expected highly educated young people of financial means to be dancing to a different tune by now. It seems I have been brought back to reality, together with everyone else who read this study.

I have nothing against men, or white men in particular. I love men. Let me be clear I LOVE MEN. I fought all my equality battles on my own little turf with optimism, a perpetual sense of hope and the certainty it was just a generational “thing”, that women my age or younger would not have to live in a second class world because it was just a matter of education, that men were victims of ingrained habits and expectations that were passed on through the ages. Education and prosperity would change all that, at least in the Western World, and in my lifetime. Wrong.

Glass Ceiling cartoonAs men and women we start on the same footing and, somewhere along the curve, our paths diverge: men on the fast track and us on the snail course. What these statistics prove to me is that, as much as Sheryl Sandberg wants us to lean in, no amount of leaning in and raising our voices and stating our opinions is going to make a difference if the other side is not ready to meet us halfway.

It’s patently clear that motherhood is not the culprit in keeping willing women out of the boardrooms but it’s mostly expectations on the part of the employers (now that she has a baby, she will not be willing to sacrifice that much/her schedule won’t be flexible/her priorities are elsewhere) but also, tragically, expectations within the household. No amount of workplace progress in terms of childcare, pregnancy leave and the like will help if, at home, women’s eagerness to work and to share is not encouraged and championed.

In a world where, in some countries, women are stoned or kept away from society, this might sound like small peanuts. But every society has different woes to tackle, according to their levels of literacy and affluence. This happens to be white corporate America’s and, in good conscience, we can’t sweep it under the carpet – every step towards full equality, whatever the context, produces a cascade effect.

Back to the drawing board then, to develop a curriculum tailored to boys born within privilege or to those who reach that privilege early in life. Ideas are welcome.

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