At 5:30 AM, Sana, working as a senior financial advisor in a leading investment consulting firm, can be found trying to finish reviewing some business documents before the entire household wakes up. Despite the deadline being two days away, Sana wants to get the work out of the way – not because she is an overachiever – but, because of the unpredictable environment that we live in. She is trying to keep ahead of schedule in case there is any sudden home emergency, such as the house help taking an unscheduled off or an unexpected school assignment that she has to help her pre-teen with, or million other contingencies that come with the job of being the primary caregiver at home.
While juggling the home responsibilities with her career aspirations is nothing new for her, the work-personal life balance has suddenly become highly skewed, with the COVID-19 crisis upending the existing support system that helped women maintain a work-life balance. Like Sana, millions of women across the world are most adversely hit by the pandemic as schools, childcare, household help, etc., all are taken out of the equation.
Today, at a time when women are breaking barriers in every space—from reaching outer space to flying fighter planes to being at the helm of successful companies, and so much more, they are expected to always have their role as a caregiver, homemaker at the top of their list of responsibilities.
Challenges for Women at Home
COVID-19 and the work from home exigency made it starkly clear that either the women chose their path or invest much more time and energy in just meeting the basic performance levels at work and home.
These gender inequality issues have existed for centuries and even though changes in mindsets and ideologies have been chipping away at these hurdles, not only has the progress has been slow, the pandemic has also accentuated these issues further. While we have been demanding equality at workplace, the inequality at home has been largely ignored or managed with a supportive ecosystem built over decades by working women.
What happens when there is no gender equity at home?
When gender equality balance is lop-sided at home, the repercussions of this can be felt in the choices women make in their professional lives.
Women drop out or take safe options at workplace. They choose to maintain balance between home and work rather than be aggressive about their career advancement. They keep their ambition in check and wait for a more opportune time which may or may not come.
They choose family over career
Irrespective of where she stands on the career trajectory, a woman’s primary responsibility is towards her family. She is expected to be the one to give up her career in case any family dynamics change. In fact, Facebook’s Gender Equality at Home survey for India region found that almost 73 percent of the men surveyed agreed to the statement “a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home and children”, while surprisingly around 63 percent of women respondents agreed to the same.
Women can face marital discord
In cases where the woman is earning more or is higher on the career graph as compared to her husband, there can be instances where the husband may consider the wife’s success in a negative light, resulting in relationships turning sour, impacting personal lives.
Breaking Gender Biases - Change begins at Home
In order to break the gender inequality bias, it is imperative to remove it from the very root – one’s home. To do so, it is critical to talk about it. Bringing it out in the open can help remove the deep conditioning/programming of demarcating roles and expectations from children based on their gender. it is equally important to talk about different aspects such as gender equality, women rights, and building a better equal and fair world with one’s children to ensure that they grow up with these ideologies.
Another important change that needs to be brought into one’s home is that of sharing the care work. Start slow but sure with bringing in the notion of equal shouldering of household responsibilities.
I would not have been successful at work if I did not have supportive partner in my husband and a family that celebrate women achievers.
Change does not happen overnight. It takes generations to bring this kind of a shift. A lot of work has been done and much remains. To build a gender equal future, it is important that parents be at the helm of this change and do away with gender based roles in the home environment.
It is critical that girls/women believe in their own potential, be assertive, be vocal of their needs and be seen for what they are capable of and not what others perceive them to be. They need to break out of the prison of self -doubt and low self-esteem. Only by breaking the shackles of being a self-sacrificing entity that the age-old societal traditions have moulded them into, can the women of today help create a fair, unbiased, inclusive tomorrow.
(Manisha Pathak is VP Software Engineering-India, Amdocs)