I get frustrated when I hear the received wisdom that there aren’t enough women in the upper echelons of companies, because ‘sooner or later women want to have kids’.
Women don’t drop out of the workforce because they have children and families. They leave or get managed out of the workforce because the entire design and premise of the business world is predicated on the concept of the housewife.
The corporate structure was designed historically on the assumption it would always be men who went to work, and that there would always be a woman at home taking care of everything else.
Today, everything’s changed, but the way that business works hasn’t.
When the top of every industry is run by a closed loop of white guys talking to white guys about other white guys, sensible women look up at the top of their company and go: "Who the hell would ever want to work like that?"
We live in a world where the default setting is always male – and where men have never had the chance to discover how much happier they would be living in a world designed equally, and differently, by women.
This is where I differ from Sheryl Sandberg. Sheryl encourages women to Lean In within the existing system; I want us to change the system.
Here’s an idea: redesign the corporate world around the concept of the househusband.
As many men as women dread going to work on a Monday morning. As many men as women want to spend more time with their children. As many men as women want to get out of the rat-race and do something more enjoyable and meaningful.
So, flip the prevailing belief that men are born to be breadwinners and women are born to be carers and nurturers, and redesign the corporate structure around the opposite assumption.
Childcare, making sure the kids get to school and leaving work early to pick them up is the man’s responsibility, not the woman’s.
Running the household and making sure the fridge is fully stocked and meals are made is the man’s responsibility, not the woman’s.
Taking care of elderly parents and responding to medical/domestic emergencies is the man’s responsibility, not the woman’s.
If all these demands become too great, the man will be the one who wants/needs to leave the workforce to take care of them.
What would this look like?
Men would rethink and redesign work to accommodate this, to do what women have been doing for years – more work in less time – but now with the impetus to completely overhaul corporate life. Powerful corporate groups would lobby governments to improve childcare/health/elderly support systems.
Househusbands would become the new aspirational male role model – a badge of honour, celebrated in the media, a fixture in popular culture – versus the current scenario, where right-thinking men who are househusbands are looked down on by other men and women, and men daren’t take paternity leave even when offered for fear of negative perceptions.
At the same time, companies would need women to step up to the plate to balance this out. Women would be fast-tracked to promotions, to management, to leadership, and would have the opportunity to directly influence and redesign the way in which business is done, to focus on results, not process.
To factor in parenting as something both genders do, not motherhood as the sole domain of one. To drive more creative, innovative workplaces and working processes that mean everyone makes more money.
Florynce Kennedy once said “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”
If more men could be proud househusbands, supportive of ambitious women, the world of business would be happier, healthier, more innovative and importantly more lucrative for everyone.