If we want more mom execs, we need more dad homemakers

There has been lots of media coverage over the past days about the Conference Board of Canada’s report on the deplorable absence of female executives in Canadian corporations,  but little discussion of the real issues underlying the grim statistics. The situation is not much different in the US, where women executives have also appeared to hit a glass ceiling.

Executive roles are very demanding. The hours can be long and the accountabilities significant. You are expected to be available at any time your role needs you which means you often miss important events in your family life and can start to feel you have little control over your time. This fact, combined with the often crushing responsibilities of executive roles, can be very stressful on a person.

For people who want it all – a healthy marriage, a rich family life, a social life, etc. – in addition to their high-powered executive life,  they need support.

Behind every successful married male executive is a spouse, usually female, who ensures most other aspects of their lives are managed effectively – kids, home, finances, social, etc. Even if there is help in the form of extended family or hired staff, one parent needs to take the lead in directing and managing this help. And that parent way more often than not is the mom.

There are lots of reasons for the lack of women executives – and solutions to this problem – but this is not a complicated problem to solve. It’s not at all about lack of ambition or capability on the part of women, as some media reports suggested. It is partly about a persistent and rank chauvinism that still thrives in macho executive circles.

But, in my opinion, this problem is fundamentally about social organization. As long as women bear the brunt of family management duties, they will be limited in their executive roles.

In order for there to be more moms who are executives, there needs to be more dads who are homemakers.


5 thoughts on “If we want more mom execs, we need more dad homemakers”

  • It’s so refreshing to read your piece. Because it really is that simple. As you say, for there to be more female top executives, more of their spouses need to take the lead role at home.

    • Thanks for the comment, Tania. As simple as it sounds, it is not so easy for men to change their perception of their role. I think a new generation of men may feel differently, but the changes are all tied up in gender stereotypes that society reinforces every day.

      • That “new generation of men” is a long time coming. I thought we were seeing it start when I wrote “Canada’s Best Employers for Women” in 1994, but I haven’t seen nearly as much progress as we should have in the nearly two decades since.

        According to a Time magazine article that just came out, though, the % of dads who stay at home has doubled in the past decade. (But two times nearly zero is…) http://ti.me/stayathomedads2012

  • I stumbled upon your blog on pinterest while I was, coincidentally, working on a reflection paper about the lack of women in high powered jobs. I completely agree with your point of view and that is in fact what I wrote my paper about! I think the things you write about are very valuable and add to the fact that maybe discrimination itself isn’t really the problem.

    • Discrimination in the corporate workplace is real and a serious barrier to women’s advancement. Just the other day, I read about a study in which two groups of investors were given a business plan that was identical in every respect except the company leadership: one version had male leaders and the other version had female leaders. Investors preferred the version with male leadership.

      However, social roles play an important supporting role. Should a woman find a partner willing to shoulder the burden of raising a family, she must still contend with criticism of her decision to choose a profession over the social expectation that she be the primary caregiver at home.

      It’s a complex web, to be sure.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Melissa. I really appreciate it.

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