Earlier this year—precisely a year after our first lockdown— our Partners, Westpac, commissioned a report to look at how Kiwi households were balancing employment and domestic work. Titled the ‘Sharing the Load Report,’ this report produced with Deloitte uncovered the gaps in both paid and unpaid work between the genders, how these moved in lockdowns, how they compared to what households wanted. Importantly, it provided a call to actions to help overcome these, and inspiration on how, if we change gear, can increase the New Zealand economy as a whole.
The report found just 10% of couples who both work full-time had a 50:50 split of unpaid work. Women typically take on most of the unpaid work at home (69% of the work, vs 34% of the paid work), while men do the majority of the paid work. When asked about what this division would look like in an ideal world, women said they wanted to do more paid work and less unpaid work, while men wanted to spend less time working, and pick up more of the load at home instead. Interestingly, during Alert Level 4, female respondents said they did proportionately more paid work, while male respondents said they did proportionately more unpaid work.
So, to help us take these learnings into our next normal, Westpac’s report has outlined 4 key points to consider to reroute our workloads, and truly harness the capability of our workforce:
Normalise flexible work
Covid was New Zealand’s unified, giant, crash course on working from home — with many parents having to add juggling childcare into the mix. This provided a space for both employees and employers to work together to balance paid work and personal commitments.
Considering the biggest incentives for the couples to take on more paid work was the ability to work from home (44%) and having flexible working arrangements (42%), it’s clear that we need to take a leaf out of our lockdown working playbook through into post-covid life.
Not only does working flexibly aid the support of more engaged, productive, loyal employees and help parents remain in employment and share the role at home, continuing the moment of flexible working has powerful benefits to foster healthy perceptions. Notably, if flexible working is normalised, especially for men and those in senior roles, it can be powerful to minimise presenteeism-based misperceptions of flexible working or working from home. As evidenced in our exploration of the Motherhood Penalty, which notes that working mothers can be held back by misperceptions on being less productive, more distracted where flexible hours and remote working are part of their working style.
“Normalising flexible work – including for men and those in senior roles – will be important to incentivising its uptake, and minimising any perceptions of those who use flexible work as being less interested or committed to their careers.”
Encouraging dads to take parental leave
Removing the barriers for men to take on more of the load at home, especially when it comes to childcare, starts from the moment a child is born. Here, the Government and Businesses have opportunities to work together to improve parental leave. Some organisations already have their own parental or paternity leave policies in place that allow for more time off work, or mechanisms to ensure salaries don’t fall behind.
Cultural elements need to be considered as well: men need to feel they are able to take parental leave without worrying how it might impact their reputation, earning potential, and career trajectory. That requires workplaces, men, and their families, to help normalise fatherhood in the workplace.
Improving childcare affordability
The cost of childcare proves to be a challenge for respondents of this survey — one survey found it was the second-most common barrier preventing respondents from achieving their ideal split of paid and unpaid work between them and their partner. As the report suggests ‘More affordable childcare may change the way the load is shared at home, by supporting more families to outsource childcare, or outsource a greater proportion of it. In turn, this may free up more individuals – especially women – to participate in the workforce. Over time, this may help to shift perceptions of women as homemakers alone.’
Challenging gender norms
Everyone has a role to play in changing how we think about gender and gender roles. As the report reminds us, ‘They are so pervasive, they often alter our preferences without our conscious awareness, or influence our decisions in ways we may not fully agree with.’ This, once again, calls on us to assess and recalibrate our own perceptions and actions around gender, as well as carve out space in all our environments to actively challenge them.