How Millennial Men Can Champion Workplace Equality

Quickly: Take a look at the genders below and the words associated with each one.

  • Male: Family, Children, Caretaker
  • Female: Career, Money, Leader

Does that seem right to you? Or is the following more palatable?

  • Male: Career, Money, Leader
  • Female:  Family, Children, Caretaker

If you’re like the 76% of participants surveyed in Harvard’s Project Implicit study, your implicit bias suggests you favor the latter set of gender associations. In fact, both males and females were unconsciously gender-biased and considered men more apt for career pursuits, while women were thought of as better homemakers.  And though unconscious bias itself isn’t particularly bad, the implications can be dire. These thoughts and perceptions related to gender/work/family not only shape our reality but permeate and often negatively impact every aspect of our culture. In particular, we see the burden it places on women’s careers.  However, in Corporate America, where paid family leave is more the norm than not, there is an opportunity for change.

When professional women decide to have a baby and take maternity leave (if they’re one of the lucky 14% of the civilian population who even receives paid parental leave); senior management, as well as, colleagues may assume they’ll be less committed to their work once they give birth.  Working mothers who intend to return to the corporate office and do so when their maternity leave ends, often find themselves in situations where they’re asked to Prove-It-Again. When this occurs, colleagues and employers, tend to discount working mothers’ previous successes and question their expertise, repeatedly.  Asking working mothers to continually prove their competency, isn’t only insulting, but detrimental to the advancement of their careers.

Which is why these women often find themselves barreling headfirst toward the maternal wall. Working mothers caught in the cycle of proving it again, are viewed as less capable, overlooked for promotions, and given limited access to the leadership pipeline.  Though at times, these women may require more flexibility in the workplace when maternity leave ends, more often than not, their commitment to work doesn’t waver. Women don’t have babies and suddenly become incapable of producing good work. It is the unconscious bias against working mothers and what’s perceived as their inability to be both a good employee and good mother that is the problem.

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