Reflecting or reinforcing gender stereotypes?

The Stay Home, Save Lives adverts brought a lot of comment last week. Even if women are doing most of the childcare  and housework during Covid, doesn’t reinforcing that discourage change?

equality, housework

 

There was much comment last week on the Stay Home, Save Lives Covid adverts showing women doing all of the domestic work and homeschooling. While some pointed out that the images bear some relation to what is actually happening – with countless reports showing women are doing more and worry growing about the impact on their working lives – clearly reinforcing this – and ignoring that some men are sharing the load more evenly – is not going to encourage change.

There has always been a tension between what is happening and what we would like to happen. How do we get from a to b? I remember a discussion about this with one organisation representing fathers which objected to us highlighting that women were doing more of the childcare and that the figures on part-time working had not really shifted. Why focus on the negative, went the argument. Our argument was that we were reflecting reality as it was at that point, highlighting how much more needed to be done. Workingdads.co.uk and workingmums.co.uk are full of case studies and research and initiatives that show how things have been changing and could move forwards.

The same arguments come to the fore around any talk of working mums. The TUC’s recent survey on furlough and childcare is all about mums. Dads don’t get a mention. Is that reinforcing social attitudes or merely reflecting who is bearing the brunt of the caring roles in Covid [despite evidence that many dads doing more than they usually do]?

Our name is workingmums.co.uk. We have a dads site and we have been championing more equal parenting policies, but the name also reflects the time we were set up and how the website has, over the year, embraced numerous issues that still face women in the workplace, which include the double shift but are not limited to that.

The same discussion arises around employee networks. Should they be parenting networks or women’s networks or dads’ networks? Ideally, they should start as parenting networks, but it is not enough to put the name parent on something if only women turn up. All the communications around them need to reach out to dads who are often less likely to join them. Plus dads may have particular issues they want to discuss so may need their own space and may respond differently to different ways of reaching out. Unless we are actively recognising that this is complicated and that particular groups may need more encouragement or different strategies, we are not going to get the inclusivity we seek. Today we launch our new umbrella company WM People which brings together all our different sites while recognising the different needs of each group.

In recent years there has been some sense of fatigue when it came to the issues around women in the workplace. Why can’t we move on and focus on other groups? Haven’t we ‘done’ women? Covid has shown that we most definitely haven’t and that things can go backwards – and at pace. Diversity and inclusion encompasses a lot of different groups, but each one requires an awareness of the complexity of the causes and effects and specific actions.

The Covid adverts let men off the hook. We need to encourage change, while being acutely aware that by painting a reality that we haven’t yet reached we are not brushing the issues under the carpet.



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