An Iowa native and Iowa State graduate, Tracy Willits is a corporate communications veteran, having held positions in healthcare, publishing and agriculture. She passionately pursues clarity in the written and spoken word, is in awe of the power of social media, and appreciates the opportunities her life has presented.
To build a workforce with more gender diversity, we must first focus on the problem of undervaluing the role of caregivers asserts Anne-Marie Slaughter in her new book, Unfinished Business. Ms. Slaughter is one of the keynote speakers at “Generation She,” Iowa Women Lead Change Conference in Des Moines on Oct. 27.
In her book, Ms. Slaughter examines how reframing our own expectations of what women are good at and what men are good at can eventually lead to a more accepting society of gender-neutral roles. Many caregiving roles have fallen to women and, over time, have been undervalued both in perception and monetarily. Through keen storytelling, Ms. Slaughter writes of men finding their way as caregivers in a society that expects the woman fulfill that responsibility. In one especially poignant example, she shares a story of the lead-parent father who felt slighted when he took his daughter to the playground. He sensed that the mothers felt he wasn’t there by choice (which he was) and was a professional failure left to care for his daughter.
So how do we begin a monumental shift in society where it doesn’t matter which parent takes the lead in caregiving or bread winning? Unfinished Business shines a light on a global issue that is holding women and men back from realizing their full potential. To advance women, we must expand caregiving beyond its traditional definition as a gender issue to a workplace issue. Ms. Slaughter gives us plenty to think about when considering what we can do as individuals to reframe the issue.
First, start with acceptance. Look deep inside our hearts to realize the value caregivers have in our world. If we were to hold the role of caregiver equal to or in higher esteem than a lawyer or doctor, then we may begin to shift our perception of what is important. Bring men into the conversation. When work life balance issues come up in the workplace, men often stay silent for fear of being not “macho enough.” If you’re the boss, you can create a safe environment to have these discussions. If you’re not the boss, speak up and demonstrate it’s okay for men and women to have this dialogue.
Ms. Slaughter states, “If family comes first, work is not second. Life comes together.” Here she is telling us that you need not prioritize your work over your family regardless of your gender. When you put your family first, you are a happier and more productive employee. Now we need to bring the workplace along with us. Employers must stop believing their workers are available anytime to answer an email or staff a shift. Companies need to create and follow policies and behaviors that support and advance caregivers at every level, which will make life better for everybody. As company practices are more caregiver-friendly, women (and men) may stay in the workforce and not jump off their career track because they need to care for a child, spouse or relative.
After you’ve read Unfinished Business, you will be inspired to make changes within yourself and how you value caregivers. You will also be armed with solid information to start making a change at your workplace.