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Debunking Gender Stereotypes: Examining Work-Life Balance for Professionals

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

In recent Whatsapp discussions about work-life balance with a few college friends, an interesting claim was made, suggesting that women professionals are most productive after the age of 45. The indirect point being made was that, women usually remain busy with 'family responsibilities' aka child rearing until 45, after which they become more productive at work. I found this very objectionable stereotyping of both women, but also men. This statement was also tacitly claiming that men did not have 'family responsibilities' in their lives, and that men did not get busy with the birth of children.

I do not deny that our societies are still far from being gender egalitarian - patriarchy is rampant and implicit even in modern society. However, that does not mean that the stereotype of an alpha-male who 'earns the bread' and beta-female who prioritizes 'child-rearing' needs to be perpetuated! There are enough men and women all around us who are beating or at least making an honest effort to beat the stereotype. 

I've interacted with several fathers who are 'stay-at-home' dads while their spouses go out for work. I've met many more who have a daily job, but take the primary responsibility for child care to the extent they can - for example, they're the ones who leave office early to pick up the child from day-care or stay at home when the child is sick; often because their spouses have jobs which may not allow such flexibility [notably, these spouses are professionals with 'emergency' responsibilities like doctors, or inflexible schedules like for civil servants].

While it is crucial to acknowledge the challenges faced by women in managing both work and family responsibilities, it is equally important to avoid perpetuating stereotypes that undermine the involvement of men in caregiving and family support. It is important to acknowledge the nuances of work-life balance that gender equality in sharing familial responsibilities may not necessarily be rooted in gender stereotypes or traditional patriarchy but simply working or living conditions of families. Such tropes only make it difficult for these individuals, usually both partners, to strive to live their lives more equitably and sharing home responsibilities without grudges.

To begin with, it is essential to address the inherent bias in assuming that only women bear the burden of caregiving and family duties. One would definitely acknowledge the role of biological and cultural factors that have historically placed more caregiving responsibilities on women. Evolution and centuries of cultural habits have contributed to women's natural ability to be caregivers. However, research has shown [1] that, in the modern society, men are equally involved in childcare and household chores, particularly as attitudes and societal norms continue to evolve. 

It is unjust and sexist to assume that men are not impacted by the growth of their families or that they do not desire to contribute to caregiving activities or they're insensitive or uncaring. Men, in general, care for their children and family members just as deeply. While men may be less adept at certain household chores, trusting them and allowing them to take on caregiving responsibilities can foster their growth and capacity to contribute effectively [2]. 

I would even argue that burnout among men, especially from their mid 40s to 50s, can be partially attributed to the toxic work culture that prevails in many organizations, especially when it comes to 'work-expectations' from men. In the modern day DEI corporate culture, a male who leaves office early, is more likely to be passed over for a promotion, than a female. Society often criticizes men for prioritizing their families over their careers, whereas it is readily accepted that women should be given flexibility to attend to family responsibilities [3]. This double standard places unnecessary pressure on men, leading to burnout and dissatisfaction with work-life balance. 

Contrary to popular belief, family and caregiving responsibilities can also be a source of stress relief. Engaging in family activities and providing care to loved ones can create a sense of fulfillment and overall well-being. Taking care of children or ageing parents also has a positive impact on one's mental health. But more importantly, if you have a child or elderly parent who needs care, and you are unable to spend time with them, that has a detrimental effect not only on the care-seeker but on the individual who would like to spend time with them, but is unable to, due to work responsibilities. It is important to recognize the positive impact of these responsibilities on individuals' mental health; and the negative impact of not being able to take up these responsibilities, regardless of gender [4].

And while it is true that women often carry a dual burden of managing both work and home, it is equally unfair that men who assume these roles are not fully appreciated in the workplace. Indra Nooyi's inspiring story, shared in a video [5], highlights the need for society and organizations to recognize and value men's contributions to caregiving and household management.

Work-life balance is a complex issue that cannot be reduced to gender stereotypes alone. 

The dynamics of caregiving and family responsibilities are changing rapidly as is the impact of toxic work culture on both men and women. Work from Home and Work from Anywhere have had both a positive and negative impact on work cultures. However, by promoting gender equality rather than festering grudges at patriarchal practices of the past, trusting partners and acknowledging shared responsibilities, we can foster an inclusive and supportive environment that allows both men and women to thrive professionally and personally.



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