At the annual World Economic Forum(WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Lisa Witter, a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum noticed a trend: Men seemed to be much more interested in workplace flexibility than they had been in past year’s meetings.
In an article for Fast Company, Witter noted the increase in the number of men who were interested how to increase the opportunities to work flextime schedules at their jobs:
To my surprise this year, workplace flexibility kept popping up in places that I didn’t go looking for it. This isn’t the first WEF with flexibility on the agenda, but what seemed to be different this year was who was talking about it and why.
Traditionally, conversations about workplace flexibility have been led by organizations and champions, or at events focused on gender equality–in other words, women’s advocates.
A session led by Geraldine Chin Moody, a Young Global Leader and board member of UN Women Australia, on “Flexperts”-– the idea of using a technology platform to match business needs with the bits of time “stay-at-home” mothers may have to flex their business skills and expertise on their own schedule-–drew an equal balance of men and women attendees.
There are several reasons why more men are looking for workplace flexibility.
For starters, Millennial men and women–generally thought of as those born in the late 70’s to the early 80’s–are more likely to have been raised by feminist-minded parents than their own parents, the Baby Boomers, who grew up with a different set of ideas about the way the family and the workplace was supposed to be structured. The family experience of Millenials is the most diverse in U.S history: One in four Millenials grew up in a single-parent household; many grew up with working mothers and in blended families created after divorce.
Some of those Millenials who grew up in the traditional 1950’s-style families–Dad worked crazy hours, Mom stayed home and took care of the kids–have decided that they want more flexibility in their own career’s and more egalitarianism in their home life.
Business owners, in an attempt to keep a happy and productive workforce, are looking for ways to give Millenials more of what they want. And one of those ways is to provide more flexible working hours.
Another reason business owners are making changes is in order to become accommodating to women workers who want to leave the work force or to work part-time for a period of time in order to stay home with young children. These mothers want part-time work that makes usage of their education and experience before becoming mothers; also, these women want to rejoin the work place after their children are old, and working part-time is a way for them to keep their skills sharp and to retain a connection with a paying employer.
In allowing workers flextime, employers are hoping to lower their turnover–the proportion of workers who leave the company within a certain period of time–and to keep their most dedicated and well-trained workers on the payroll and away from competing companies.
Millennial men are looking for a different lifestyle than what their own father’s had.
Today’s men are spending 10 times more time with their children than men did just a generation ago.
Using detailed diaries by families of how they spend their day, sociologist Suzanne Bianchi from the University of Maryland, has documented the sea change in parenting behavior of men from just one generation ago. “Dads had a clearer message in the 1960s about how they were supposed to behave: they were supposed to earn a living. Maybe now it’s less clear that breadwinning is enough. We still expect dads to be good breadwinners, but it’s not sufficient: you’re also supposed to be caring and nurturing your children.” Bianchi continues,”I think men are also taking cues from their wives. Just because moms go to work doesn’t mean they lose the feeling they should be involved moms. And dads are also picking up the message.”
Women’s advocates made themselves clear: We are here; we are not going anywhere; and thus, the work place needs to change to suit our need to balance responsibilities on the job and at home. Finally, now that men are saying the same thing, workplace is picking up the message, too.
Jamila Akil is a Senior Editor at Beyond Black and White. Follow her on Twitter @jamilaakil