Support Is The Work-Life Balance Women Need
By Sheffy Kolade
When “work-life balance” first appeared in use, it was in the ’80s as part of the Women’s Liberation Movement, advocating flexible schedules and maternity leaves for women.
But the concept precedes the liberation movement all the way back to the Industrial Revolution. Workers averaged about 100 hours per work week, and soon social and health implications rose, particularly for children, who were also working at the time. Following several calls for reforms, the UK first agreed to fewer working hours for children and women, and the U.S. adopted the 40-hour work week with its amended Fair Labor Standards Act.
Since then, work-life balance has evolved to take into account both female and male workers. But questions about work-life balance continue to be disproportionately posed to women over men. Why is this?
Women are often adulated for wearing many hats—working full-time jobs while managing their homes, spouses and kids simultaneously. This should apply to everyone working full-time jobs who has a family, but research shows that working moms are more likely than dads to assume more responsibilities at home. This means that more women assume multiple roles outside of their jobs while being expected to maintain the same efficiency as their male counterparts. These responsibilities are lopsided, and the various aspects of their lives continue to bleed into each other as they attempt to manage them all. Hence the emphasis on work-life balance among women—a concept meant to ensure that a part of their lives doesn’t overshadow other, equally important parts.
The problem, however, is that the popular notions of work-life balance are individualistic and still place the onus on women to find the solution. Also, the struggles they face as a result of donning multiple hats tend to be beneficial to society. This upholds a pattern where society refuses to acknowledge its complicity in overburdening women, avoids the core concerns and leaves women to fend for themselves—all while profiting off them.
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The result is that more women are speaking up against the myth of work-life balance and are sharing their experiences of how they are forced to choose between aspects of their lives and how they suffer for it. So how can women achieve work-life balance without being overladen with responsibilities meant for all of society to shoulder together?
Ideal solutions for work-life balance should be discussed within the parameters of institutional agencies encompassing both social and organizational support.
Social institutions like the family, government, media, schools, religious establishments, clubs and financial and policy groups need to play their roles in influencing support for women through the information they foist on society with regard to the fairness of shared social responsibilities and the promotion of equal resource allocation.
Work-life balance, when targeted at women, reserves the management of the family exclusively to them, minimizing their need for the support of the rest of society. More men need to reevaluate their roles as fathers, husbands and members of the family and assume shared responsibilities for the home alongside women.
In this Bangladesh women’s study, more women pointed to issues arising from workplaces as having a greater negative impact on work-life balance than familial affairs. They complained of non-flexible and long work hours, a lack of clear policies and daycare centers, etc., and said they would find work-life balance relatively easier with managerial support.
Here are five strategies with which institutions can better support working women, based on the suggestions of San Francisco’s Gender Equality Principle (GEP) on work-life balance.
1. Exit And Re-entry Plans
Findings from the San Francisco GEP show that married moms, especially those with younger children, are less likely to work than other women, whereas married dads are more likely to work than other men. Women are disproportionately affected by having children; therefore, it’s important for businesses to discuss helping them transition out of and back into the workforce after having kids.
2. Dependent Childcare Support
Support for dependent child care includes the provision of daycare services as well as access to information and resources pertaining to daycare services. This will help working mothers be better able to fulfill their duties.
3. Increased Workplace Flexibility
Flexible work schedules can help address concerns about a lack of paid leave, wellness programs and family support policies in the workplace.
Companies may, for instance, provide workers the freedom to work longer hours on certain days for fewer days in the week or offer employees options to work part-time or from home. Another option is to give them advanced notice and some control over their shifts and overtime hours in order to make suitable arrangements for family care. There are many different ways that flexibility can be incorporated into the workplace to support women.
4. Equitable Access To Professional Development Opportunities
Managements should provide fair access to professional development opportunities, including networking, client development and mentorship, for women of all levels and sectors.
5. Promoting Equal Access To Literacy, Education, Vocational And IT Training For Women
Many women are unable to make high-level contributions at work due to a lack of training and education and continue to be underrepresented in historically male-dominated professions, despite abundant training opportunities available for professionals. These programs are seldom designed with women in mind. Given the importance of information technology (IT) to the modern economy, it is important that more women are encouraged to learn and develop these traditionally male-dominated skills.
Training and vocational courses should be made available to women in diverse modes, such as evening and weekend sessions, online learning, mentoring and tutoring programs and even job shadowing, to increase their participation.
Work-life balance is a misrepresentation of work as something outside of our lives when, in fact, it is something that should be integrated with other aspects of our lives for balanced living. What women need is not more tips on how to manage work and home, but rather institutional support that understands and adopts the peculiarities of being a career woman in today’s society.