It turns out the rumour about Walt Disney being cryogenically frozen until a cure for lung cancer could be found was just that. A rumour. Its persistence comes from its appeal as an idea and the misplaced hope it generates.
It seems Disney is not the only American corporation investing in the misplaced hope that cryogenics offers. For those of you who thought that a company car, stock options and a private medical insurance were the top tier in employee benefits, you may need to think again. It was recently revealed that Apple and Facebook are offering female employees up to $20,000 to freeze their eggs, so as to delay the onset (as in the onset of a disease) of children.
The argument in favour of these initiatives goes along the lines of why should women interrupt their careers at a crucial stage? Wait until you have established yourself in your career before wrecking it by having kids. I can almost hear Sheryl Sandberg urging 30 somethings to ‘lean-in’ to the stirrups to facilitate the egg-removal. One quick clinical procedure later and motherhood is delayed until a career convenient time in the future, where they might even have invented a procedure for freezing babies who keep them up the night before that crucial presentation.
This idea is terrible on so many levels I feel reluctant to list them, but I will give it a go.
We all have a right to a private life. Organisational involvement in conception rather flouts this right. Imagine the conversation with your Line Manager to access this employee ‘benefit’. Perhaps your manager will become involved and send you a meeting invite for your child’s birth?
This initiative thrives on misplaced hope. The fact is that the success rate of a live birth from a frozen egg is very low. Just because a great deal of money has been spent on egg freezing does not guarantee success. Women will be more likely to conceive naturally. If schemes like this gain traction, there will be women who don’t become mothers who could have become mothers. I’m not sure that ethical businesses should be facilitating this risk.
Egg removal sounds very clinical and straightforward. The reality is very different. Eggs are harvested after a woman has been on a drug regime for 6 weeks which amongst other side effects, impacts mood. This is followed by an uncomfortable procedure. More of the same follows at the embryo implantation phase, with no guarantees of success.
This all sends a very dangerous message about women and motherhood to society. Delaying or avoiding motherhood equals career commitment whilst having a baby is for those who are not prepared to invest in their careers. These women now have a choice about when to conceive and if they want to prioritise motherhood over their career, why should I support her career?
The most troubling aspect of all this for me as a man is that, again, men are let off the hook. Gender equality will never be realised unless men invest in the care of their children to the same extent as women.
Imagine an average couple who start a family. The mother will tend to take maternity leave of 9 months and may return to work but perhaps in a part-time capacity. During her child’s infancy, she might experience reduced development opportunities and miss out on a number of promotion opportunities. She may be seen as less reliable due to increased absences to look after her sick child or through needing to do the school run. Now compare this with the experience of the father. The father returns to work after 2 weeks of paternity leave. This is a positive experience for him as his co-workers and, importantly, his boss will now recognise his warmth as a caregiver as well as his abilities to lead. During his child’s infancy he experiences rapid career progression as going home at a respectable time involves nappies, reading stories and screaming kids, he might as well stay in the calm work environment and take on that extra assignment. During this same period, several of his female employees have babies and he benefits from the increase in opportunities this creates.
Of course this imagined couple invokes several stereotypes that many will find offensive. The point though is that men benefit from women going on maternity leave, whether this happens now or 10 years later with some defrosted eggs. Unless more men are prepared to share the responsibility of parenthood, women will continue to be discriminated against.
About ten years ago, in a previous job, I attended a conference in Harrogate. My role was to evaluate the quality of the research output and to write a report. The conference could be described as typical until the afternoon of day two, when the schedule was devoted to the question of devolution for Yorkshire. The culmination of the afternoon's activities was a vote amongst the conference attendees on the question of self-determination of England's largest county. Being a pragmatic realist I found that afternoon's fanciful programme to be a little frustrating, but at least I had time to start writing the assignment I had travelled to Harrogate for.
Scotland's referendum is very much a reality and a very important question for the Scottish people as well as those who live in the rest of the United Kingdom. However, I am beginning to feel that same sense of frustration I experienced in Harrogate. With just under 150 days before the vote, the seemingly ceaseless news coverage is reflecting the antipathy between the two camps. It is much like watching a couple in the throes of breaking-up arguing over who will keep the music collection and which friends they will be able to hang-out with. But in this case we are talking about oil, currency, the national debt, and the friends are Europe.
I don't know if I can take this level of bickering on a matter I can have no influence over for next 6 months. I thought that was what kids were for. But being pragmatic I realise that there is something to be done about this. The Implicit Association Test (IAT), devised by psychologists at Harvard University, is a tool that we at Pearn Kandola use to help people in organisations understand that they have unconscious bias and that these biases will impact on the quality and fairness of their decisions in a number of environments including selection, promotion and project allocation. It is a tool that has helped many organisations understand the unconscious factors that lead to low representation of people from minority groups and how individuals can take responsibility to manage their own biases.
This is not the only application of the IAT. In recent years the IAT has been applied in the following areas:· Mental Health - Including differentiating adolescents who were non-suicidal, suicide ideators and suicide attempters
But what has particularly piqued my interest in relation to Scotland's referendum is that the IAT has been shown to predict future voting behaviour of undecided voters, before they have consciously made a decision. Put simply, undecided voters do know who they are going to vote for, they just don't realise it! Maybe they like the attention, the endless debate or the ceaseless canvassing. The fact is I don't. If I get sufficient support for this idea I will construct an IAT that will help the undecided realise what their brains already know!
Just over a week until I become a part-time man. We part-time men are a rare breed. Only 6% of blokes in the UK work part-time and in my age group that figure drops to 3%.
I'm lucky to work for a progressive organisation and didn't think twice about putting in my request for part-time work. Step beyond this supportive environment and tell a few people in other walks of life and the first thing you will learn is that people will want to know what's wrong with you! In fact, I was struck by the need for part-timers to justify their working hours when reading the recent Power Part Time List 2012. The write-ups of 45 out of the 50 influential business leaders on the list justified why the individual was working part-time.
There are many reasons for part-time working ranging from not being able to get a full time job, wanting to study, ill-health, a desire for more leisure time or some form of caring. Mine is the latter and specifically, caring for my two young sons. Apparently, this puts me into an even smaller minority as most part-time men don't go part-time for family reasons.
'Aren't you worried about your career?', 'Why can't your wife do it?' And complete incomprehension are just some of the responses I have had from friends and acquaintances about my decision to go part-time. These reactions have surprised me and so I have set out to understand what the risks and benefits are likely to be for men who choose to work part-time.
What we know about part-timers in general
Very little research has been undertaken to identify the impacts on male part-time workers. The issues below hold for part-timers in general rather than just men and come from studies that have a very high proportion of women.
The picture from the general research into part-time working does not paint a very encouraging view. Despite showing the same levels of job satisfaction and commitment, part-timers are likely to have to deal with stunted career progression and unfair perceptions from their colleagues.
What we know about male part-time workers
There is one risk which is peculiar to male part-time workers. Research shows there is no link between men having less paid work and the proportion of domestic work they put in. Men who work share with female partners have been found to share childcare responsibilities but not the domestic chores. This risk will be somewhat nullified for me when my partner reads this blog!
To my knowledge there has only been one in-depth research stream that has explored the male perspective of part-time working. The research comes from a radical Norwegian social experiment called the 'work sharing couples study'. This study recruited couples in the 1970s to share work and family commitments, exactly the model that I will be trying to follow when I go part-time. In this study men were found to have:
Men also found the experience of working part-time to have no negative career impacts. They reported that their employers viewed their work sharing experiences as adding to their managerial skillsets. All men who aspired to management positions in the study eventually became managers.
Aware of the risks and heartened by the benefits, I look forward to a couple of years of combining corporate life with childcare and a myriad of domestic challenges.
It was International Women’s Day last week but I was astonished to learn that this is in fact one of over 200 international observance days in the calendar. There’s even World Star Wars day (May the 4th if you are interested, as in May the 4th be with you). Stripping away the more esoteric events you are left with a list of 78 Observance Days that are recognised by the UN. On these days we are expected to commemorate, celebrate or reflect on a worthy cause
Another of these is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on the 21st of March. (My first thought on hearing about it was that it sounds like a good idea but ambitious for a day’s work). If this day has passed you by then you are not alone but it has in fact been held on the same day for the past 46 years.
It was established by the UN six years after the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa. On March 21st 1960, 69 people taking part in a peaceful anti-apartheid demonstration were shot dead by police. Since then the 21st March has been a UN day of observance, which aims to remind people of racial discrimination’s negative consequences. It also encourages people to remember their obligation and determination to combat racial discrimination.
1960s South Africa is a far cry from the present day UK but the pervasive force of racism is still present. In the past year we have seen the rise in the English Defence League, a glut of racism in football, Croydon ‘Tram Woman’ and her racist rant, John Galliano sharing his far-right political ideals and the trivialisation of Gypsies (See ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’), to name but a few.
So on the 21st March what can we do to help to eliminate racial discrimination in our society? And by the way, I am recommending slightly tougher action than that endorsed by FIFA’s Head, Sepp Blatter (he thought that racist comments during play could be settled with a handshake when the match was over). The first thing we can all do is not tolerate racial or any other form of discrimination. This applies to every day of the year, not just the 21st March. Sometimes it is easier to pretend that we didn’t hear something than confront it but the psychological research in this area is absolutely clear, if you challenge someone’s racism they will be less likely to do the same again. Be bold.
The other thing we can all do is look internally and examine our unconscious biases. If you haven’t done an Implicit Association Test yet you can do one here.
Do these two things and suddenly this is not just another International Day of …Whatever.
Reading the British Press over the past couple of weeks you could mistaken for believing that the Government is imposing some Draconian measure in order to further hinder small businesses from economic recovery, but 'no' actually all that is happening is that they are, at last, beginning to redress the balance with regard to parental leave. There seems to be a somewhat unjustified preoccupation about the financial impact this will have, over and above the moral implications of the measure.
Equal leave rights have been in place in many Scandinavian countries for many years and have encouraged more couples to share the time off that they spend with their children but Britain has been stuck with a measly two-week break for dads in order to help look after baby. Not only is this a bit harsh on the mother, potentially by herself to care for her newborn pretty quickly after parturition but isn't it terribly sexist??
Clearly there are physical reasons why women may be more tied to looking after their newborn (although it looks like breastfeeding recommendations are changing again) but where is it written that mothers make better carers than fathers? If the shoe were on the other foot, would women be morally outraged? There are neurochemicals that are released in both sexes when baby comes on the scene in order to foster bonding and discourage abandonment, but it seems that there is such a fundamental assumption made about the 'natural instincts' and innate superiority of women in this regard that they are beyond question.
Implicit associations show us that many of us have a tendency to associate women with family and men with careers, even if this is happening at a subconscious level. Is it this bias that makes our assumptions go unchallenged? Or do we have these tendencies because there really is something fundamentally different about nature's roles for us in this regard? Perhaps, in the recognition that workplace discrimination has done so much to hold women back for so many years, this was the one area where women had some 'compensation' and was therefore untouchable. Ultimately however, it's the only chance that women have of achieving parity...if both parents can take leave then employers may cast worried glances at men of 'child-bearing age' too!"