Here’s why gender balance starts at home not the office
Marcel runs an SME business in Belgium. In an interview he explained why he thinks gender balance starts at home.
“As an owner and joint CEO of a family run SME set up with my wife for over 30 years, I pride myself in being at the forefront of what is now called gender balance. I just called it running an efficient business that worked for me and my family. We have had booms and good cycles, but with the almost inevitable downturns. We have survived depressions, recessions and financial crises. I have had to make cuts and redundancies, but we have bounced back. We pride ourselves on being innovative and sustainable. My management team is 40% women and has been for years. 60% of my small workforce are female. But as any small business owner will tell you, gender balance doesn’t necessarily start in the workplace. Gender balance starts at home. And if it doesn’t, it probably should.
Started by my wife, Yvette, to cope with raising our three children, we began offering remote working in the 80s when it was still called “working from home.” We now also have employees working part-time and flexi-time. Babies have been brought into the office. We try and be considerate at exam time and for anyone who doesn’t know this, Belgian schools are closed on Wednesday afternoons, which is always a problem. We don’t have meetings earlier than 9 or later than 4. Not that we do many, but we go for business lunches, rather than dinner.
But some of the most difficult conversations in my whole career, have been with my female employees who ask for special family consideration.
I am always sympathetic, but from time to time found myself puzzled and wondering why is it always that my company makes the extra effort. Or to put it another way:
Because none were single parents. Some of the women I have employed while wanting to pursue a career, have family situations which are not gender balanced. I have observed three different types of issues over the years:
- Women look for gender balance professionally but accept the imbalance and a stereotyped role split, within the context of their own relationships.
- They or their husbands actually prefer the old way of doing things based on gender imbalance
- Women have partners who work for organisations which discourage men from active involvement with family commitments.
This then becomes one of those circular problems. Where does gender balance start? For organisations to be run effectively, many would say that gender balance starts at home. Women have to have discussions with their partners. And men need to also talk to their own bosses.
We need to talk about how we get out of this vicious cycle otherwise real gender balance will be difficult to achieve and businesses will end up giving what will become perceived as increased preferential treatment to women.”