Being the head of an HR team, diversity and equality is a passion as well as part of the job description. I don't run a perfect ship, but we're getting there. We have processes and plans and working groups and reporting mechanisms. We are making changes. I feel respected in my role and an equal to the men in the Executive team.
But at home? That's another story
I'm grateful to live with a man who is just as passionate about equality as I am- not seeing gender roles (or 'pink' and 'blue' jobs, as I have often heard them called) in the home, but viewing all the household tasks as shared jobs. However when this comes up in conversation, I'm often surprised by the reaction I get.
'Your partner cooks?! Without you making him? Oh my gosh, you are so lucky!'
'A man doing the cooking? How did you wangle that?'
Mmm, not really so lucky. Yes, it's lovely to have a cooked meal each week night (particularly his satay chicken!), but declaring that it is lucky for me not to have to cook, implies that the cooking should fall to me because I am female, and that it is noble of him to take it off my hands.
In fact, my partner loves to cook, and he's bloody good at it. He doesn't feel this emasculates him in any way- he just enjoys it as his house role. (He does then get to relax on a Sunday with the sports channel, while I do endless laundry!).
We are both career-minded, earn similar money and happily split the finances 50/50. Yet if I book myself a holiday or buy a new pair of shoes, I am greeted with 'Dear, that's expensive. What will your other half say about that?'. Frankly, it's irrelevant what he would say about it- it is not his money I'm spending, it's my own.
And I must share my greatest bug bear; when we ask for the bill at a restaurant, 9 times out of 10 the waiter brings it and puts it in front of my partner, waiting expectantly for him to get his wallet out. I feel a mixture of pride and annoyance when I correct the waiter that this time, it is in fact my turn to pay the bill, and reach across for the check. The bias here is aimed at both myself and my partner- he is the man, so must be the breadwinner and pay for the meal. I am the woman, so I must accept this treat and smile sweetly. This social pressure could make my partner feel he has to always pay to be considered masculine, and I should not pay, to protect and endorse his role of 'the man'.
I love how Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie puts it in her text 'We should all be feminists': 'What if both boys and girls were raised not to link masculinity and money? What if their attitude was not "the boy has to pay," but rather, "whoever has more should pay". The concept of the person with the most to pay, or even both partners to fairly pay, still seems alien even in the social circles I am part of.
So why do we still sign up to the concept of pink and blue jobs? Pink; that females do the cooking and cleaning (even if they have a demanding, full time job), and blue; that males control the finances and should pay wherever possible?
Globally, business are working hard to ensure men and women are treated equally at work, and are given roles based on their strengths, preferences and aspirations. We are eradicating gender bias in the workplace, yet in our social environment these small biases are still very real.
My ideal is an environment of social equality, where men and women are raised without different assigned roles or expectations. The world is moving on from this, and we must catch up with it. I hope one day to raise children, and if my son wanted to be a ballet dancer and my daughter a CFO, they have the social equality to pursue these dreams without bias- and without a mention of 'pink' and 'blue' jobs.