Recently, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant published an opinion piece in the New York Times with the provocative title “How Men Can Succeed in the Boardroom and the Bedroom.” The answer? Promote gender equality at work and at home. Thriving businesses have more women in leadership positions; thriving marriages—ones with more sex and happier spouses—share household chores.
It’s great if a man wants to help with the dishes or encourages a female colleague to speak up at work, but it is going to take more than that to make gender equality something that is not just a theory, but an actual practice. As Nanette Fondas points out, Lean In Together only works if companies and corporations allow for a more balanced gender division of labor both at the office and at home.
Lean In Together makes some helpful recommendations for what a man can do at work to foster equality, such as evaluating performance fairly. But the truth is, movement like this stands no chance as long as women are being paid 78 cents on the dollar for their work, as long as there is a stigma attached to a man taking paternity leave, or as long as childcare costs are so high that one parent—most often the woman—must give up work to assume the majority of parental responsibilities.
To effect real change, we need to start with equal pay for women’s work. In the US, if working women were paid the same as their male counterparts, poverty rates would be cut in half for families with working women. Moreover, for the nearly seven million single mothers, a comparable wage would increase their income almost 17 percent, and their poverty rates would fall dramatically.
In North Carolina, 358,000 families with children under the age of eight live in poverty. And while the the percentage of all children living in poverty in North Carolina is about 25 percent, that statistic changes to almost 40 percent for Latino, Hispanic, American Indian, and Black children, according to the 2013 US Census. Lean In Together emphasizes how making changes to gender equality now will impact the success of future generations, but none of that will make a difference if infant and child mortality is on the rise in NC, and children who live in poverty are far more likely to experience developmental delays and levels of stress that will severely impact healthy growth.
.All of this is to say that, to make any substantial impact on gender equality in North Carolina, we need to make our state more family friendly. Coalitions like NC Families Care seek to ensure basic rights for working families: sick leave, family leave insurance, workplace flexibility, and protection from Family Responsibility Discrimination (FRD). And we desperately need it, as we are currently failing North Carolina women and families.
We need legislation that will guarantee women and families the rights they need in order to achieve this blissful balance of work life and home life. Moreover, since corporations are people too, we are going to need to have them lean in as well if it is going to work.
Melissa Geil is a freelance writer and English teacher. Although originally from New York, she moved to North Carolina the first time for college (go Tar Heels), and now she is back to stay. She enjoys reading, hiking, and gallivanting around the triangle with her family.