4 Ways Work Isn’t Working for Men and How Women Can Help

The gender equity conversation often focuses on ways in which women continue to struggle for parity with wages, work-life balance, room in the C Suite, etc. But what is also true and often unspoken is that things are not at all rosy for working men.

As a woman who loves men (my sons, my brother, my husband, and many friends and colleagues) I feel that I, and other women, can do better at bringing voice to problems and finding solutions that help men thrive, too.

  1. Breadwinning pressure persists and hurts.

Bias that men should earn more money than women remains an unspoken and potent undercurrent that drives feelings of weakness, shame, self-loathing, frustration, and fear, and contributes to stress related illness, sleep disorders, and mounting internal pressure for men to succeed financially at a very high personal cost.

In two-income families, men report feelings of inadequacy and shame if their income is not higher than or at least equal to their spouse. In office halls and communities, wage disparity is rarely discussed when it is the women who makes more, leading to myth and misperception that it is somehow bad or wrong that men do not always lead the way with the higher salary, benefits and perks.

  1. Work-life balance continues to be seen as only a women’s issue.

While more men are choosing primary parenting roles than before, or opting out of high stress corporate roles to pursue their passions, the pursuit of work-life balance remains focused on women. The implication that they can stoically and selfishly work killer hours with no negative consequences to their personal lives results in men continuing to be less connected at home, and more socially isolated than women.

Men report that asking for flextime, alternative schedules or job-sharing is met with the negative bias that they are unfocused on their jobs. Announcing they are home with an ill child, or taking an elderly parent to an appointment, or working part-time to pursue a desired lifestyle is simply not done in their workplace. This results in men not even bothering to ask for flexibility as often as women.

  1. Men are not thriving in pre-work education.

Graduation rates are now 60:40 for women versus men, with fewer men pursuing academic advancement at all levels. Learning and achievement, widely rewarded and applauded for girls in school, are seen as less important assets for boys than athletic ability, which is rewarded more often, more grandly, and with more pomp and circumstance. As a result, men do not advance to higher education at the same rate as women.

Under-supporting men in school, and then unconsciously expecting them to make more money than women and dedicate themselves more avidly to a challenging career set men up for nothing short of failure and frustration.

  1. Little support exists for men who are struggling.

Men chronically do not turn to one another for support when times get tough. They are not rewarded at work for admitting weakness or asking for empathy, help and compassion as a way to find connection and support. The conditioned rugged individualist mindset of “going it alone” and succeeding heroically despite the odds often prevents men from admitting the need for help even to themselves.

When men lose a job or suffer a setback, this catch-22 creates loneliness and isolation. Men are more likely to suffer alone, resulting in higher alcoholism rates, increased anxiety and depression, and domestic problems.

What can we (women) do to help?

We can start by naming out loud the challenges men face in our modern world of work, and in particular, addressing gender equity on behalf of men and women together as a societal issue, rather than from one perspective or the other.

I think as women, we often contribute unwittingly to the problems men face by acting from our own unconscious bias or expectation. For example, we fear not having enough money to take care of our families, or we enjoy our lifestyle of part-time work, so we unconsciously contribute to the unspoken rule that our partners must (naturally) earn more.

Talking with men we live and work with about the expectations we have for income, lifestyle, education, and support is a huge step towards lifting the cone of silence that exists around these issues. In order to do this, we as women need to boldly and honestly come to terms with our needs and expectations – for example, do we expect to be financially supported, or are we prepared to contribute equally to monetary gain?

I remember my own strong frustration when the father of my children, during an out of work period, took primacy in our kids’ lives. It triggered my own insecurity as a Mom and my own guilt, which was hard to name. In discussing his needs and feelings as he coped with the identity challenges of not working, and naming my own fear of not being the perfect mother, we were able to stay upright about a role reversal and nurture one another.

For gender equity to truly prevail at work and at home, it can’t be all about women. Men must thrive in order for us to have healthy workplaces, communities, and families. Bringing voice to challenges men face, shifting unspoken expectations that linger about earning and weakness, and deeply listening to what the world of work is like for men today are critical steps that women can take to create work that works for all of us.

Jim Morris