Today I was at a women and tech event. This isn’t the first one I’ve been to and I noticed that some of the usual questions came up. Questions about how to give young girls role models in tech, how to bring opportunities to primary and secondary schools, about what ‘in tech’ really means, until we eventually got to the question about balancing work and family life. The three women on the panel gave the usual kind of answers about improving support in the workplace, dealing with guilt, understanding it was ok to take some time out and so on. The two men on the panel stayed silent. I cheekily posted the following tweet, which was then picked up by the moderator.
At first I was a bit embarrassed as my tweet was not a real question, rather a funny remark to highlight the fact that we rarely expect men to answer that question. Yet, the moderator decided to ask my question in the most sincere and matter-of-fact way that took the two men quite aback. Both their answers clearly showed they had never really thought about that question, let alone been asked it in public. They acknowledged that they didn’t do a great job in terms of their family life and got to the conclusion that society gave men leeway to be bad at balancing family and work life, by judging them less harshly.
It was quite eye opening, both for me and, I believe, the two men. In my opinion, asking women that work/life balance question tends to exacerbate the problem rather than solve it. Whenever I hear it, it makes me question of how I will be able to have a career and a family, how I will manage when my partner will be working, when the best moment for me to have kids is – even though it’s a conversation for me and my partner.
Many of these gender debates are too focused on highlighting the problems and not the solutions. There is a negative bias towards what doesn’t work, while we could try and learn from where and when it works – and constructing a dialogue together with men, rather than question of why we still can’t have it all.