In Australia the bulk of the domestic load is still borne by women, who do more of the unpaid domestic and care work than their male partners. Now that many households are staying home, working from the dining table, children are being home-schooled, the cleaning is unending, and we seem to be cooking (and cleaning up) 17 meals a day. This increased pressure is bringing the typical family dynamic to light and showing where it might not be working very well.
The Value of Domestic Labor
A report by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) on Unpaid Care Work and the Labor Market valued unpaid care work in Australia at $650.1bn, or 50.6% of GDP, but is not included in the calculation of GDP.
The same report estimates that women spend 64.4% of their total work day doing unpaid care work, compared to men who spend 36.1%. In other words, women in Australia do nearly double the unpaid domestic and care work than men, and none of that is included in GDP calculations or household economic input.
This mismatch in unpaid labor serves to entrench the strong male breadwinner model we have in Australia. As women step back from their careers to do more caring, men continue up the career ladder and earn more, and suddenly as a family it makes more financial sense for the man to continue to focus on his career and the woman to do more of the unpaid work.
The WGEA report also suggested that redistributing unpaid care work between men, women and service providers will increase female participation in the workforce.
What Does That Mean During COVID?
For the first time in our lifetimes, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered what is happening in the workplace and in our homes. Most children are being kept home from school, so parents are homeschooling and keeping kids entertained while managing paid employment.
There are now often two adults working from home, sharing space that wasn’t intended to operate as two offices, a school, a playground and a home. There is also more tidying, cleaning and cooking required as all these people who were previously at work and school are now in the house all day. We are seeing an increase in pressure on parents and in homes while work demands remain the same as they were pre-COVID.
There is talk that as this pandemic serves to highlight all kinds of inequalities in our economic and social systems, it’s also drawing out inequalities within families.
What Does it Mean for Employers?
As pressures on workers and families has increased, it’s important for employers to show increased empathy towards their workforce right now. Being aware that the increased domestic load is very likely going to be absorbed by women enables you to take a proactive approach to managing your workforce.
Annabel Crabb famously said of women, “one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.” As an employer during this unprecedented time, you have an opportunity to shift that paradigm;
- Is there a way you can provide support to families to reduce the domestic load?
- Can you provide education and support around sharing the load at home more evenly?
- Would it be possible to, for example, provide ‘homeschooling leave’ to parents of both genders?
- How can you show more understanding to solid performers who seem to have slipped right now?
- Can you provide the same flexibility and care allowances for men and women to reduce entrenching gender roles?
Knowing the existing issues around sharing the load, you have an opportunity as an employer to be innovative and proactive in supporting your whole workforce, and in shifting gender dynamics to support increased workforce participation for women over the long term.
What to Do if Your Own Imbalance is Driving You Nuts
You may be one of the people who is balancing working remotely, homeschooling, managing an increased domestic load and trying to keep it all together despite increased stress and pressure. This is an opportunity for you to have an honest conversation with your partner about who is doing what around the house, and how fairly things are split.
Tracey Spicer is quoted as saying, “I believe equality starts in the lounge room before the board room,” when discussing the importance of having that conversation with your partner about splitting the domestic load.
It might feel like it’s not the right time to be having a potentially-charged conversation during a time that is already high-stress, however the fact that previous routines have all been discarded makes it a great time to renegotiate arrangements.
As with any difficult conversation, try to approach it with facts, as a team looking for a positive outcome for both you and your partner.
To help you to manage the balance of domestic duties in your family take a look at our Family Chores Checklist
The Future is Bright
A positive impact of throwing things into stark relief is that it can’t be ignored any longer, and the inequality of caring duties falls squarely into that category.
When WORK180 surveyed our community and asked what they want, the number one desire was for gender-neutral policies. This helps remove the assumption that, for example, flexibility is for mothers so they can manage the family alongside work, and helps to encourage more even sharing of caring and domestic duties between men and women. This, in turn, enables increased female participation in the workforce and helps improve career opportunities for parents and people working flexibly, because all parents are treated the same.
Employers have an opportunity now to affect that split, and individual families can start making shifts towards increased fairness in the home, leading to increased opportunities for women at work beyond the end of COVID-19.