Levine is a juggler. Not the circus kind, but the day-in-day-out,
multiple-responsibility-in-a-short-period-of-time kind, helping
working parents lead balanced and productive lives. He’s Director
of The Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute (www.familiesandwork.org),
a research and education project examining the future of fatherhood
and developing ways to support men’s involvement in child rearing;
he conducts a series of workshops presenting practical strategies
to support fathers and mothers in their parenting roles; and he
runs James Levine Communications, Inc. (www.jameslevine.com),
a literary agency. We spoke at his home in New York City about
the differences between men and women and the future of work for
How are the issues different for mothers and fathers when it comes
to balancing work and home life?
What’s interesting is that both men and women are struggling with
this issue in remarkably similar percentages, but the big difference
is that women tend to talk about this when men keep it silent.
It’s what I call an “Invisible Dilemma.” Women tend to have recognition
and peer group support—recognition from friends and family that
this has to be a big issue in their lives. They’re more comfortable
expressing the need for support and receiving it.
Let me give you
a couple of facts to substantiate this. When the Families and
Work Institute runs the National
Study of the Changing Workforce, which is the most comprehensive
study on the American workforce that runs every five years, the
study found in 1992 that 60% of working mothers experienced significant
work/family conflict, but it also found that so did 60% of working
fathers. In 1997 when we re-ran the survey, we found that the
number had jumped to 70% for working mothers, but also to 70%
for working fathers.
conflict is a real issue for men and women in surprisingly similar
percentages of the population. It’s just that we have a magazine
Mother devoted to this particular issue. If you say “working
mother,” it’s assumed there is conflict. There’s a tension between
those worlds. If you say working father, people assume it’s a
redundancy. Men work, so what’s the big deal; fathers work, that’s
what they’re supposed to do. And there’s not an assumption that
they have any similar conflict. Our research, both quantitative
and qualitative, is suggesting that indeed they do.
How are some of those issues played out specifically as it relates
What we’ve seen happen over the last 30 years is that women still
do, about on average, an hour more per day of housework than men
do. Working mothers do an hour more per day than working fathers
do and working mothers do on average an hour more per day with
the kids than working fathers do. When people report this and
talk about the presumed wide difference between what women do
and what men do at home, for instance, my friend and colleague,
Arlie Hochschild, talks about The
Second Shift, she and others have looked at very old data
and then not reported fully all of the data. If you factor in
not just who’s doing what at home, but how much more time working
fathers are spending on work outside the home, on average they
spend two hours more per day outside the home. So, the total number
of hours spent on the stuff you have to do to take care of a family,
working and caring for stuff at home, the total number of hours
is actually about the same for mothers and fathers.
And, over the last
thirty years we have seen men’s participation in both housework
and childcare has increased and women’s have stayed at about the
What has then really increased is the amount of additional work
that men are doing?
My hunch is that probably men are doing more both outside the
home and inside the home.
So that’s the rest of the story that isn’t being reported today.
Well, what are some of the workplace things men can do to advocate
for more time or for more balance?
The invisible dilemma is that men face the very real problem that
they don’t feel comfortable bringing these issues up and they
tend not to be acknowledged at work. So, the first step is to
make the dilemma visible. That is, you have to put it on the table.
I don’t think this is a matter of bad employers out there who
are not recognizing it. My recommendation is to make it everybody’s
responsibility. I think fathers are responsible. I think employers
are responsible. I think mothers and wives are responsible.
Let me show you
how that plays out. Employee fathers need to step up to the plate
and put their family needs on the table. That can be done in ways
that won’t jeopardize their jobs. What I typically get when I
do these seminars for big corporations on what I call “Daddy’s
Stress/Daddy’s Success®” some guys will say, “Well, you know,
they would never allow that here.” And I’ll say, “Well who? Who
is ‘they?’ Is it the CEO, the chairman, the CFO, your boss?” It’s
not just they. It turns out that it’s this assumption. It’s what
I call “blaming the culture.” And so, what happens is that men
too often blame the culture and assume that their workplace won’t
be responsive without ever asking and challenging the workplace.
The first step is to start by having a discussion with your boss.
In my book, Working
Fathers, there are also very specific guidelines about
how to do this.
Great. What’s next?
Second, if you’re the boss, just because they don’t ask doesn’t
mean your employees don’t have needs. Men are reluctant to talk
about this. So, just because your employees are not bringing this
issue up doesn’t mean that they are not having these issues. We
found that when people put this issue on the table, it turns out
that men acknowledge the issue, and employers and employees can
work out solutions just as working mothers do.
The third is that
moms are culpable or have responsibility for this in the following
way. I had lunch with an editor six months ago who said to me,
“I wish you’d come in and do one of those seminars at my husband’s
company.” And I said, “Why?” She said, “Well, every time he gets
sick, every time our child gets sick, I’m the one that has to
stay home.” And I said, “Why?” She said, “Because his company
wouldn’t allow him to stay home. He can’t get off from work at
his company.” And I said, “How do you know? Did you ever ask him?”
And she said, “No.” We just assumed it was the case. She assumed
it was the case. They never discussed it.
You’ve got unwitting
collusion. She then reinforces the dominant cultural norm, which
is that when baby gets sick mom is the one that’s got to stay
home. Let dad stay out when babies are sick. There’s no reason
for women not to have a conversation and say to their husbands,
“You know, I can’t stay out. You have to talk to your boss. I
can’t be the one that’s always staying out.” More and more couples
are having this negotiation or discussion, but I’m still amazed
at the number who aren’t and where the cultural norm sort of kicks
in and they just assume that mom’s got to be the one who stays
home, not dad. Putting this very simply, dads have to ask their
employers, employers have to ask their male employees, moms have
to ask their husbands, and none of us can assume that men don’t
have work/family conflict, or that men can’t help be part of the
It sounds like everyone is blaming the culture without us actually
speaking up and talking about the issues.
That’s exactly my whole premise. Everybody blames the culture
without taking responsibility. This isn’t rocket science. Many
of these things are solvable. It’s a matter of putting them on
the table and having a discussion. I’m not saying every work situation
is changeable, but far more are than not. But, they’re never going
to change if people don’t act like adults and say, “We’ve got
this issue. Let’s talk about how we’re going to solve it.”
And, it’s not an issue of taking off everyday, but it’s a finding
the balance, of finding ways to do what you need to do.
My last questions, then, is what does this change hold for the
future? If we’re not blaming that culture, what does this mean
in terms of work? Do we really get a more balanced and welcoming
climate? What’s the world we’ll have when we are all talking about
You know, I’ve been looking at this for a long time. My first
book came out in 1975. So, I’ve been looking at this, considering
the research, for thirty years. And I’m seeing more change now
than I’ve ever seen over the last thirty years. It doesn’t mean
that things are going to change dramatically or overnight, but
the fact that working fathers are becoming part of the public
discussion, the fact that a magazine like yours is saying we’ve
got to pay attention to this, the fact that all these companies
are starting to invite me in to do seminars... Last week I worked
with Pfizer, before that Merrill Lynch. I just got a call from
Credit Swiss First Boston. I’ve done my seminars with Microsoft,
IBM, Texas Instruments, AOL Time Warner, and a while back, American
Express. I don’t do any marketing on this stuff, but with the
word of mouth, it just gets around. Clearly, this issue is coming
to the floor. The way I look to put it is, “The revolution is
not yet upon us, but we have to recognize this really gives an
Evolution, not revolution.
Right. We’re in the midst of an evolution, not a revolution. A
lot of people get impatient with the pace of change. I was impatient
thirty years ago when I began working on this issue. I thought
I’d write one book and the world would change overnight.
I’ve learned that
these are very complex issues and that we’re working with fundamental
issues in our lives—the relationship between men and women, husbands
and wives, employees and organizations—and you know, all these
interlocking pieces don’t change right away, but a lot of the
pieces are starting to add up. Women’s increased opportunities,
salary opportunities in the workplace, men exchanging ideas and
aspirations about themselves, and corporations finally beginning
to realize that they can’t keep this artificial divide between
people’s home and work lives. They’ve really got to recognize
that all of us bring some of our family issues to work and our
work home. Unless we take a more holistic view of this, we’re
never going to be able to recruit and retain the best people.
If you want to be competitive, you’ve got to realize that people
have a family life, and you’ve got to respond to it.
That’s all people; men and women.
Levine is founder and Director of the Fatherhood Project,
the longest-running national initiative on fatherhood (founded
in 1981) and currently part of Families
and Work Institute. If you have a questions regarding The
Fatherhood Project or are interested in having a workshop on Daddy
Stress/Daddy Success® delivered to your organization, contact
him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Conner is editor in chief of Learning
in the New Economy eMagazine (LiNE Zine), CEO of Learnativity.com, and
speaks to organizations each year about how learning influences
life. Learn more about her at www.marciaconner.com.