Are Men 'Better At Handling Women's Issues Than Women'?

On the cover of the latest Bloomberg Business Week, reporter Sheelah Kolhatkar makes a compelling case that “men might actually be better at handling women’s issues than women.”

The difference, she says, lies in diverging views of balance. Women, as Kolhatkar describes it, believe balance means giving up a little from the “life” part of the scale and adding it to the “work” part, or vice-versa. Men, on the other hand, aren’t giving, they are taking. “They believe in getting what they want”, she writes. They're “as serious about their parenting as they are about making partner” she continues, and they “apply the principals of efficient time management to the task of parenting.”

It’s an elegant argument -- a valuable change of the lens that almost points the way out of the life work dilemma for both sexes.

By way of illustration, here’s Kolhatkar’s description of how Rob Lenoue, a partner in the Toronto office of Deloitte, manages his week:

Lanoue, who became partner in 2010, has two children in school full time, a 5-year-old and a 9-year-old, and he estimates that he works one day a week out of his basement office at home, partly to spend more time with them. He manages this, he says, by “being proactive with my calendar, weeks out,” planning his schedule meticulously, moving in-person meetings to conference calls when he needs to and being blunt and in-your-face about it. Even when he’s in the office, he sometimes has to leave at 3:30 p.m. to drive his son to his hockey games, a fact he broadcasts to help dispel the stink that can trail people when they sneak out early. “Everyone knows my routine when I’m not there,” he says. “Between 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., I’m available by e-mail. If there’s anything I have to review, it’s well into the evening.” In other words: It’ll get done, but on his time.

He will also get it done without guilt, according to Kolhatkar. Most of her article is a profile of Lenoue and two of the other leaders of Deloitte Dads, an in-house affinity group. She describes a conversation among those guys, where they talk about “the challenges of getting home for bath time, showing up at recitals, and how all that must be reconciled with driving ambition.” But, she continues, missing from the chatter was “the guilt and self-flagellation, which, if they were women, would be accumulating on the floor in puddles around their feet.”

Isn’t this the ideal? The goal? For all of us is to stop thinking of our lives as an “either/or” and begin thinking of it as an “and.” To work, and live, in the way that is most productive, rather than the way that is expected. To stop constantly comparing ourselves to an unachievable, out-dated ideal of what a worker, a father, a mother should be -- an ideal that was never all that idyllic in the first place.

Why then do I say that this is ALMOST an answer?

Because the guilt and the fear of judgment are not created by women in a vacuum. Society still has different expectations for women, and different consequences when those are not met. The ideal worker is still considered one who is singularly devoted to work while the ideal parent is similarly devoted to children.To generalize broadly (but usefully for the purposes of this conversation) women have been chipping away at this conflict for decades, and have taken it as far as they can on their own.

Now it is up to the workplace -- which has to embrace and codify this new approach to life and structure of work. To allow everyone to work as Lanoue does, not just the occasional outlier.

And it is up to men. Women have opened the door to this change, but men have to walk through it. Women have made it possible, but only together can we make it the norm.

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