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Blog: Dads Stand Up!

5minute read:  As Father's Day approaches, it's long been on our radar that there can be no real progress for women without men also being on board.  Whether it's equality at home or at work, the idea of mums and dads sharing the parenting load - and the corporate world being supportive of this - is central to any real way forward, because without it women will always be the ones juggling; the ones dropping everything; the ones adapting; and fundamentally the ones compromising their careers often to the point of collapse.

Here, one of our favourite and most outspoken (in a good way!) training partners, Dawn Metcalfe (Founder, PDSi and Author of the HardTalk series) has her say on why this paradigm must be addressed...and fast.  

"It's hard to get answers to surveys. Really hard. You have to contact a LOT more people than you think and sometimes you need a specific kind of person and so it gets a little bit harder. That's why when a friend who works at a very large professional services firm asked me to complete a global survey (asking female leaders their opinion on the outlook of the economy) I said yes. 

To be honest I'd ignored the automated request a few times. But then I received a personal email, and despite being sure the majority of questions wouldn't be relevant to me as a small business owner, I started the survey.

It was uneventful enough: the normal number of questions that make one pause and question one's life choices (why don't I have a budget of USD 100 million plus?); that feeling you get when you have to scroll a little further every year to find your birth year and of course the many questions I had no real opinion on or expertise in. 

It wasn't until I was answering the last couple of questions when I began to wonder why I was being asked one in particular. Given the purpose of the survey was to gauge opinions on an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, why was I being asked about how many kids I have?

So I asked my friend and she put me in touch with somebody at the firm who I assume wrote the survey. I asked if men were asked the same question (three times) and was then told "no". Ok, fair enough. This seems crazy to me but I know how much time and energy will have been put into creating this survey. And I know this firm spends time, energy and money talking about and putting in places initiatives to ensure they have access to the full range of talent they know the need (diversity, inclusion, engagement). So I ask why?

And I'm told: "No harm in asking, Dawn. I guess it’s because those questions are deemed more relevant to senior women executives who are unfortunately a minority, and progress in gender equality around the world seems remarkably sluggish." 

Which doesn't seem to me to answer the question. So I replied with: 

"Here’s my thinking: perhaps some of the reason the progress in gender balance is sluggish is because it is assumed that women will 'bear the brunt' of child-rearing. And perhaps asking men the same question would help to change that perception and reality. 

For example, increasing maternity leave is a good thing, but having parental leave so that both parents can take responsibility for their children is better if you want to create an equal workplace.

Would love to hear your thoughts. This is an area in which I am often asked to speak (e.g. at Abu Dhabi Book Fair next week) so interested in developing my ideas always. 


At this stage, on 16 April, the global lead (for this project I'm inferring) was brought into the conversation. And that's where it stopped. I responded to the introduction and have since followed up a few times. Answer came there none. 

If you're going to ask a question in a survey it should be because you want to use the information you get. How are you going to use the information about how many children women have? If this information were also asked of men it might prove a useful purpose by allowing us to compare the impact having children has and help develop further lines of questioning. 

This isn't about being "fair" or "empowering women"; it's quite simply about making sure businesses and economies are ready for the future by ensuring that the best possible ways of living and working are available to the most amount of people. That's how we lift productivity. A rising tide lifts all boats and a falling tide makes it clear who forgot to put on their swimming costume (to misquote JFK and Warren Beatty). 

I'm disappointed not to have heard from the firm - I thought we had the beginnings of an interesting conversation and I’ve found it has sparked a number of others. They spent a lot of effort asking to hear my voice and then ran away when they didn't like what they heard. That’s not a great way to win hearts and minds. Or to learn. 

Now that summer has begun I'm settling down to do some reading, reflecting and writing. And one article I've finally had a chance to read properly was this recent piece in The New York Times:

The following quote particularly caught my attention:

"There’s no gender gap in the financial rewards for working extra long hours. For the most part, women who work extreme hours get paid as much as men who do. But far fewer women do it, particularly mothers. Twenty percent of fathers now work at least 50 hours a week, and just 6 percent of mothers do, Ms. Cha and Ms. Weeden found. There has always been a pay gap between mothers and fathers, but it would be 15 percent smaller today if the financial returns to long hours hadn’t increased, they found. 'New ways of organising work reproduce old forms of inequality,' they wrote in another paper."

This is, I think, what bothered me about the survey I was asked to complete. It made the same assumption that is causing this problem, for men and women, for companies and for governments i.e. that women will automatically be responsible for childcare. That is an assumption that increasingly can't and shouldn't be made. Not because women need to be empowered, but because we all do. The world is chaotic and maybe it was ever thus. But we can get better, we have already made progress and maybe it's true that "no change is ever good for everyone" but we should be doing all in our power to make it good for as many as possible."

If you'd like to get involved in this conversation, please drop us a line at or contact Dawn via PDSi.



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