As any parent knows, life with small children is busy - and costly. As schedules become more hectic and care taking needs more urgent, the trade-off between working full time or staying at home becomes more pronounced. Earn money by working, or save money by staying home to care for the kids? Historically, work-family balance has been socially biased, often pushing men into the workforce and women into family care.
But these traditional gender roles are at odds with societal shifts in attitudes - today, many women desire to work outside the home, and many men are equally supportive of that desire. The barrier, then, is an institutional one. In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, "Why Gender Equality Stalled," Evergreen State College Professor Stephanie Coontz noted that, "In the past 20 years the United States has not passed any major federal initiative to help workers accomodate their family and work demands." The result is what Coontz calls a "values stretch," in which the parents will disregard their internal career motivations in order to make their current situations palatable. Not surprisingly, these tradtitional gender roles are having a detrimental effect on familial relationships, stirring resentment.
In researching The Athena Doctrine, we saw a dramatic shift in the way successful individuals across a wide spectrum of industries, governmental positions and political institutions approach their work - and their lives outside of work. These people bucked traditional gender alignments, instead choosing to incorporate both masculine and feminine traits into their everyday decisions - and employing Athena traits at the institutional level, not just the personal level. In our research, we found that traditionally feminine traits like patient, flexible and plans for the future were more likely to be associated with happiness than masculine traits like aggressive, proud and decisive. The individuals who best modeled the Athena approach not only possessed these traits - they also put these traits at the core of their company culture.
Coontz' article illuminated several ways in which institutions can alleviate the stress of gender paradigms - shorter work weeks, more flexible work structures, higher empahsis on life-work balance. These are just a few possibilites that stem from a more feminine way of thinking: more flexible, more empatheitic, more visionary. If more institutions can embrace this thinking and leverage it to shape their company culture, we may ultimately see a more productive workforce - and happier parents.