Economic power still dictates many of our cultural norms and practices, and, currently, numerous social structures prevent women from obtaining much of that power. So, it’s great to see so many places and institutions beginning to get behind supporting women, from attempting to create more job flexibility to moving toward pay equity to enforcing no-tolerance policies for workplace harassment and more.
But, I would propose that these are Band-Aids that do not fully address the core problem at hand. While we must continue supporting the aforementioned efforts, we cannot ignore the need to ramp up parallel efforts to address both the gender biases that persist and the structural barriers that create obstacles to women attaining economic equality or power.
For example, consider the school hours across the U.S. Our nation’s school system is antiquated as far as timing is concerned, and the constraints that result from this harm women’s career trajectories. With over 50 percent of women working, does it really make sense that schools get out at 2 p.m. or 3 p.m.?
This gap causes problems for parents, in terms of finding and paying for good babysitting or child-care services to fill the time between the end of the school day and the end of the work day. The child care industry is not set up for the 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. time slot.
Typically, child care is an all-day ordeal, either via day cares or nannies. Finding nannies willing to work just 15 hours a week during the 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. gap is difficult for most women. And, because paying for the requisite 40 to 60 hours to retain a nanny full-time is expensive and not affordable to all, some women cut back or leave the work force altogether, at least temporarily.
Additionally, the majority of workplaces today are not set up to handle flexible work options for women or primary caretakers, and often it is not looked upon favorably to choose these options when they are available, though perceptions are slowly changing. So, who do you think takes the hit to their careers to regain the flexibility to deal with sick children or early school pickups? Still, today, it’s mostly women.
The bottom line is that the nation’s antiquated framework around school timing works against much of the primary caretaker’s career trajectory (be the primary caretaker the mother or the father). We can start to help women access more equitable work options and, consequently, the economics, by fixing this issue and other structural barriers that put unnecessary obstacles in the way for women.