Who cares about those who do the caring?

Malini DevadasCoaching

This week I was a panellist for an alumni event at my old university, talking about women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), and I was also interviewed on the radio the day before the event, on the same topic. In the lead-up to these conversations, I spent a bit of time thinking about my work with scientists and helping them to get published.

One of the things that I hear time and again is that many women are struggling to find time to write because they are still doing much of the caring work in society. They may be caring for their children, helping their ageing parents (or parents-in-law) or looking after others in the community. They are also often doing much of the work for their household, such as cooking, washing and shopping. Of course, I hasten to add that this is not the case in every home; I’m always pleased to hear about partners who share the house and care work equally.

However, I do feel that this is an issue that is ignored when we focus on getting more women into STEM fields. Yes, it is important to have diverse workplaces and support everyone, but how can we do that when the unpaid work is not more evenly distributed?

Here are some ideas to think about:

  • Question your own beliefs – Do you still feel, deep down, that women ‘should do’ or ‘are better at doing’ domestic and caring tasks? When you hear about men doing those tasks, do you think of it as them ‘helping’ their partner? If so, where did those beliefs come from? Do they influence how you see your colleagues in the workplace?
  • Talk to your domestic partner about the workload around the house – Have an objective conversation about who is doing what at home. It is easy to focus on what we do ourselves and assume that we are doing more than the other person, but when two people feel the same then we can become defensive rather than listen to the other person. It’s also not always easy to see what other people in our house are doing. Make a list of everything that needs to be done and talk about how to best distribute these tasks. Remember that children are also capable of doing things to contribute to the running of a household!
  • Talk to your boss about what they expect from you (best to do this before you start a new job, but better late than never) – Have a conversation about the culture of your workplace. If you are expected to work until 9 pm every night but you want to leave work at 6 pm then this is going to be a problem.
  • Be a compassionate leader – Acknowledge all the unpaid work that happens in society; after all, we will all benefit from care in one way or another during our lifetime. Remember that your staff have lives outside of work and talk to them about how you can best support them in the workplace.

In short, everyone is allowed to have time for themselves and should be given sufficient time for rest and relaxation every day. Until this is normalised in academia then nothing will change.