When Will It Be Father’s Day in the Office?
Pop quiz: Who struggles most with work-family conflict?
Your first answer might be “working mothers.” But according to work-life author Brigid Schulte, surveys show working dads are as likely to be struggling.
Yes, there is evidence that women experience a “motherhood penalty,” meaning lower wages, fewer opportunities and negative assumptions, while men often benefit from a “fatherhood bonus.” But the fatherhood bonus comes with its own fine print.
Even in “family friendly” companies, dads fear repercussions if they try to use flex time or paternity leave. And some can’t afford to: In a 2014 survey by Boston College’s Center for Work and Family, 86 percent of fathers reported they would not use paternity leave unless they could receive at least 70 percent of their salary.
Gender-neutral, paid parental leave “is the fair, just thing to do, and also the smart thing to do — for families, mothers, fathers, companies and the economy,” said Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of UN Women. “You need to be able to make the business case for fathers.”
A survey by the Center for Economic and Policy Research may help: It reports that 91 percent of California’s employers said the state’s family leave law — mandating six weeks of partial wage replacement to bond with a new child or care for a family member — has had either a positive or neutral effect on profitability.
But even if universal paid leave catches on, treating working mothers and fathers equally may remain a challenge.
Q: Here’s a twist on sexism in the workplace. Why is it OK for women in a professional environment to wear low-cut tops that reveal an inch or more of the line between their breasts? Men never wear their shirts open. Men consistently wear their shirts with only one button at the top open. I find it offensive, yet how could I possibly even mention it without getting hyper-reactionary blowback? I’m not saying it’s harassment, but it seems there’s a different gender standard not typically discussed.
A: You are absolutely right: Different standards apply to women’s workplace attire. I just hope you’re not suggesting it’s because men are naturally more modest and professional. In casual-dress workplaces, I have seen more male chest hair than at a disco full of yetis.
It’s true that as you move toward the more formal end of the dress code spectrum, men have relatively few wardrobe choices: limited, safe, easy to comply with. Women ostensibly have more choices, but at a price: The safe zone between “dressing like a man” and “flaunting one’s body” is a narrow, ever-shifting path, with harsh penalties for missteps. And the game is somewhat rigged.
For starters, women’s clothing sizes are based on marketing, not measurements. They’re not always cut to suit different body types; even a correctly sized button-front blouse can sport a peekaboo gap between buttons 3 and 4. A neckline or hemline that looks perfectly demure when viewed from the wearer’s eye level can offer a drastically different perspective when the wearer is sitting at her desk or leaning over a conference table.
Granted, all these pitfalls can be avoided with time, research and experience. And tailoring. And money. And maybe 360-degree dressing rooms with upskirt mirrors and Cleavage Cams.
Back to your question: I can’t think of a realistic or respectful way for you to directly inform female colleagues that their cleavage is giving you the vapors. You might succeed with a discreet word to someone in HR or a woman who mentors the offender, assuming you come across as charmingly embarrassed, rather than incensed. Otherwise, your best option is to train your eyes to ignore the offending crevasse, as you would do with a colleague’s nose nugget or unzipped fly.
Bonus advice for new grads and interns: Even in a place with a casual dress code, err on the conservative side for the first few weeks. Take your workplace fashion cues not from magazines or mannequins or the nice salespeople working on commission, but from your employer’s dress code and your senior colleagues.
Of course, there’s no way to guarantee you’ll satisfy everyone’s personal standards of modesty and decorum. What matters is that the image you project is a conscious, deliberate choice that reflects your best self within your industry’s written and unwritten guidelines. But no flip-flops.
Q: My fiancee has worked at a multinational company for nearly a decade. Her ex-husband previously worked at the same company but left a year before their divorce several years ago. The company has now rehired the ex-husband into the IT department, where most of his friends are, without first informing my fiancee. She only found out in passing from someone who assumed she had been told.
While they will not be working in the same department or see each other often, she was not thrilled that no one thought to consult her before extending the offer. Understanding that the ex-husband has some privacy rights, are there any laws or regulations that require notification of a former spouse if an offer of employment is being contemplated?
There is no history of abusive behavior or harassment, but I think it is completely classless of the ex-husband to even apply for a job knowing she still works there.
A: I gather this divorce was not of the “amicable” variety. Assuming, as you say, there’s no history of abuse or sign of harmful intentions on the ex’s part — meaning they just don’t like each other — I don’t see how this is different from learning that any glass bowl from one’s past has become a colleague. Unpleasant, but tolerable as long as everyone plays nice in separate sandboxes.
Please note because it’s important: Anyone who genuinely fears being stalked or harassed at work by a current or former domestic partner, whether or not the partner works there, should notify management and HR. Many employers have adopted policies to help protect targets of domestic violence with job-protected leave, security protocols and other accommodations. But they can’t help if they don’t know about the threat. For more guidance and a list of states and localities that have adopted domestic violence laws that apply to the workplace, visit workplacefairness.org/domestic-violence-workplace.
It’s possible the hiring manager didn’t know about their relationship, or did know but didn’t want to give any impression that the ex’s marital status was a factor its hiring decision, which would be illegal. Either way, the company had no legal obligation to tell your fiancee anything.
It might seem fishy that the ex chose to apply to this particular employer — except that he has a history and friends there, too. And while it would have been sporting of him to give his ex-wife a heads-up, perhaps he feared she might say something to sabotage his candidacy.
In the end — again, precluding abuse or harassment — the ex has the right to earn a living where he likes. And your fiancee has the right to continue working there, or not, as she likes. For that matter, you could even apply for a job at this company. But let’s not make this weird.
Karla Miller about your work dramas and traumas by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more @WorkAdvicecolumns.