Male and female symbol on the scales with balance.

Men, the Home and Gender Equity

By Sean Martin, Managing Director, Head of Financial Institutions & Financial Technology at Raymond James Ltd.

March is Women’s History Month. As we note the accomplishments of women today and in the past, I have to admit that it is embarrassing to think about the percentage of senior roles that are held by women in the capital markets. In most groups across Bay Street, the percentage of women likely range from a high of 25% to a low of 0%. To make matters worse, when you make the same comparison to other professions such as law, accounting, consulting and medicine, the path to equality has been significantly better. While it is not news that this problem exists – it feels likely that men (myself included) need to do more to encourage women to start and stay with careers in the capital markets.

I have had a front row seat to experience the career of a woman starting and thriving in a capital markets career. My wife Rachel and I met when we were both starting our careers. While we have both helped each other with the ups and downs of our careers, it is clear that my path has been easier than hers. She often jokes that she could write a book of stories on her experiences as a young woman pursuing a banking career. One of her stories involves an interview she attended where the male manager actually said to her something along the lines of: “my wife has thankfully made the wise decision to stop working, stay at home with the kids, and let me focus on my career – why don’t you want to do that!?” While this story did occur more than 10 years ago, and hopefully is less likely to happen now, if we have learned anything in recent years, it is that unconscious bias is real and does still impact how women are treated and perceived in the workplace.

What else can men do? Almost all employers go to great lengths to hire more women, encourage women to build their careers in finance, and more than ever before offer flexible work environments and maternity leaves. The Women in Capital Markets organization provides a clear list of action items related to hiring, promotions, pay equity and transparency. I believe that in order to achieve true gender equality, men must also change their mindset - not only towards their female colleagues but also shift their mindset on how they view and influence the career of their spouses.

One of the last frontiers of equality is at home where life partners are making career decisions together. While every family unit is different and there are no wrong choices, here are a few principles that Rachel and I have used as we plan our careers and family life together.

  1. We both have an equal opportunity to pursue our careers. We try hard to not prioritize one career over the other, regardless of our income level.
  2. Our lives are more interesting and enriched when we both have challenging careers to pursue and plan together.
  3. We are both responsible for parenting our children including all the logistics, homework and tuck-ins.
  4. We view childcare as an investment that allows us both to pursue our careers; we do not notionally assign the cost of childcare to the lowest income earner.

While we are far from perfect in living these values – they do guide our day-to-day decisions and the overall tone of our family. It seems likely that these types of explicit or implicit philosophies that couples enact can have a large influence on whether women stay in the work force and how aggressively they may pursue more senior careers. If male spouses are encouraging their female partners to stay at home and/or pursue less senior roles, then corporate policies and procedures will be less effective at achieving gender equality.

Here are a few suggestions as to how us men can broaden our mindset:

  1. Actively support our partners in pursuing their careers – be aware of any “selfish preferences” that might be influencing the relationship and family dynamic.
  2. Adopt a philosophy of equality at home in terms of priorities and scheduling.
  3. Take some paternal leave, not only to help at home (and build a better relationship with your children) but to enshrine the view that parenting is the responsibility of all parents. When my children were younger, paternal leave was unheard of in the capital markets – hopefully, this is changing. We need young dads to set an example.

Families aim to make the best choice for their particular situations – many parents will continue to take temporary or permanent breaks from their careers in order to focus on other life priorities. Ideally family decisions can be rooted in equality between partners and a philosophy that both partners are free to make the best choices for their careers, while still supporting each other.

Men have an important role to play to ensure that we achieve better gender equality in the workplace. We must go beyond policies and practices. The removal of gender bias in the workplace should start at home. As men, we have a responsibility to not only acknowledge that gender bias still exists but also to actively review our philosophy at home.