We’re constantly being urged to press the reset button: on our devices, on ourselves, on the planet. And now more than ever, we’re seeing a push to challenge the domestic landscape too. Take the new Barbie movie, for example, where “Barbie Land” is symbolic of a world where women are championed and men are able to live harmoniously without the oppressive spheres of the patriarchy.

Although the themes in Barbie exist and permeate our everyday culture, we don’t talk openly enough about how, as a society, we need to wholly rethink the domestic landscape in order for women to feel empowered within it. 

There’s been progress in terms of shining a light on gender equity in recent years, but there’s still a long way to go before we truly reach a status quo in terms of the distribution of female and male responsibility, particularly in the workplace and around childcare. In short, it needs a reset. For me, that boils down to three aspects: government, society, and businesses.


The government is trying to increase childcare support for women returning to work after giving birth, and women are constantly told there’s a lot on offer if they go back, but bluntly, this doesn’t match up with what’s actually going on. I think about millennial women a lot. They’re a fitting example of the dichotomy between growing up being told one thing (that raising children is a woman's responsibility) and then promptly hearing another in the workplace (be strong! Be independent! Be a LEADER!). There’s a huge gulf between these two stances, and we need a balance between the two. How to achieve that? The latest survey carried out by the charity Pregnant then Screwed finds that childcare in the UK can consume up to a whopping 75% of parents’ incomes, compare this to countries where childcare is heavily subsidised, such as Germany and Austria where childcare accounts for as little as 5% of a parents’ income it is no wonder we are seeing around 1.7 million women in the UK working fewer hours due to unaffordable childcare. It makes economic sense to increase support for parents and make childcare affordable to enable women to return to work. However, this is yet again an example of where the responsibility of childcare is assumed to be the woman’s and therefore if there is one parent who has to give up some form of their working identity it is the woman. I think that in order to convince the government to improve the childcare support, we first need to embed this way of thinking into our wider society and make it “the norm”, not the exception.

Here’s the bottom line: society needs to stop thinking that raising children is solely the responsibility of a woman. Women are being encouraged to return to the workplace, but the processes aren’t yet in place to make this easy, so there’s a fundamental imbalance with women returning to work whilst childcare and domestic duties are still almost universally viewed as their responsibility. We need to change this way of thinking and embed a more distributed vision of responsibilities when people are young, rather than attempting to change the conversation when it’s already too late. Women and men should be on a par when it comes to childcare (and domestic duties), and that means society shouldn’t expect women to balance both being a mother and holding down a job as the de facto option. It is expected of mothers that they carry out most, if not all domestic duties, and no amount of government of business support will shift changes in behaviours without society as a whole shifting their expectations on mothers. Of course, each family should operate however they feel best, but in order to make an informed decision, there has to at least be a clear option to combine responsibilities — where is the flexibility for men to be supported in paternity leave after the statutory two weeks? Last year, just 1.84% of jobs offered the option of enhanced parental leave to new fathers.  


The maternity and paternity leave policies of many workplaces are decided by men and a lot of businesses (63% according to latest figures, but 81% pre-2019) and C-suites are run by men. With a lot of these men, approximately 66%, additionally being of the older 50+ generation, it means that a small set of traditional values are the ones in charge of deciding policies and driving change.

Although HR also have a core role in changing the conversation and shifting the language used when it comes to talking about maternity and paternity leave, ultimately, companies need to go back to their core values to work out how they want to portray themselves and how they’re communicating their values via their internal policies and that lies with the C-suite. The C-suite ultimately decides if policies can change or not — and it needs to put their gender and values aside and ask: what is the vision, purpose, and values of our organisation and, crucially, how are these aligned with the people who work for us? Many workplaces have policies that state things like “This is how we’re helping women with childcare” - why highlight women in phrases like this? Resetting the way we use language and changing it to incorporate both sexes needs to start internally so it can be filtered through the company, including into external marketing and comms too. 

I’ve used maternity and paternity here, but another valid question is: should it simply be renamed statutory pay? What’s the point in separating it into male and female?

Starting the conversation

The most important thing is to not pay lip service to changing your policies if you haven’t had time to scrutinise them and canvas your staff — both male and female — to check that what you’re saying is fair and reflective of the changes that actually need to take place. The only way we can balance the scales across society, business practice and government policy is if everyone talks to each other and conversations are open and honest. Society needs a shift, and that’s huge: it won’t happen overnight. But if we start the conversation now, there’s the hope of a stronger, more fit-for-purpose landscape for future generations to feel empowered in. 

 Lauren Coe, Employee Experience Strategy Director at Zone/Cognizant