One small step into daycare for man, one giant leap for (wo)mankind

By Eliana Huffman

ABBA. Cold winters. Gender equity and social acceptance of women’s fight for equality in the workplace, at home, and with their romantic partners…oh my?

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Now that you’ve been reminded of the existence of this tiny Scandinavian country, let’s take a more in-depth look at Sweden’s family leave policy and the effect it’s having on the construction of fatherhood and romantic partnerships.

Before we begin, let’s go over some basics on what this family leave policy offers and how it works. The benefits for Swedish citizens start before birth, with expectant mothers given free prenatal care and group support benefits—but that’s not all. Even parents who don’t give birth to their children biologically are allowed to take parental leave (for example, adoptive parents). This total paid leave period lasts 480 days, and can be split however the parents desire. Parents also get a monthly allowance per child to offset the exorbitant financial costs that come with, you know, raising a whole human being.

Because this policy is so egalitarian, it has been the source of great curiosity. Starting in 2012, researcher Thomas Johansson set out to interview 20 men living in Sweden who decided to share their parental leave period more or less equally with their partners. He focused his discussion mostly on four men in particular to show better representation of the different types of partnerships people have in Sweden. The first man was in a gay partnership, the second man and his female partner both worked part-time, the third man went from spending all of his time at work to all of his time at home, and the fourth man was a stay-at-home dad whose wife was and still is much more career-oriented.

Johansson discovered very common themes: men felt not only a social obligation to split family work equally, but felt they were treated like kings when they did so.  They also felt a strong moral obligation to be partners who contributed to childrearing equally.

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What’s missing from this study is the perspective of Swedish women, but what we can confirm from other research is that when men contribute more equally at home, women make more of their equal share at work. This calls for further research, but perhaps indicates a link to Sweden’s reduced pay gap compared to the United States.

What can we apply from this study to our own lives in America?

For starters, men who report contributing equally to their partners say they’re happier and have better partnerships, so we can throw that myth of men feeling emasculated or “losing out” to their wives right out the window. Secondly, we can start giving verbal praise to men who do their part, as this clearly is a source of encouragement and social change—but let’s not forget the awesome ladies that do these behaviors, too.

One small step into the daycare for man, one giant leap for (wo)mankind.

Women’s health is human health. Period.

By Erika Harrington

A few months back, news broke that Italy has introduced new legislation requiring workplaces to offer three days of menstrual leave each month for female employees. News flash: It’s highly controversiallet’s try to break it down together.

While we traditionally base InformHer articles on academic research, there isn’t a lot to go on here. So instead, I’ll offer an overview of the conversation surrounding menstrual leave, and while I’m at it, make a tasteful call to researchers to explore this topic further.

My attempts to find such research revealed the under-explored world of menstruation’s social and psychological implications. There are studies about the attractiveness of women with endometriosis. Attractiveness. Not actual health or, you know, treatments. I’ll let you ponder that.

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Okay, let’s refocus. Menstrual leave, what is it? According to the legislation, women who suffer from dysmenorrhoea–or debilitating menstrual pain–are entitled to 3 days of menstrual leave each month. This accommodates women’s unique needs without cutting into the sick leave that their male co-workers also receive. While some find this sensible and well intended, others were quick to point out the faults in the policy.

For one, some feel that this is not fair at it’s core because it gives women special treatment. Scrolling through article comments and hearing general sentiments about working women from public figures like our dear president’s son, it’s clear that many people believe that if women can’t handle the demands of the workplace, they shouldn’t be in it.” *Rolls eyes*

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On the other hand, many proponents of female empowerment disagree with this legislation because they think it diminishes women’s perceived abilities. They believe policies like these send a message that women are weaker people who need to be coddled *rolls eyes a little less*. With that, many of those on this side of the debate think a solution is not to give women added days alone, but rather push for more sick leave for all employees (which could be beneficial for those with chronic conditions that are completely unrelated to their sex).

Further, there’s an audible viewpoint that I haven’t been able to find in the public discussion, but was mentioned to me by a fellow InformHer writer. She explained that if your cramps are painful enough that you can’t go to work, it’s indicative a larger health issue that should be better researched and treated—like endometriosis, adenomyosis, STI’s, miscarriages, or fibroids, all of which which affect hundreds of millions of women across the world but are both under-diagnosed and (often) incorrectly diagnosed.

The reality is some women experience extreme pain that can lead to nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, fainting, anemia, and diarrhea–symptoms that you’d experience once a month, or even daily in some cases. Currently, the only non-surgical way to mask (not treat) these symptoms are often hormonal birth control medications, especially IUDs and implants.

My take on this situation? What we need is to stop looking at women as only economic commodities, and as real people who need improved access to research (and doctors well-versed in this research who can treat them). Because a healthcare system that doesn’t acknowledge a uterus as more than a special interest is just wrong. Period.

The Fortune 500 Popularity Contest

By Rachel Garretson 

We all know that board numbers are critical to success in basketball (ok, maybe not all of us), but what about numbers on different types of boards? Say…corporate boards? What numbers matter there?  

Bear, Rahman, and Post used data from the Fortune 2009 World’s Most Admired Companies List and the Mergent database of annual reports (as well as various other public sources) to conduct a study on how how diverse members on a corporate advisory board affect a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) score.

Spoiler alert: diversity matters.

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    For those who might need a crash course in CSR ratings (I know I did), they’re a big deal. Good scores attract more job applicants, obviously, since none of us want to work for a company with a bad reputation, and they’re linked with high job satisfaction for current employees—because hey, if all your buddies think the place you work at is awesome, you’re going to feel better about your job and be less likely to start seeking work elsewhere.

    Beyond providing benefits to employees, good CSR ratings enhance corporate image itself, helping organizations grow. It also positively affects ~minor~ things like financial performance, institutional investment, and share price. And further, companies can accumulate it like capital. If companies have a lot of them, they can be used to offset a some of the consequences of any nasty little publicity crises that may happen along. We’re more likely to forgive a mistake by a company we like than a company we already hate.

    So CSR ratings are a big deal for the companies, but why did these researchers care? The bottom line is that they found gender diversity on a company’s board helps increase CSR ratings. For example, women bring different ideas to the table and differing decision-making styles to the table. This benefits the company in general, as almost all successful corporations pride themselves on innovation. Another way women helped out is just that they tend to be more aware of and sensitive to CSR. Since women are more aware of the company’s reputation and how that can affect it, they make more conscientious decisions that take those factors into consideration. In fact, women just being present is a big factor. Not just one token woman too. What our fearless researchers found was that as the percentage of women on the board increased, corporate reputation increased as well.

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Need another reason to expand diversity efforts within your organization, especially by including more women? Now you have it. When boss ladies join the table, everyone else benefits, too.

Now I’m Mad

By Erika Harrington

Have you all seen the #BlackWomenAtWork hashtag? If you haven’t, you need to check it out right now. Sparked by Bill O’Reilly’s comments towards congresswoman Maxine Walter, the trending tag is a perfect example of the layered problems professional women of color face throughout their careers, a problem characterized by a policing of emotions and anger.

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But let’s back up for a second. What are we talking about when we talk about “anger”?

A snide comment? A side-eye? The silent treatment? Or, if you’re like me, a tearful and dramatic outburst? However you show it, we all get angry sometimes. Things get frustrating, things get tough, and people get vicious. And they can get frustrating with family, get tough with friends, and peopleyes, even professional peopleget vicious at work.

It’s natural and it’s something you can recover from…right?

Well, let me clarifyit’s easy for some people to recover from. It’s a little tougher for women because when they get mad, it tends to be perceived as the result of their over-emotional and irrational nature. But we’ve already covered this.

And we know there’s a misconception that when women get angry, it’s because they’re just inherently emotional. But men? Well, men were obviously just reacting to something upsetting.

Now this actually makes me mad. If Tina from accounting has been dodging my emails and skipping our meetings, and our project doesn’t get done because we never worked out the budget, and then my boss chews me out for not delivering, I’m going to be bitter. And Tina and I might have to have an unpleasantyet professionalconversation. And no one, and I mean no one is going to tell me that it’s my fault that I’m mad. Yes, yes, we all know there’s more to it than thatbut you get my point.

So I’ve spent a lot of time ranting on something we’ve already read about–I just can’t help it, these matters always get me riled up. Must be my angry nature, right? I want to take time to remind you all that is even worse for women of color, specifically black women who have to deal with the ~angry black woman~ trope.  

Researchers Durr and Wingfield did an extensive study of black, female professionals with participant observation and in-depth interviews. One notable conclusion was the strain and wasted energy that participants experienced when trying to avoid certain stereotypes. They find themselves constantly worried that they aren’t controlling their emotions well enough. They must “pick their battles” so that they aren’t viewed unprofessionally, but the reality is that, in any job there are times where you have to fight for the ideas that you believe in.

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So while it’s more than troublesome that black women deal with a constant threat of being stereotyped, it’s especially problematic when avoiding the stereotype hinders one’s ability to forward their contributions. This can have long-term effects on careers if it prevents individuals from taking the career risks that are key to success. Speaking of impacts on career, let’s consider the emotional cost of constantly worry about not acting “too black” for the workplace. All that time black women spend concerned with image, they could spend doing, oh I don’t know, their actual job maybe?

So what’s the solution here? Well, many advise women to make sure that their anger is accompanied with justifications. When things get frustrating, make sure you’re communicating in a level-headed manner, with fool-proof explanations so your accuser can’t claim that you’re acting irrational. This is good advice day-to-day advice for black women. But let’s also encourage others  to make work environments inclusive and free of prejudice. If your black, female co-worker gets mad and “goes off,” and you find yourself thinking “typical,” then you need to check yourself. Better yet, be willing to check others. A simple “I think her response was appropriate given the situation,” can go a long way at the water cooler.  Remind yourself, or anyone who makes comments like these, that they aren’t angry because they’re black, they’re angry because it be like that sometimes.