I’m excited to highlight this interview with Michael Ray as part of Practical Inclusion, a series of conversations with leading Diversity and Inclusion practitioners advocating for change. Although we come to the topic of stereotypes and gender roles from different perspectives, Michael and I seek to achieve the same objectives – gender equality and equity.
His advocacy for gender equality, particularly as it applies to parenting, is inspiring. I appreciate his loud and proud approach to unpacking about how unhelpful gender roles are when it comes to raising kids. In our conversation, we speak about how society should value all parents as parents. Inclusion and gender equality mean just that, inclusion and equality for all.
After becoming a father at 49 years old, and a solo parent only two years later, Michael has been frustrated by the extent that identity is tied up in gender roles. And it was the experience of being excluded from supporting his daughter, Charlie, backstage at a ballet recital that led him to this work.
“It was at her ballet concert when she was four when the world of equality came crashing down. I was banned, as a male, from being able to assist her backstage. Which left her as the only child backstage without a parent to assist,” Michael said.
“Thankfully, I’ve become an honourary mum [in time].”
He’s found that most people are supportive of him, but there are times he senses unconscious bias towards him and his role as his daughter’s primary caregiver. This often manifests in patronising interactions – he’s often asked how he manages – and frequent sexist trolling from men and women online.
These assumptions about parenting and gender roles are reductive towards caregiver relationships in non-traditional families, he said. It “diminish[es] the connection and love of other kinds of families, of people who didn’t carry that child, and they’re also damning women to be the be all and end all for parenting. This diminishes women’s identity as being just associated with being a parent.”
“I’ve got no doubt that [if I were younger] I would’ve sleepwalked into the standard stereotypical, heteronormative world of parenting simply because it’s what I knew. It’s not what I believe, it’s what I didn’t take the time to examine. But, being an older dad, I wanted to be involved with my child.”
Learning to parent in a supportive way wasn’t a straightforward experience for Michael. He identifies maternal gatekeeping – which leans into the idea that a mother knows best – as a challenge. Michael says, “Because of the fetishised ideas around motherhood – for example, ‘Mum knows best’ – I would naturally defer to my partner. I wanted to be the best assistant, but this threw more pressure onto her. It’s counterproductive.”
He continues: “We know the negative outcomes for helicopter parenting [a parenting style that is overly attentive to a child’s needs], or not giving people the room to grow in their roles on any team. It keeps them at that level, they don’t advance. And it’s not that hard [to shift gendered expectations for parents], we’ve just been convinced that it is.” This is an important lesson for roles within a workplace, too.
“Diversity is everything. The more diverse and the more inclusive our economy and workforce is, the more safeguarded it is against crashes,” Michael said.
“I say this to my daughter Charlie: Don’t try to figure out where someone is wrong, try to figure out why they think they’re right. Instead of looking for fault because it doesn’t gel with your reality, you [attempt to understand their experience]. And we can all get along a little better.”
Michael says, “The biggest problem [about parental leave] is the gendered nature of it.” Even though this kind of leave is now known as parental leave, rather than maternity leave, gendered expectations remain in place. Organisations need to break that down to create equality to encourage men and people of all genders to take their time as parents.
Without strategies in place to ensure this, parental leave becomes a financial decision. Due to the gender pay gap, men are often paid more highly than women so it can feel like a riskier decision for a male partner to take parental leave. What’s more, in many cases men are only entitled to two weeks of “partner” leave in Australia. This makes it difficult for them to spend extended periods of time with their family.
“Puppies and kittens aren’t just for Christmas, and kids aren’t just for paternity leave. They’re ongoing responsibilities,” Michael said. “[We need to] make it easier for women to work outside of the home and free men up to work inside the home.”
If you’d like to know more about Michael’s advocacy, get in touch with him today. Or, if you’re interested in smashing gender stereotypes at work, Bree Gorman can help. Book a complimentary 20-minute discovery call to discuss the ways your organisation can improve gender equality.
For more information about Practical Inclusion, follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to my YouTube channel for updates. You can also revisit past conversations on my Practical Inclusion playlist on YouTube.
26 October 2022
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18 September 2020