Family life is more likely to damage your career if you’re a woman

Women continue to carry the biggest load in the home – especially mentally. For Sandra Lynggaard, it is clear that she is met with different expectations than her husband.

Most days it is Sandra Lynggaard's husband who drops off the couple's two children at nursery.

Even so, she is always the one to get contacted by the pedagogues if the couple’s daughter has forgotten her gloves or she has to bring a pair of rain boots next week.

"It’s funny that they wait until I come by to deliver these messages – when my husband is there four days a week. I don't think it's conscious, but as a woman you just often experience being assigned responsibility for the practicalities of family life", says Sandra Fagerli, who works as a quality assurance engineer.

"Of course we have moved on since the fifties, but in some respects we have an outdated view of women's role in the family", she says.

In a questionnaire survey among IDA's members, 40 percent of women answer that "family life makes it difficult to pursue a career", while the same only applies to 21 percent of men.

Sandra Lynggaard also finds that having children has been a hindrance to her career, even though she and her husband share the practical tasks at home.

"Part of it concerns the practical aspects of daily life. We have small children who often wake up in the night, and so it is usually me who wakes up with them, and I am tired the next day. It is not optimal if I have to perform on the job”.

But it has also been necessary for Sandra Lynggaard to arrange her working life so that it fits her family life.

She is working part-time while the children are little, and although she still has a business with her husband, where he works as a game developer, she has prioritised her work as a quality assurance engineer in a larger company, where she has job security.

"I have become less risk-averse from having children, because the finances for housing and daycare centers have to be under control."

"In the past, I owned a cafe with board games and eSports and worked 70 hours a week to get it up and running. But such a schedule doesn't go well with having small children, who should preferably not be in day care for too long", she explains.

Women take the most responsibility in the home

The fact that female IDA members more often experience family life as a barrier to their careers does not surprise Maria Ørskov Akselvoll, who is a family sociologist, PhD, and author of the book 'The borderless parenthood'.

"It is a tendency that dates back to when women entered the labour market. Studies show that women spend an hour more a day on housework and care work, but I would argue that the difference is even greater, because many women have a great deal of invisible work in planning the logistics and looking after everyone’s emotional wellbeing in family life", says Maria Ørskov Akselvoll.

The concept of the mental load, which describes women's invisible work, has been widely discussed in recent years, but the basic idea has a long history in sociology, where people have been talking about the third shift since the nineties.

"It is a concept by the famous sociologist Arlie Hochschild to describe the labour mothers perform at home in addition to their formal job. After their first shift of paid work, Hochschild argues that mothers work a second shift in relation to the practical duties at home – as well as a third shift of the emotional and invisible work involved in helping her children to a safe and good environment in their everyday life".

In recent years, according to Maria Ørskov Akselvoll, the third shift has begun to take up much more, as the demands on parents increase, and this is expressed, among other things, in the fact that women in "parental age" are more often affected by stress and burnout.

"There are a lot of demands on the parents to be on Aula and participate in the collaboration with children’s daycare and school. But we also live in a society with a highly psychologised ideal of upbringing, where we believe that everything we do as parents has a huge impact on our children's development – ​​what we say, how we say it, whether we read bedtime stories with them and make sure to arrange playdates”.

"The pressure affects women in particular because they have adopted the very intensive parenting ideal to a greater extent, although in these years we also see that more men are starting to do the same. But it is also about the fact that society still has different expectations for the two sexes. As a father, you can still get away with saying that you don't check Aula or arrange playgroups, but you can't do that as easily as a mother", says Maria Ørskov Akselvoll.

She doesn't care much for the premise that women should just do like the men and stop worrying too much.

"Of course you have a responsibility yourself, but we are also social beings who cannot simply step out of the culture and structures we are part of. But we can try to change these, for example when we start to get a better look at mothers' invisible work in the family".

Inequality is particularly reinforced by parental leave

A study from the University of Copenhagen illustrates how becoming a parent affects men's and women's careers differently.

When women have their first child, their short-term income drops by 30 percent, and after 10 years their salary level is still 20 percent lower than if they had not had children. On the other hand, becoming a father has no effect on the men's salary level.

According to Thomas P. Boje, who is a professor at the Department of Social Sciences and Business at Roskilde University, parental leave is probably the single factor that contributes most to the inequality between men and women, because it is here that the distribution of roles in the home becomes fixed with the mother as the primary caregiver.

"The men have gotten more involved, and it helps that part of the parental leave has been earmarked for the fathers. But the men still do not take more than 8-12 weeks of leave, and it is almost always the women who work part-time to make ends meet in family life", he says.

"The primary reason is that the men earn the most, and that it is therefore financially irrational for the family that it must be the man who takes parental leave or works part-time. Most young families need the money for housing and daycare centers, and then you have to be more than usually committed to equality in order to accept the financial loss that comes from letting the man go part-time".

We must view equality in the same way as climate

Denmark is still the country in the Nordics where fathers take the least parental leave, and according to Thomas P. Boje, the explanation is that we have not had the same focus on creating equality through political initiatives as our neighboring countries.

In Iceland, for example, each parent has the right to six months of paid parental leave, while in Sweden there is also largely equality when it comes to parental leave, at the same time that parents have the right to paid leave in the event of a child's illness.

"We are less generous in Denmark, where you typically have one sick day for the child, and then you have to get the grandparents to look after them or send them sick to an institution. If the sick days are not paid, it will be the mothers who take them because they earn the least".

Denmark introduced 11 weeks of earmarked leave for both parents in 2022 following demands from the EU, and a survey among IDA's members shows that the change has already had an effect. Before the change, men planned to take an average of 9.5 weeks of leave, and after the change came into effect, this increased to 13.6 weeks

Professor Thomas P. Boje also emphasises that the experience from the other Nordic countries is also that political initiatives lead to a change in attitude towards gender roles in society.

“It's like climate; it's fine that you eat less beef and fly less, but legislation is needed to ensure structural changes so you don't put the full responsibility on the individual. As it is now, it is an individual choice and also a big expense for the families if the father has to spend more time at home".

At IDA, the position is that improved parental leave conditions are necessary so that more men will make use of their earmarked leave, says Malene Matthison-Hansen, chairman of the Council of Employees.

"Our study shows that the longer the fathers have paid leave at their workplace, the more leave they are likely to take. One of the biggest problems today is that fathers are less likely to have good employment conditions with the right to pay during parental leave than women".

"Fortunately, we can see that more employers have started to move forward, and this is probably also necessary in order to be attractive at a time when the competition for IDA members' labour is historically tough".