Ep 3: Turning Talk into Action for Gender Equality

The Work-Life Equation episode 3

David Smith, a former Navy pilot who is now an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, shares eye-opening insights on achieving gender equity in the workplace and at home. Drawing from his own experiences in the male-dominated Naval Academy and military, as well as his extensive research with co-author Brad Johnson, David dives deep into the systematic biases and everyday actions that hold women back professionally. He provides powerful strategies for leaders to build more inclusive cultures through true allyship. With candid personal anecdotes about raising his son and daughter, he offers inspiring advice for dads on prioritizing family alongside work success. 

Read the full transcript

00:00:05 - Commerical
Welcome to The Work-Life Equation, hosted by Priya Krishnan and Paul Sullivan. During this episode, you will hear from working parents just like you who understand the daily struggles and triumphs while finding our unique work-life equation. Now, here are your hosts.

00:00:23 - Priya Krishnan
Hello everyone, and welcome to The Work=Life Equation. I'm Priya Krishnan, the Chief Digital and Transformation Officer at Bright Horizons.

00:00:31 - Paul Sullivan
And I'm Paul Sullivan, the founder of The Company of Dads.

00:00:34 - Priya Krishnan
It is so exciting today to have our guest, David Smith, Dr. David Smith on the show. It is my pleasure to introduce David Smith. David is an associate professor at the Bright Horizons Cary Business School and the co-author of the book Good Guys, which I have a copy of here. David, how men can be better allies for women in the workplace. And I found it a fascinating read and would encourage you to read it. Formerly a Navy pilot where he led diverse teams and flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, today he focuses his research on gender, work and family issues, including gender bias, dual career families and retention of women. Dr. Smith's experience and research provides invaluable insights into how we create more inclusive workplaces. We're delighted he can be on the podcast because specifically, David, for two reasons. One, my dad was an armed forces pilot and know women in the workplace is a very close topic to my heart. So welcome on the podcast.

00:01:42 - David Smith
Thanks, Priya.

00:01:45 - Paul Sullivan
David, it's great to talk to. You know, as Priya said, you've had quite a career. You were in the naval Academy, you're a pilot now, you're a professor. You've done some remarkable. I'm wondering, when did it all start? What sort of piqued your curiosity early on to go into gender research to look at women and men in the workforce? What was that kernel that started this really long and interesting career that you had?

00:02:12 - David Smith
What do you mean? Most men don't do this for a living.

00:02:16 - Paul Sullivan
I've seen both top guns and at no point did any of those navy pilots do this. But I thought maybe that just got edited out. So I'm hoping you can clarify that for listening.

00:02:27 - David Smith
Clearly, a lot landed on the cutting room floor. Great to be back with you too, Paul. Yeah, great question. And this is important because again, as I was joking but half-heartedly there, that you don't find a lot of men in this space. So I think people are curious, both men and women are curious when they do see majority men, especially in this space. And the why is really important. The why we do this work, why we're out there doing, you know, my co author Brad Johnson and I, we think it's so important that you, when you dig into the, don't miss the very front of the book, because that's where we think it's so important. We wrote it down and we put it in there. Our why? For each of us in, you know, for me, Paul, it really started at the naval Academy in many ways. And when I showed up there first time in really a majority male dominated space, most of my, again, my early education was in a typical high schools and other school, K through twelve schools that were much more obviously gender balanced in lots of ways. And so that was my perspective of the world. And so coming into a very male dominated space was something new and unique. And what I wasn't prepared for was the way that men were treating our female colleagues there, our classmates. This is back in 1983 when I started my time at the Naval Academy. The early years of gender integration in the service academies, broadly the first class of women graduated in 1980. So it had just been a few years since the first class of women had graduated. And a lot of the discrimination and the sexism was very overt, and it was very in your face and shocking, frankly, for me. And I think I can speak for probably a lot of my other male classmates, too. Yet there wasn't a lot of support for women in terms of, from the men and to speak out in support of women and how women contributed and why they belong there should be treated the same as the rest of us. Often brought yourself under the microscope and certainly became a target in many ways for the same types of negative feedback and backlash against who are you and what's your point? And so for me, that's where it started. And the other part of that, in my time at the Naval Academy, full disclosure, I met my partner, my wife there. And as we married after we graduated, of course, because we're not allowed to be married at the Naval Academy, I got to see not only what it was like for her going through her experiences at the naval Academy, but also in a full career in the navy. And it didn't change a whole lot, unfortunately, when we got there. And so, of course, we had lots of conversations about our experiences in the workplace and a little bit different for each of us. But for her, it was just remarkable to me the way that she was treated and in many cases, the lack of access to things that I found to be very typical that would be at my fingertips very quickly. And so access to information and opportunities, the next great set of orders that people wanted, the things that you needed to be doing to be successful, the next steps in your career. Those kinds of things came very naturally to me. I didn't have to think about it. For her, it was literally a wild goose chase, going to look for that and find that kind of information. So very different experiences. And I think that opened my eyes to it in a way that it began to make me think about, well, who else's experiences, how are they experienced? Are the women that I work with experiencing it in the same way? And so it got me asking those kinds of questions and looking in my own units and seeing what were those experiences looking like? And they were. There was a lot of began to connect the dots and see a lot of the same common experiences. So that was the beginning of it for me and really making me more inquisitive, curious, wanting to learn more to understand why these things were happening. Unfortunately, it was back to not really understanding what exactly to do with it at that stage of the game. But later on, I did get an opportunity as I got to go back to grad school and then focus my research on it from there.

00:07:12 - Priya Krishnan
It's so interesting to see how you, again, learned from that experience and decided to do something about it. And you do. And I read in both your introduction as well as Brad's introduction, the fact that in his case, it was his sister, in your case, it was your wife. And these personal experiences, sort of the fact that both of you chose to do something about it, research it and act on it is really incredible. I'm a big believer that the world has to be feminist if women have a shot of having equal wage, equal opportunity. And that clearly comes true in the book. A question for you is, what have you seen as the biggest sort of hurdles for women in the workplace and leadership in general through both your research as well as what you saw in the naval Academy?

00:08:03 - David Smith
Yeah, great question. And there's so many of them, again, a lot of them come down to the everyday interactions and how they're perceived in the workplace. And again, in many cases, when you're not seen as being because of bias. Right. Again, these unconscious biases we have and stereotypes and perceptions of others if we don't see people as being of leader material, of having what it takes to get to the next level, of seeing their unlimited potential in the same way that we do for others. That is a significant hurdle for people, women, again, certainly one demographic, but it applies to many other demographics as well, people who are not seen to be part of the majority in that way. So I think that that is one of the biggest things is we think about lack of representation being one of the big inequities that we have. And certainly even in more traditionally female dominated industries and professions, healthcare and education being a couple of them, you still find, as you get to the places of power and status and privilege and the most senior levels of leadership, that those are still dominated by men. So there's lots of work still left to be done there. But there are lots of other inequities too, and certainly being valued for the work that you do, and seeing the same kind of value, so that we are valued in that way and paid in the same way, same kinds of resources, which is why again, we see the gender pay gap being one aspect of that that's out there. And certainly not having the resources, the same kinds of resources, limits us and our ability to what we can do in those ways. I think underlying all of this, I always come back to the idea that traditional ideologies around gender, and thinking about gender roles or who we are from a gender perspective, the common, again, very cultural perceptions of seeing women as not being breadwinners, of being the homemakers, of being the caregivers, and being their primary duties and primary roles, and seeing men as primarily the breadwinners and not seeing them as caregivers. These traditional ideologies are holding us back, and they're holding us back in a way that prevents us from, for women, for example, from leading and being, reaching that unlimited potential in the workplace, which has an effect on business, by the way, and on GDP, if you're looking at it from a national perspective. But also for men, for men today, who expect and want to be egalitarian partners in the relationships they have with their partners at home. These are things that we know the majority of men expect and demand, but also as caregivers in terms of whether that's for their children and being that engaged, involved parent. But it may also be, again, for many of us in the sandwich generation, where we have responsibilities to our parents and to be doing caregiving there. And there's again, expectation that we should be able to be involved and do that. But again, these perceptions and these ideologies are holding us back from being able to achieve all of that. And so again, I look at this as this is affecting all of us. It's affecting women, again, more dramatically than men. But one of the solutions here is that by changing the way we look at these gender roles and thinking about patriarchal views, about how we divide up responsibilities, is one of the solutions. That's going to help all of us to be more successful.

00:11:56 - Paul Sullivan
David, you had the personal experience of this in the Navy. You've done the research. You have two books. I know you're working on a third book in this trilogy on gender equity, but you're also in this remarkable position teaching not just at Bright Horizons but in the business school to help educate future leaders. What are your classes like at Bright Horizons? What do you try to instill in both your male and female students in those classes?

00:12:26 - David Smith
Yeah, I love that question. It's interesting. And I think for me, both as an educator, as a teacher and a researcher, it's really hard to separate some of that and also kind of who I am as well. And so I think it comes out pretty naturally in a lot of the conversations that we have. But when I think about one, designing curriculum and designing courses and how we're going to do that, I think about the different ways that we can make them more equitable and inclusive and we can integrate opportunities to have these conversations, because I honestly feel like it doesn't matter what you teach, there's an opportunity to have these kinds of conversations. And we owe it especially, I think, for us who are teaching, for example, business schools. So for our MBAs out there, the leaders who are going back into the workforce, and we expect that they're the ones who are going to be leading and moving forward, that we have an obligation to help educate them and to prepare them for not the workforce that they came from, but the workforce they're going back into and that they're going to grow and develop as we move forward. And we know that's shifting and changing rapidly today. And we need to provide them with the skill sets to be able to do that. So thinking about the different ways that we can make, whether you're teaching strategy or you're teaching more at the, more at the micro level and thinking about everyday leadership skills that we have that we're embracing in there, we can develop ways to do that. And I think about that very deliberately and purposefully in how I want to design a course, how we conduct the course every day, the kinds of conversations we're having, what we're engaging in and finding ways to have these, I think, conversations that really matter to the students at the end of the day, they're curious. They all know, they know the kind of research that you do. They know who you are as a professor and they want to engage in it. They want to move beyond not just the course material, but what's the real world like right what should I be thinking about? How should I be implementing this? What are the pitfalls? Where are the opportunities? Where's the risk that I need to be thinking about? How can I be more successful? How can I make my teams and my people more successful? And those are the conversations that I think, where there's, I think, just a great opportunity for us to engage. Unfortunately, there's never enough time to do it all, but I think we do have to make the time to engage with them on that.

00:15:05 - Priya Krishnan
And every little helps, right? So every incremental step and every incremental hour you're spending on the topic helps move the needle. You also speak about the fact that allyship, actually, when you have higher allyship in an organization, women feel much more supported. And to your point, this is just not women. It might be underrepresented groups. And you've shown that when there is allyship, it's 96% of the organization feels that way. And when there isn't, it's less than 30%. So could you give us examples of what that allyship looks like in organizations? And how can people emulate this in their daily life?

00:15:48 - David Smith
I have this conversation, I feel like almost daily, Priya, with leaders and organizations, especially when you get a chance to talk with women leaders and leaders of employee resource groups for women about how they feel like their leadership says all the right things in many cases, right? So they believe in it. I believe in gender equity. They're saying all the right things, espousing the right ideas and values and beliefs, which makes everybody feel good. But at the end, then they look back and nothing changes. And it's the everyday actions. It's, what do you do every day? Show me. Don't just tell me, but show me. And in a lot of this, it's interesting, we talk about this as kind of the allyship gap in the terms of just because I know that I should be doing it or I should believe in it, and maybe I do espouse that and I do talk to people about that. Doesn't necessarily mean that I'm doing everything. I mean, it's a first step, but it doesn't mean I'm actually holding myself accountable for changing behavior and doing things that change and shift the culture and the way people perceive me and perceive the organization and what we're accomplishing. So I think that is always one of the first steps as we think about this is how do we begin to close that gap? And it starts really in many ways by understanding what are some of those actions every day. That people are paying attention to. And it's a lot of the everyday interactions and it can be everything from how are we supporting each other? Are we talking about women, for example, when they're not in the room and talking about potential and opportunities for them? Are we being transparent and sharing information? This is one that comes up all the time about how we share information that's important to us from a career perspective. Opportunities, jobs, positions, trainings, workshops, all these things that are important, but also the pay. What are the steps I need to take to get to the next level? It always shocks me and surprises me when I walk into an organization and women will tell me I have no idea what it takes to get to the next level. It's not written down anywhere. You can't find it. Nobody will talk about it. It's like this great secret that's out there. Men seem to know what it is because they're getting promoted and women, it's not being shared. So our networks and how we share information is really important as well. I think office housework is another one that comes up all the time and how we think about. When I talk about office housework, these are what I think of as non promotable tasks that we know have to be accomplished but are more often done by women in the organization. And this can be everything from it can be work in the diversity equity inclusion space. Because thinking about women's ergs, for example, that again, more likely to be put the work upon women to do these things. But it could also be the everyday things and meetings, for example, who takes the notes, who's setting up coffee or who's getting lunch? There's a social event, do we all look to Priya instead of thinking about, hey, maybe Paul ought to do it this time and again? There's all of these everyday tasks. Committee work is another big one in lots of organizations that we know it has to be done. It's not always something glamorous, but it's got to be done. It's important work, but it doesn't also lead to opportunity, it doesn't always lead to promotion, and it's not something you're going to read about in your next performance review. We don't value it in that same way. So these are the kind of the non promotable tasks that we often see there too. But again, it's the everyday things that do we see leaders doing and how are they being judged upon their actions? And women certainly are judging them on that way. Men in many cases just are unaware of the things that make a difference. And part of this is just an awareness education.

00:20:14 - Paul Sullivan
You said so many great things there. And also, let me just in defense of Priya for cocktail hour later on, I'm the one mixing the cocktails.

00:20:21 - David Smith
She's already, okay, all right.

00:20:22 - Priya Krishnan
He's pretending you don't know. He's just making up.

00:20:27 - Paul Sullivan
But in these seats, it looks like we'd be having a cocktail hour after. But there is so much great stuff that you said in there that I want to unpack, David. And so much of it is imminently fixable. Like, who takes the notes? That's all fixable. But the problem is, often leaders are unaware. We talk about the different biases that people have, their angry biases or confirmation biases. They got to their level doing a certain set of things so they believe everyone else did it. You talk there about show don't tell, and that's something I think about all the time. A good friend of mine works at a tippety top Wall street firm. He's a managing director, manages a team of 30. His mother in law had a stroke. This is a firm where everybody has to be in the office every day. And he said, I got to be home. I got to be there for my wife. I got to be there for my. My kids. And at first, they said, all the right thing. Yeah, take some time. Well, guess what? After week one, they started calling him. They started saying, hey, what's going on? When are you coming back? He's like, I got 30 other people who could do any number of things here. And after having had a really great career, ten plus years at this firm, he's now not actively but imminently poachable. Somebody could hire him away because he's seen that what they say and what they should do in practice, it doesn't match up. As a business school professor, leaders are coming to you for your advice when you have these things that you know that they could fix. This would help. The title of this podcast a work life equation. This would help with that work life equation, and they're not super difficult for them to do. What's the difference between the leaders and say, okay, David, I think you're right. And they embrace your suggestions and the ones that say, I don't know, David, we're going to keep doing it the way we used to do it. How do you really use your knowledge to create that positive change for these organizations and for their male and female employees?

00:22:18 - David Smith
When you figure that out, you let me know, because we are still looking for the, I think the golden thread there across organizations. I think the short answer is there's not one thing, right? And it varies and it depends in a lot of organizations. But let me see if I can kind of summarize some of the aspects that are important here as we think about, again, can we systematically go after this? And I think that's an important question. And one of them comes back to where we started this conversation around motivation. And I think we need to understand from a broad organizational perspective what would be the motivation to do this. And two, in some cases it might be the CEO, it might be that person at the tippety top who is driving that is such a powerful figure that it's really just that one person. So understanding that or where the power rests to be able to shift this. And sometimes it is very cultural and it might be both. You might have to shift the culture and that one person there understanding the motivation for change. And we will find a variety of different ways. One that I think comes up quite a bit is we talk about the business case for doing this and understanding what that looks like. That tends to resonate, I think, with a lot of people who are much more kind of analytically minded and thinking about it that way. And so I think it's important that we, in terms of trying to create change, we can make that argument very clearly and succinctly of understanding how that benefits that leader and that organization more broadly in terms of whatever the business outcomes that are important to them and their organizational outcomes. And we can do that. I don't care if you're in the public sector, if you're a nonprofit or private sector, whatever sector you're in, an industry you're in, we can make that case. We have the evidence, and it's very clear and compelling. So sometimes, it takes that to get their attention and go, you have a fiduciary obligation to your stakeholders to do this, right, because you're missing out right now and you are not doing what's in the best interest of your stakeholders. And so sometimes having that hard conversation can be part of it. I do also think that in some cases that leaders who we really know need to drive this change, sometimes really showing them that, hey, there's something here for you, too, by the way. And again, there's an ego aspect to this for everyone. I think about, hey, what's in it for me? And really explaining that. And again, we have the evidence to show that, hey, when you're incorporating these skills about what it means to be a great ally and this is not just an ally from a gender perspective, but again, ally for everyone in your organization. These embrace some of these qualities and traits, like humility as a leader, vulnerability, authenticity, empathy. Right. Great emotional intelligence skills, broadly across the board. We also know, the research shows us that, hey, if you hold these skills and you employ them on a regular basis, part of who you are as part of your leadership identity and your leadership brand, you're going to go farther in your career. And the research is pretty clear. We start looking at C suites today, more research on them, that those leaders are 70. I think it's like 76% more likely to embrace and to hold those types of traits and qualities. So it's part of that leadership identity and leadership brand today. And what makes for success. The ironic thing on all of that is, of course, that women have for a long time been more traditionally, and maybe even stereotypically a little bit too, but more traditionally held all of those traits and qualities. And they've held these traits in a way that, again, things that we value in our leaders and in our organizations, and people say they want more of. And that research has been around for quite a while now, too. So I think that's part of it, too, is getting in touch with, hey, there's something in there for us, and we do this as well. I also think that at the end of the day, we have to talk about this is the right thing to do. This is the moral case for doing this work. And I don't think we need to shortchange that. I think in many ways, that is a very quick access to some people's motivation to seek change quickly. When you start talking about it being an ethical or moral obligation that you have as a company and as a leader to do these things. And so really understanding where that motivation, what's going to help them to pull the trigger on moving faster and embrace the change that they need, I think is a key piece of this.

00:27:31 - Priya Krishnan
It's also an economic issue. Right. So you are technically tapping into a demographic that is not part of the workforce, and that also gives you access to larger talent pools in general. But I want to switch gears to support. You spoke about non-promotable tasks for people within the organization. There's also unpaid labor at home, and all the data certainly showcases that there is a disproportionate amount of unpaid labor that falls on women in the household. And this is, again, varied across geographies. I come from a worldview, and this is an n of one view, that if you want equity in the workforce, you have to have inequity in benefits and supports. You have certainly alluded to that in the book, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you think about supports in addition to ally ship.

00:28:35 - David Smith
Yeah, it was such an important topic that one of the chapters in the book is titled Gender Equity starts at home. And we've written about this pretty extensively as well. One of the things that we know is that, as you said, the unpaid labor. Right. That is going. And we're talking about the domestic responsibilities and caregiving responsibilities that happen outside the traditional workplace and happen in the home. Again, women have done, historically done at least twice the amount that men have done. There's been a closing. There was a little bit of a back and forth during the pandemic, but since the pandemic, there's been a bit of a closing of it, but it's been very small. And actually what we find is that women and men are doing more hours of both of domestic and caregiving responsibilities, but the gap hasn't really closed between them very much. So, in essence, I guess we're all just working a lot more, whether it's at home or in the paid workplace. But what's really interesting is that if we're ever going to close the gender gap and think about really creating gender equity in the workplace, we have to free up women from the unpaid labor at home. Women flocked to the workplace back in the 1950s and 60s in huge numbers. Right? Did men flock back into the home? No. And it hasn't dramatically shifted or changed since then. So now effectively, we have dual career families as the traditional norm today in most societies. So we have two people working in the workplace and we just have still people doing twice the amount of work at home. And so this is the double shift that's been written about, or the triple shift during the pandemic is we included homeschooling to that as well. The interesting part is that when we find in the research when men show up as being better allies at home, that means doing their fair share. I would say that's a more equitable approach, not maybe an equal approach, because I don't know that it's ever equal. I think it shifts and changes. And we know that based off of our careers and stages of life and where kids are and parents are and all sorts of factors that go into that, that it shifts and it changes. And we know that we negotiate that on a regular basis, hopefully that we're doing it equitably and we're showing up and being very visible in public, that their partners are more successful. Both careers are more successful when we do this together, and that's the solution that we're looking for. The challenge is that when men show up and do this at home, guess what? It shifts and changes their behavior in the workplace. And this is, I think, the exciting part, because that's what we want. We want to see that behavioral change and now reprioritization of how we think about work and family and that unpaid labor that has to be done at home, and men's responsibilities and their expectations about how they're going to be involved in doing that. The challenge is that the workplace, they don't control. They don't necessarily control workplace culture. They don't necessarily control hours and schedules and all of that. And so they end up running into this very traditional workplace that doesn't appreciate, doesn't value what they're trying to do in that way. And we see that. We see that in new research. A lot of the great research coming out of Boston College, the center, work and family, Brad Harrington's group, shows this with millennial dads. There is just this huge middle group there that is just not happy. And I say not happy. We're talking about outcomes like low satisfaction, personal life satisfaction, work satisfaction, low employee engagement, all of these factors that we know affect productivity and performance. And again, so, again, employers are missing out on productivity and performance because the workplace isn't aligned with what their people expect and demand. So it's one of these where we have to do these in alignment together. We need shifts and changes at home, which are happening and actually happening in many ways faster than they are in the workplace, because we see that in the results with, again, how men have largely demanded more from that. One last thing on this, because I think this is really important when dads show up, and it's not that moms doing it is not important, because it really is. And we know the influence around moms on their children. But when dads show up as caregivers and are being visible and involved in doing this work, the outcomes for our kids are really important. And we see for our sons, they're a little bit different. Our sons have a more gender inclusive perspective around gender roles. And so when they enter the workplace, they're much more likely to look for these types of workplaces that have programs and schedules that will allow them to do this. And therefore, our daughters are more likely to persist in their careers, reach those career goals, and enter into nontraditional professions and industries, those that have been male dominated for so long. So thinking about where do we move the needle? How do we start to move things over faster towards gender parity? A lot of it has to start at home, but we have to do it in alignment with what's going on in the workplace.

00:33:56 - Paul Sullivan
You've been listening to David Smith, a professor at Bright Horizons. A fascinating conversation here in the work life equation. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back.

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Welcome back to The Work-Life Equation with Priya Krishnan and Paul Sullivan. We hope you're enjoying this episode and are finding the stories empowering and inspirational. Now back to the show.

00:35:18 - Paul Sullivan
Welcome back to the Work Life Equation podcast with Pria and Paul. David, when we left off in the last segment, you'd mentioned Brad Harrington at Boston College. I've talked to Brad. He's done a lot of great research. But I remember him telling me ten years ago when he sort of went to some of these top companies that actually support the center that he's created at Boston College and suggested that they offer equal parental leave. A lot of them did it and it was great. Wow, I've had a real success here. But then he know, a couple years into it, a couple of the HR people came to him and said, you know, Brad, we did that because we never thought the men were going to take their parental leave. We never thought they'd do it. And now that they're taking it, we're seeing how much they really benefit from it and how, guess what? It's starting to create a little bit of more equity in the workplace because both mothers and fathers are taking the same amount of time off when they have kids. That's a systemic issue. And in the last segment you were talking about men doing more at home and what they can do in the workplace. And we've already gone into some of the systemic issues that make equity more difficult than it needs to be in the workplace. But of course, at home there are a lot of systemic issues I joke as company dad being a lead dad, I'm often the one making the appointment, the doctor's appointments, the dentist appointments, and invariably somebody from the doctor's office or the dentist's office will call me, it will call my wife and not me, and it messes up the whole thing. So there's these systemic things that we need to get past as somebody who thinks big picture about systems and there's individual action. We talked a lot about that in the first segment. But how can leaders start changing these systems, both in the home sphere and the work sphere, so that they're more equitable and people are able to sort of fulfill their full potential?

00:37:07 - David Smith
Yeah, I think this is a great question and something that, I'm not sure which one's more difficult, the home or the work sphere, as you pointed that out. But one of the big ones, I think, around children, for example, is that a lot of things eventually, after the first three or four years, start to focus in on back to education. And so we're back on school systems. And I do think that this is a place where that has been identified as an opportunity to begin to change because the school is a system, right. And there is a set of processes and practices that have been around for a long time that help in regulating when and where and how things happen for children and help to coordinate. And I think there's a scheduling piece of this too, that affects the workplaces begin in some cases to think about. In other cases, maybe they just ignore it, but it's to begin there and to start thinking about that. So when you have a child in school and the child sick or needs to become home, needs a parent or somebody to pick them up, who do they call? Well, hopefully they go to their list and look at, okay, well, who's identified as the on call parent, the primary parent to call first, and we'll call that person. But it's really easy to look there and go, oh, I see, Paul Sullivan is the primary parent here. And then for my finger to slip down and go, oh, but I'm not going to call him, I'm going to call Priya instead. And why? And why would I do that? Well, because I make that assumption again, there's this bias we have that, well, no, what they must have really meant was for the mother in this case to be the primary parent. And again, we have this she fault. Right. The default parent is the mom in this case that we have to begin to shift and change some of that. And I do think that there are some processes that we could begin looking at practices in the school system, which would be a great place to start. I think you also mentioned that medical providers are another big one. So in our pediatricians and certainly in the pediatric world, you would think this would be something that be really easy to overcome. We do know that pediatricians are more likely to be women already, so you would think this would be a lot easier to overcome. But again, there's some processes there that we could begin to think about. Dentists are the same way in terms of how we think about who the primary or secondary or who caregivers are. And there's this perception, again, that it's hard to overcome. These are cultural perceptions that we have, and they do take time, but it does help to have interventions in place, things that begin to make us consciously think about before I make that phone call about am I calling the right person? If we could just get people just to pause for that half second to think about am I calling the right person? Am I doing the right thing here? That helps in a lot of cases to do that. Schools are workplaces too, for the educators. So in many ways, the interventions that we think about putting in place in a corporation, that maybe it's a financial corporation or a tech firm, the same kind of things I would do with a manager, I can do again with staff as well with educators in an educational system. But just understanding the way that their practices work, it's really helpful if you can get people on the inside who understand how the practices work to work with you and to develop these. Again, I think of them as ways to alert me that there might be a bias involved here, that I might not be doing the right thing in this case to, again, alert me to that.

00:41:18 - Priya Krishnan
I'm going to switch the personal side for a bit, David, so it would be interesting. It's always a thing of you work in the space, and how does that influence how you're raising your children? I have two boys, and it is a feminist household, I can tell you, in spite of the fact that I'm surrounded by men.

00:41:36 - David Smith
For me, it gets to back to life stages of where we are and how we do this differently in different stages of our life. And I'm at that point now where I've just entered in what I think of as a new phase or stage of life. I became a grandparent about 18 months ago, my son and my daughter in law, 18 month old grandson. To me, that's a new phase for me, and opportunities as well. And how, again, where are places that I can facilitate and we as parents can facilitate and help my son and my daughter in law to be the kind of parents that they want to be. And part of that, it gets back to this. One is childcare. And certainly we know from during the pandemic, maybe we didn't recognize it as well before, but certainly now we do that. We have huge holes in our childcare infrastructure, and one of those is access and another is affordability. And it's been a while since we've dealt with childcare, but got a whole new lesson in that. As I was talking with them about it, my wife and I talked about it. We want to be part of our grandson's life and be influential in that way, in ways that my children find useful. So we made the offer to them. It's like, hey, we understand childcare is really expensive and you're making hard choices when it comes to that financially. And we would like to be, because we have the ability to be involved, to find ways to do that. And so we did. We sat down and had these conversations very early on about ways that we could do this when my children were getting ready to go back into the workplace after they took their parental leave. And we can talk more about that too. But what that would look like and why and how we would do that. I think it was a great conversation. I think it was really enlightening for us as grandparents, as their parents in this case, to understand what they were trying to accomplish and what would be most useful and helpful and at the same time recognizing what we get out of it as well and being involved. And again, it's a great opportunity to feel young again or maybe feel older, I'm not sure which, when you have grandchildren around, but it's a great opportunity. I mentioned the parental leave piece because I think this is important and this is something in talking with my son and my daughter in law about how they were going to approach parental leave. My son works for the federal government, he's a clinical epidemiologist. And thankfully they recently, as he became a new parent, he was now entitled to twelve weeks of parental leave. My daughter in law had the same. And so they talking about how are they going to do this? And so certainly my son took early on in the first couple of weeks, there was certainly some overlapping between the two of them, time there to do that, but then they had set it up after that so that she stayed on her parental leave until she finished up for twelve weeks. And then they did it in cereal where he did his immediately thereafter. So she went back to work. He came back home and took over for twelve weeks as the sole and primary parent. And I could say what a huge opportunity. And I'm just so thankful that he had that because I know that it'll make him a much better dad. It'll change the relationship that he has with his kids and certainly with his partner as well, and open his eyes as he's gone back to work into, again, how things are not necessarily set up for parents in many ways or for caregiving, and how it's not always easy to talk about caregiver identities and what makes it easier to talk about caregiving in the workplace and to be able to share resources and how a lot of that's not shared with dads in many cases, because we don't look at them as caregivers, they just look to the women. I think it opened his eyes to a lot of those challenges, but also to where he, you know, thinking back as he went back into work, where he could still contribute in a lot of ways around caregiving and how they could do that more equitably between the two of them, but also in picking up different aspects of domestic responsibilities. And so my son is the primary cook, does most of the shopping. And there are things, how they divided them up differently than we did, but they're different people than we are. So again, I think we do that in ways that, as Ebrotsky would talk about, she would tell us that in terms of being fair, making it fair play, that we've got to have these conversations, we have to have them regularly because things change over time and we have to adjust to continue to make things equitable in the same way we ought to be adjusting in the workplace to keep them equitable.

00:47:13 - Paul Sullivan
Professor David Smith, thanks for joining us today on the Work Life Equation podcast. Before we let you go, we're going to toss you into our lightning round of three questions. Everybody gets the same three questions. You ready?

00:47:26 - David Smith
Probably not, but I don't have a choice.

00:47:29 - Paul Sullivan
All right, here's the first one. How do you define work life balance for yourself?

00:47:36 - David Smith
I would define work life balance as prioritizing work and family in a way that, again, I can be successful and everybody within my sphere of life can be successful in all the domains that are important to them. And again, I don't know that it's a balance. I think it's a shifting priority.

00:48:01 - Priya Krishnan
And what is your go to, David, to unwind when you have time away from work and from family? So what is your go to to unwind and be yourself.

00:48:13 - David Smith
That's an easy one. On the water. So I come from a navy background, and I do love being, even though I'm a pilot, I do love being on the water. And so I do that through whether that's rowing or fishing, you'll find me on the water. That's great.

00:48:30 - Paul Sullivan
And the last question here, and maybe it's something you've recently told your son, but as a father, as a professional, as a veteran, what's the advice that you give to dads today? To sort of figure out the best way for them to make their way in the world and to create their own work life equation.

00:48:54 - David Smith
It starts at home. So really having those conversations with your partner and again, all the people in your family, your life that are important, where you want to be, spending time that's important to you, and make sure that you're clear about what that is and in your own mind so that when you do have to have those conversations and you do need to back in the workplace that you can communicate those to, again, whether it's your supervisor, your boss, whatever the relationship is there, your peers, the people who work for you, depending on what level of leadership you're at, you can communicate that in a way so that people understand where you're coming from and what's important and why it's important, why you're prioritizing things in a very specific way. Because, again, I don't think there's enough transparency and authenticity about owning that today, especially from men. And I think, again, there's a lot of stigma surrounding it. But I think we need to own it and we need to be ready to talk about it and role model it.

00:49:57 - Priya Krishnan
David Smith, thank you again, thank you so much. David thank you.

00:50:02 - David Smith
Thank you.

00:50:04 – Commercial
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Priya Krishnan, Senior Vice President, Client Relations and Growth Operations
About the Author
Chief Digital and Transformation Officer
Priya Krishnan comes to Bright Horizons after founding and running India's largest childcare business. She is the winner of many awards for her work in the space, including Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, Young Turk, FT1000 for Asia, and Red Herring Asia.
The Work-Life Equation episode 3