Men try to find the balance

Time to reassess: Men and women face the constraints of gender expectations. It seems more men now are reaching the top only to feel unfulfilled with their success.

Time to reassess: Men and women face the constraints of gender expectations. It seems more men now are reaching the top only to feel unfulfilled with their success.

When questioned why the 46-year-old chief executive of one of Australia's largest companies would resign, NAB's Cameron Clyne said "this is what it looks like when you prioritise your family over your career".

He wasn't under pressure to leave and he wasn't underperforming, he went on his own terms. The same can be said for outgoing Labor Senator Stephen Conroy. "When you resent being in Canberra because you are missing your daughter's soccer training it is time to retire", Conroy said on Friday upon his surprise retirement.

These two men don't have a lot in common, but they are part of a new breed of man. They can climb the career ladder but still want to be there for their family. Clyne said upon his resignation that he would "like to be married longer than I am CEO".

Dare I even ask, can men have it all?

More and more senior men are coming out and saying that the big gigs aren't all they are cracked up to be if they take them away from their families. They are learning from the mistakes of their own fathers and that of men who went before them. They want a career but also to be an active dad.

Ian Narev, chief executive of the Commonwealth Bank, is one. He speaks freely and openly about the need for a strong family life to support us at work. Staff directly reporting to him note he isn't always the first in the office and is keen to be at school events for his children.

These are guys at the top of their game. What about us blokes on the ground?

While the school pickup still features a collection of the women in our neighbourhood, it isn't uncommon to see dads there too. It is part of the change in work. Over the past two years the number of men working part-time has grown six times faster than men working full-time.

But if we are being honest, our workplaces have been slow to help men balance career and caring for family: viewing these duties as opposites rather than complementary.

Inadequate childcare provision isn't helping. For almost 5 million people who live in Sydney, there are just over 90,000 childcare places. Barely a third of them are available outside standard business hours. And don't even try to get a place near your work.

Twenty-first century Australia should be helping us to meet our work and care responsibilities. As long as the "good employee" is expected to devote their every waking moment to work, then we won't get far. Because the truth is the better we can balance our work with having a life, the better we perform at work.

In 2013, accountants EY found that if employees had access to flexible work, childcare nearby and trust in their performance Australia could save $14 billion in currently lost productivity. When we can do the school drop off and continue work later, we respect our employer and want to perform better for them. Show people some dignity and they will do their job better.

At the moment, nobody wins. Men and women face the constraints of gender expectations even when they rebuff them. No wonder more men are reaching the top only to feel unfulfilled with their success. 

Malcolm Turnbull keeps talking to us about being innovative and agile. Until he pays more attention to how we work, he doesn't have a chance of realising this vision.

With all their privileges, even guys like Stephen Conroy and Cameron Clyne struggle. What hope do the rest of us have? 

Conrad Liveris is a workforce diversity specialist.

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