Male executives are committed to work-life balance - but it remains a "women's problem"

Male executives are committed to work-life balance - but it remains a "women's problem"

By Gabriele Schambach and Julia Nentwich
January 4, 2021

We are pleased that the Handelszeitung, as our project partner, published this article in an abridged version  of the print edition on December 17 and in the online edition on December 28, 2020.

Reconciling family,work, and career is still considered the linchpin for professional equality between women and men and for increasing the proportion of women in management positions. Male executives are aware of this and are committed to finding solutions, as the project "Leaders for Equality: Executives seize opportunities" by the University of St. Gallen found out in the first Switzerland-wide survey of executives. However, it has become apparent that this tricky balancing act of reconciliation  remains essentially a "women's issue."

It has long been known that measures to reconcile work and family life contribute significantly to equality and to increasing the proportion of women in management positions. It is therefore all the more gratifying that more than thirty percent of the over 800 male managers surveyed, are already implementing  positive changes: They allow mobile working and home office in their area of responsibility, as well as part-time and/or job sharing. They also make sure that meetings and important work-related tasks end in such a way that mothers and fathers can pick up their children from daycare and look after them.  Increasingly, these progressive managers do not answer emails and phone calls after hours or during vacations, nor do they expect their employees to do so.

However, it also became clear during the survey that reconciliation measures for (other) men or for themselves as male managers are  not strictly implemented: For example, other men are not necessarily encouraged to work part-time. Reducing one's own job percentage to improve compatibility also rarely happens. Therefore, the impression arises that compatibility is mainly a problem to be solved  by women - for the male executives or even other men,  this difficult work-life balancing act does not seem to be a strain on their professional lives.

This assumption is corroborated by the socio-demographic data collected: The male executives work almost exclusively full-time, i.e., with more than 91% job scope. More than 80% of their partners work part-time, with more than one in three working 50% of the time. Since more than half of the male executives have children, it is obvious that the partner mainly takes over the so-called care work. Conversely, this means that the majority of men have no experience of working part-time or with a full-time partner, with or without children. In order to obtain a more equal and fair distribution of responsibilities and indeed, a better understanding of the difficulties involved, a change of perspective is necessary. 

Of the 350 women we interviewed, we found that the majority believed men could do more to facilitate gender sustainable work-places. They were asked about their assessment of their male colleagues and are clearly more skeptical - that is, they perceive the men as (significantly) less active in working towards job sharing and as a result, equality. This skepticism is further reinforced by the fact that 44% of the women, for example, believe that managers would “rather not” or “definitely not be able to” imagine arranging meeting times in a compatibility-friendly way (compared to 12% of the men). The same applies to enabling part-time work or job sharing. The discrepancy is less wide when it comes to encouraging other men to work part-time. Here, both women and men agree that male managers cannot imagine doing so.

So what do these findings mean for gender equality work in the work-place? 

In addition to the technical and organizational aspects of measures to reconcile work and family life, a cultural change and new perspective appears necessary. This includes, above all, an understanding that reconciliation is a task and a challenge for both women and men. Moreover, in addition to the new tendency of working from  a home office, considering part-time work and increased domestic job sharing for those in management positions must be made the  new norm for everyone. To this end, it is helpful to focus more on fathers. 

The results of the survey show very clearly that an appropriate step toward changing corporate culture  is increased dialog and communication between women and men. Specifically, this involves a change in perspective on the part of male managers: talking to the mothers and fathers in their team and asking them what they could do  or change to help. In addition, the different perceptions of women and menthat have come to light (either not doing enough or simply doing their duty) can be taken as an opportunity to talk to each other. Managers can initiate an analog or virtual exchange to find out together where the differences in perceptions come from. Building on this, we can hope for a common understanding  of the desired work-life balance that can be developed and strengthened. 

The full study is available at