The annual Gates Letter was published today in which Bill and Melinda provide an update on the past year’s accomplishments through the Gates foundation.
They begin their letter by asking the question; if you had a superpower, what would it be?
Melinda answered the question simply: time. More time so that we can accomplish more. Right now, women spend more time doing unpaid hourly tasks every day than men. We may think that with all of the attention on the gender wage gap and the rising number of women in leadership positions that this fact is also changing. In fact, if you ask teens, they would agree. Melinda says”
I know from listening to my kids and their friends—and from looking at polling data about how teenagers see the future—that most girls don’t think they will be stuck with the same rules that kept their grandmothers in the home. And most boys agree with them.
I’m sorry to say this, but if you think that, you’re wrong. Unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility.
Yes, there are more women in positions of leadership but at the end of the day, they still come home and have more work, more unpaid work responsibilities than their male counterpart. In fact, checkout this graphic from the Gates letter:
Imagine how they might use that time differently if they were able to share the responsibilities of home and care giving.
Melinda shares the process that is helping to change this picture:
The world is making progress by doing three things economists call Recognize, Reduce, and Redistribute: Recognize that unpaid work is still work. Reduce the amount of time and energy it takes. And Redistribute it more evenly between women and men.
Clearly we need to recognize the amount of time women are spending on these unpaid tasks every day. Once recognized, we can begin to develop a plan for reducing and redistributing tasks.
Innovative ideas are helping to reduce the time it takes for many tasks. Imagine if women had more time for development, the additional solutions they could come up with knowing just what needs to be done.
However, in the meantime, the fastest way to add more time to your day is through the redistribution of your tasks. I have talked about that a number of time of the years; whether it is getting up 30 minutes earlier each day to help quiet time to help prepare for the day or by delegating those tasks that really don’t need to be done by you.
Melinda reminds us, however, that it isn’t just a matter of recognizing the disparaging of the current task distribution between men and women but rather the global culture assumption that the non paying tasks should be done by women:
But Reducing by itself isn’t enough, because it’s not just that housework takes a long time; it’s also that every culture expects women to do it. If tasks start taking less time, societies can (and do) simply assign women more tasks to fill up the time they’re deemed to have available. No matter how efficient we make housework, we won’t actually free up women’s time until we Recognize that it’s just as valuable as men’s.
This isn’t a global plot by men to oppress women. It’s more subtle than that. The division of work depends on cultural norms, and we call them norms because they seem normal—so normal that many of us don’t notice the assumptions we’re making. But your generation can notice them—and keep pointing them out until the world pays attention.
We can start at home by examining the current chore distribution between family members. Is there an equal distribution between the sexes of daily tasks? Can we make a change? Start the conversation with your children and their friends, bring up the subject in your local groups to shine a spotlight on this opportunity.
Just image what we could do with an extra hour each day? How would you use that time? Melinda asked that question and found some would do homework or would have the time to visit a doctor they’ve been putting off or even just take a little time to relax and read a book. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to how the time is used, just that you have the equal opportunity and time available to take that decision.
I invite you to read the entire Gates Letter. By the way – Bill answered the question of what superpower he’d like to have by saying “energy.”
Bill and Melinda Gates are certainly pioneers in our generation. By the way, they have three teenagers – so they can relate to the struggle of work/life/charitable balance.
For more information about time: