A fine work-life balance - for men

One thing which no expat living in Andalucia, or Spain, can fail to notice, is the difference in the roles of the sexes here, as compared to most northern European countries. Women are (generally) the ones who cook and take care of the children. I nearly fell off the sofa laughing when I was watching one of those "real people's homes" TV programmes a few months ago. They were visiting a gorgeous house in Marbella, where a Scandinavian guy, his Spanish wife and their children lived. Unusually, the man showed the presenter around their house, and when they got to the kitchen, and he showed her all the gadgets and appliances, the (woman) presenter exclaimed, "Wow! I think this is the first time ever a man has showed me the kitchen." To me, that said it all. I know it's not true of everyone, and certainly not for many of my friends, but generally the woman rules the domestic domain. And takes the lion's share of work with regards to childcare, too. To the detriment of her career. So I was intrigued to read an article this weekend, about men who refuse high-powered new jobs and promotions to spend more time at home with their kids. Halle-flippin'-lulah. Is sexual equality finally arriving in Spain? It's making its way here, as slowly as a man downs his last cerveza of the night. I know that most expats are either self-employed, or have their own businesses, but there also are those who work for companies (such as this website). And for those of us who have kids, they may well end up working for a Spanish company at some point. And anyway, I think (Ok, hope) it signals some kind of general shift in attitudes to work and family, priorities and responsibilities. There's a priceless story of a man who got his big break - a job offer of sales director of a multinational. But he turned the position down, citing personal reasons: his wife was expecting their second child, and was having a difficult pregnancy; the job demanded foreign travel and long hours. It was a major sacrifice for his career, a one-off opportunity lost; he chose, most laudably, to put his family above his work. The prospective employer's reaction: "It's a good thing we found out when we did, we don't want someone like you working in our company. We'll look for someone who doesn't have family imponderables (unassessibles, very strange word to use)". I've heard of being women treated like that, when family commitments have been cited as an excuse for not offering a more responsible role, but never a man. I'd have taken him on without thinking twice. The writer says that, in today's society, it's still difficult to take in that a man would give such importance to his family that he'd turn down a promotion. She (for the writer is a woman) continues that there are certain "activities" in one's private life which are perceived as weaknesses in the workplace - I'd say that's true anywhere. (For my part, my husband is currently one of Spain's four million unemployed, but when he was working, his employer was totally unsympathetic to his family commitments. These included a pregnant wife with a toddler, whom he only saw at weekends. Luckily the folks here at andalucia.com are much more understanding about my kids.) Another businessman interviewed says how, "In other countries, everyone leaves the office at 5pm... not because they're more hard-working, but because they're more productive and they have time to do sport or be with their children." He's hit the nail on the head there. Half-hour breakfast anyone? Two-hour lunch, plus coffee? The reason you have to stay later is because you take so many damn breaks. That is instilled into the national character in Spain, nowhere more than here in Andalucia. And there is plenty more pie-in-the-sky thinking - or maybe it's just lucky choice of employer. One new father wanted to take a few weeks off, and his boss told him to take three months (he worked for an insurance company). Que suerte! Interstingly, nothing is mentioned about how the women in any of these companies (almost all multinationals) are treated - only the men. Are we supposed to assume they're all models of equal opportunities? The same man also states that an organisation "must respect a person in their totality." Yes, they should, but I'm not sure how many really do. Someone else states that the most successful companies are the ones whose employees are happy, but that the Spanish mentality doesn't follow this pattern. At least, not for the vast majority. However, the fact that the subject has even been addressed opens it up to public debate. Which could be a Very Good Thing for men, women, children - families - everywhere.
Blog published on 31 January 2011