The truth about Canadian women: Roles in the household

Mary Chambers

Mary Chambers, Chief Strategy Officer, McCann Worldgroup Canada

In 2018, McCann Worldgroup Canada took on the important task of helping businesses play a more meaningful role in the lives of Canadian women.

The challenge is clear: help the brands and businesses of Canada move beyond ‘marketing to women’ to meaningfully engaging them in their businesses and communications because women have been under-represented, misunderstood and misrepresented by brands.

We identified what we believe to be are five key dimensions of women’s lives in Canada today. Each dimension offers its own context for change and its own opportunity for brands. Women in the workplace was the first dimension we examined.

The dimension we’d like to look at now is Roles in the Household in Canada in 2018.

Globally, Canada is recognized as one of the most progressive countries in the world. Within Canada, we pride ourselves on our leading initiatives, such as being the country that embodies tolerance and ethnic diversity and one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage.

But when we look inside the home, we find a surprisingly traditional story, particularly when it comes to the distribution of roles.

Surprisingly traditional

The progressive Canada we pride ourselves on is not reflected in the traditional home-life of Canadians where gender roles of masculinity and femininity still heavily influence our actions.

‘Mostly traditional’ means, that women still do the majority of domestic chores, bear the burden of most childcare and carry the mental load, otherwise known as ‘invisible work.’

At the same time, men and women alike believe that the distribution of the household workload is a measure of equality. And millennials, more than any other demographic, believe this load should be shared equally.

It is through the millennials that we see the household starting to change shape and the roles within it become redefined. In this new definition of who does what and how much, gender is not the key determinant – the individual is.

Empathy is the path to equality

We found that in order to get past the gender constructs that determine traditional roles in the household, men and women need to experience the world of the other, and then imagine a new world altogether. The power of new behaviour creating new understanding and eventually norms is most evident in the world of childcare. We found first in the interviews we conducted that men who had taken on the responsibility of childcare in the home were better able to imagine a home not determined by traditional constructs. More importantly, we learned that 52% of the fathers in our study feel the pressure of double duty caused by having to care for children as well as a job.

We find this number really exciting. Not because these new fathers – millennial men in the most part – are feeling the pressure, but because through childcare they are developing empathy for what was formerly just the world of women. We heard again and again in our work this year on The Truth About Canadian Women that for change to occur, we must experience it and act on it together. This is the attitude of Millennials in the household in 2018.

The recalibrated home

When we look at the Canadian home of 2018, we do see a surprisingly traditional model. But this is a model that is disappearing as change unravels the norms of today. As journalist Nana aba Duncan claims, we’re not exactly sure where these changes are taking us.

The pace of change adds to our stress because new roles haven’t been modelled for these changes, because we are making it up as we go along. I think we will witness many issues with folks not knowing what to do.

— Nana aba Duncan Host and Producer, Media Girlfriends Podcast

As we adapt to change in the household, we experience the clash of new and old. A new home, based far less on gender constructs and far more on the individual, is emerging. Instead of a future of ‘he’ versus ‘she’ roles, we see a partnership shaped of a gender-neutral perspective. Individuals with unique strengths, preferences and capabilities are creating a new household construct. This new household model does not come without tensions. Not everyone is willing to change at the same rate, or understands how.

Role for brands

Brands today have a unique opportunity to help lay the foundation for the new household in Canada. To understand and even reflect the tensions at play, and to help establish new norms that are not gender-determined, but determined by the will and desire of individuals.

Look out for our third ‘Truth About Canadian Women’ topic: The Partial Portrayal of Women.