The Work of the Heart Makes Us Equal

As we pause to celebrate International Women’s Day, UN Women is undertaking an effort to elevate Women in the Changing World of Work. I couldn’t agree more with the day’s ethos of equality, but the reason may surprise you. It’s not just that gender equality is morally right, but that gender equality is a crucial element of the kind of economy we need to build today: a Human Economy.

There was a time during the industrial age when we hired employees for their hands. As the economy evolved to value brains above brawn, we began hiring for heads. Throughout those times, we all still depended on the work of the heart – care, emotional support, lasting relationships. But we didn’t fully value it, much less think of it as the main source of value for society. First, we assigned the heart to the unpaid domestic and personal sphere. Then to lower-paid service jobs. And we left the overwhelming majority of this work to women. In the process, however, we also marginalized what is most human about us.

Despite the progress we have made as a society, this problem persists. According to the UN, 61% of service sector jobs, including areas like elder and child care, are done by women. Yet we still don’t value the real capacities required for those jobs—like empathy and relationship building—the same way we value traditional hard skills like math and science.

Today, advances in technology are forcing us to rethink this hierarchy of human capabilities. We are entering an age when the unique value we bring to the world isn’t just our heads but our hearts: our human traits that can’t be programmed into software, like creativity, passion, character, collaborative spirit and also empathy and care. The machines can already out-think us, but will never be able to out-feel us. Our challenge is to learn to value those deeply human capabilities and skills without bias.

The destination, therefore, is true equality. Morally, we all deserve equal consideration and opportunity, regardless of gender. Practically, a more equal economy also means more human progress. When we assign equal value to the different dimensions of work, we will have greater freedom to choose the ways we contribute—and earn our livelihood in a socially and economically useful way. The implication is that going to work to provide for someone and staying home to work by caring for someone should be equally valued in both prestige, pay and gratitude.

As we look for ways to advance on this journey, I’m inspired by a suggestion from the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington and A Day Without a Woman. Their ask is for all employers to perform an audit of company policies that impact women and families to ensure that all genders enjoy equal consideration, pay and dignity. At my company, we’re signing on to this—and we stand by the values we celebrate on this day.

Women speaking up for their rights and dignity do not just deserve broad social support in promoting their special interests, but also celebration for leading the way toward a more human economy. We can all take the first step on that journey today by embracing gender equality in all aspects of our lives. After all, it is the heart that makes us human, but it also makes us equal.

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