Many in my generation grew up with their mums at home, even more in the previous generation. Men were able to work long and hard because the wife was at home to take care of household duties and children. Some of these men are still leaders in the workplace, and a majority are men who trained under them. However, I believe it is fair to say that expectations at the workplace were also higher (or as high, at least in the professions). It follows that even though women are now common in the workplace, these high expectations are a remnant of history.
Why would women entering these professions change expectations in terms of hours? Some may argue – why should it? Women often want flexible working conditions so they can meet family commitments. If this results in a pay differential, then what is wrong with that? Why should we expect employers to pay for us to be transporting our kids to and from school or cooking? Client requirements, networking for growth and performance to client expectations have not changed. My premise is that it is not inequality in the workplace that is the dominant issue. It is the inequality in sharing of domestic duties, and the underlying cause of this is not sexist or misogynistic men leaders in the workplace, but the general fact that women wish to retain the primary domestic roles as well as climb the corporate ladder, or are expected to by their own families. It follows that it is the re-arrangement of the family and domestic responsibilities between the male and female that is the solution. As females – I don’t believe it is fair to complain about inequality in the workplace if we have not equalised the relative position of the males and females in our domestic situations.
Flexibility and work/life balance in the workplace is a separate but related issue. If domestic situations are re-arranged for equality, then allowing flexibility in the workplace will be its own issue as it should. And it should extend across the board to everyone regardless of age, gender, and a choice to have kids or not.
Ok, so what about the women who do not, or choose not to have children, who work as long – if not longer than their male counterparts? I agree there is an issue here. My observation is that it’s a product of the relative time that women have occupied the workplace. Yes, there is an old boy’s network which is again a function of time. Another is that of these women that choose work, not all are created equal.
There will be some that are just not as good as the men. There are some that will let their own insecurities inhibit them which is so easy to do. Remember that the landscape is changing – there are women who are making it to the top echelons of their profession and fostering and advocating other women. There are more women owned businesses who prefer to network with other women. Women are becoming thought leaders in cultural change within organisations by bringing diversity of thoughts and ideas. There are now many women only organisations dedicated to supporting women in the workplace and women in business. The best of these I find are the organisations that showcase and support women, but remain respectful and willing to learn from successful men too. The initiative should be to elevate women, but for this, learning from success or failure is key; regardless of gender.
In my own career and chosen speciality I am in a world of older white men. I am a younger Indian female, so a minority in both gender and race. For every one racist or sexist male, I have come across five men that welcome me either as an equal or are willing to assist me to succeed. Bar one, every male boss I have had from when I started my career has gone out of their way to help me grow. Even the “bar one” I mentioned expected me to perform as normal pre and post maternity leave (I.e. no flexibility due to my situation), but he expected this of everyone in the team. These expectations were consistent across the board.
In traditional Chartered Accounting firms, productivity and client growth is key to developing your career. It is almost impossible to fit this into the structured nine-to-five routine and extra time is often required. I could not restructure my domestic situation after having children, so accepted forgoing this development at that stage – my choice to have children and inability to structure my domestic affairs meant I could not meet the expectations of the firm.
I was lucky, I found Gilligan Sheppard. Work / life balance and flexibility is a right afforded to all employees regardless of gender, age, and choice to procreate or not. The flexibility at Gilligan Sheppard is just a facilitator for career development, the enabler is the realisation that if I am striving for equality in the workplace, I should start looking for equality closer to home.
Forgetting political views, we live in a country with a 37 year old female prime minister (the third in recent history) who succeeded a middle aged white man with his advocacy and support, and defeated another very intelligent middle aged white man to form a government. In time New Zealand will see women reaching pay and status parity with men. It is important to advocate supporting women to achieve in what is still a male dominated environment but equally to learn from all success and failure regardless of gender.