When Gough Whitlam opened the doors to higher education for women it’s possible that he and others foresaw career women happy and able to leave their children in child care centres for 8 hours a day, five days a week, and employ cleaners and cooks to do the domestic work. But life isn’t that simple.
“I can’t work school hours as it just doesn’t suit the nature of my work. I’d prefer a couple of long days per week but I cannot get good after school care” (Pre school Mum)
“Our plan was for both of us to work part time but as Joe works in the police force he said he’d be ostracised if he asked for part time work. Instead I’m working one day a week from home and one in the office and Joe feels he is missing out on raising our son” (Year 2 Mum)
“The CEO asked me why I didn’t apply for a Manager’s position. I said that there are only a handful of people I want to work for in this organisation because very few understand the contemporary demands working women face” (former work colleague)
“Mum and Dad are in their 70’s now and their health isn’t what it used to be. Mum is so stubborn she won’t accept any in home help, she expects me to be there for her like she was for me. But I’m exhausted looking after the kids and working, I cannot now do this as well.”(friend).
We are squeezing women in all directions.
Not all women want to work full time after starting a family. Some want to combine work and motherhood, others want to stay at home, and some hope to share the paid work, caring for children and/or elderly parents and domestic duties with their partners. However, none of this has been simple to achieve for women and it’s greatly affecting our productivity as shown below. In February 2014 the ABS estimated some 162,800 women were chasing part time jobs – this is the highest figure on record by a big margin.
So what’s gone wrong? Firstly we failed to appreciate the oppressive nature of patriarchy and hierarchies which mostly favour men (although not all) and hence have made cultural change around women in the workforce difficult. Put simply we can’t get high enough in the hierarchies to influence change which is why women are leaving traditional workplaces in droves to start their own companies based on their needs. Secondly we failed to realise that in giving women the opportunity to attend university and keep working after they are married that this fundamental change would, and had to, affect men, the workplaces they’ve built and their role in caring for children and the elderly.
Not taking men on the journey with us as we fought for equal rights has been the feminists failing. As has appreciating that patriarchy and hierarchies encourage a particular style of leadership increasingly recognised as divisive rather than collaborative, and this affects women, men and productivity. This is why we must no longer talk of feminism but of gender equality and truly work hard to engage men in the debate. Already a few good men are engaging such as the Male CEO Champions of Change.