Katy Gallagher addressed the National Labour Women’s conference on the weekend, talking as the most senior elected member of the Australian Labor Party. Her core message was ‘women can and do make a difference.’ I wholeheartedly agree. But it’s going to take a massive mindshift in our society to draw a better balance for women who happen to be mums in finding career success. Maybe one day a women’s conference won’t be necessary.
With Mike’s post last week, I have been thinking more about women and ambition in Canberra. Mike threw open a question around the gender pay gap and whether it exists. Yes it exists. Yes, I’ve experienced it. But for me it’s less about the money and more about the opportunity.
Back in a time long ago (or so it feels) before I had children, I started a Women’s Network for the European staff of an international bank. It sounds more impressive than it was. It was mostly an opportunity for women to share their stories on success and sacrifice. For me, it was a way to pick the brains of our older female leaders on how they had found success whilst managing a family. I wanted the answers and they came usually in the form of having a trusted Nanny, asking family for help, making space in the diary for time with the kids, being disciplined etc. But they were all questions we asked of our women leaders who were mothers. I never asked a male leader how he got where he was whilst being a father.
I do recall being wide eyed and full of career hope when listening and confident that my career could take centre stage along with my children when I fell pregnant with my first daughter. I felt that right up until it came time to return to work.
In many ways we have it easy in Canberra. We are not blighted with long commute times and have (when we can find it) access to good child care. The space where I feel it all falls down is the old fashioned, hard worn views of a woman’s role. For many of my friends, they work in busy jobs, have a young family and a home. These are smart women – intelligent and well educated in their late 30’s and (ahem) early 40’s and yet the majority of the roles within the home and involving the kids still fall on their shoulders.
I’m sick of hearing about ‘working mums’. I never hear about ‘working dads’ – they’re just working. Or, mums needing childcare. Surely (and I do fully understand that it isn’t always the case that we are talking about two parents involved in a child’s upbringing), parents need childcare. Surely, it should have just as much impact on a man as a woman when they can’t secure childcare. And yet it doesn’t.
These days, I see far more participation from dads. At pre-school pick ups, dropping kids at day care on their way to the office. And that is awesome.
I firmly believe that as women and men, we can have it all. But we can’t have it all at once. I do believe that when there are young children involved, someone needs to lower the throttle on their career to be the go to person for illness and those in between pick up stints. I don’t however believe that this should always fall to a woman.
I long for a day when businesses run interviews and make no differentiation between a man and a woman at a stage of life where they are likely to consider having children. I long for the day that the responsibility is truly split. That as a community we truly take a step back and wait to hear how that family will play it out.
I am a woman and I am a mother. Keeping house, managing the kids and putting dinner on the table is not my sole responsibility.