I recently heard the wonderful and inspiring fashion designer Carla Zampatti speak at an Italian Chamber of Commerce lunch.
I loved hearing the story of her humble beginnings, how she arrived from Italy in 1950 as a child with big dreams and by 1965 she had released her first fashion collection. She told of how fortunate she was to receive a gift of $5000 (from a friend or maybe a family member who believed she would succeed) and with that she was able to launch her label a few years later.
Carla shared some of the challenges she faced as a woman starting a business in the 1960s (you can imagine). Banks wouldn’t lend her money without a man to sign on the dotted line. People told her she was crazy for starting a fashion business. But her passion and determination paid off and Carla Zampatti is celebrating a 50 year business. She is considered one of the most astute business women in Australia, and has been recognised at some of the highest levels for her achievements and acumen.
Obviously she has worked her absolute arse off to build the successful company that she has today.
And of course she made sacrifices for her career.
Carla has three children and like many of us faced difficulties juggling her career and parenting. When her second child was born she went back to work a matter of weeks after the birth. After the birth of her third, she held business meetings in the hospital. Her mantra is that children need quality time with parents, rather than quantity. She would spend the week days and nights focused on her business, while weekends were dedicated to her family. She had a live-in nanny as she acknowledged she couldn’t run the business without help.
I admire Carla Zampatti and her hard work and determination immensely and yet when I heard this I can’t deny I found it all slightly troubling.
Here I am a staunch feminist and business owner and yet I can’t quite come to grips with the idea personally of being THAT dedicated to my business. (Then again when Champagne Cartel is a million dollar global corporation perhaps I will feel differently!).
On further introspection, I realised I hold the same outdated belief that many Australians do: if a father was absent from his family to focus on his career or company, I’d be OK with that. Based, I guess, on the assumption that a woman will be around to keep the home fires burning.
Annabel Crabb’s excellent book The Wife Drought is founded on this exact thesis. That gender inequality in the corporate world and lack of women in politics is because men have wives and partners who take care of the home front, women don’t. Annabel also argues that the notion that women should be at home and men should be working is still strongly held.
It’s been an interesting exercise to challenge my thinking. What I’ve realised is that right now, having a wife would make no difference to me. I can’t imagine not being there for my 3 and 6 year old boys and not being actively involved in their parenting every single day. Today, that’s where I draw my line.
But maybe if I was raking in millions of dollars I could get myself some therapy, and some nannies and housekeepers, and get over it.
Hmm or maybe not.
I guess when the time comes and the business is more and more demanding of my time, I’ll need to set new boundaries and as a family we will decide what works for us. And this is totally the point. We all make our decisions based on what is acceptable to us at the time and what is right for us. And we are bloody lucky to live in a time where so many of us have options.
We opened up the issue to some of our readers and the conversation was brilliant. It’s clearly something people feel passionate about. Here’s just a few of the comments:
I really do believe that what works for her and her family is fine. She didn’t get where she is by slacking off and if keeping on top of it works for her – go bonkers. And we wouldn’t have questioned Mr Carla Zampatti about getting straight back into it…. (Alison)
I have quite a problem with the ‘quality time’ theory of parenting. Kids need quantity too. I’ve never managed to put it more eloquently or less judgy than that, it just doesn’t sit right with me. (Megan)
Sounds like a very similar story as that told by Ita Buttrose (and a few others). I think it was brave for women of their generation when it was much less the ‘done thing’ to return to work after babies. I also think in some ways they had less choice as there wouldn’t have been any paid maternity leave etc. It’s really an ‘each to their own’ thing for me, though. (Lara)
Total ‘BS’ from Carla …..Seeing yr kids just on weekends does not make up for not seeing them most days of the week….and that accounts for both parents – most children will say “time” is mainly what they need/want most from their mothers AND fathers – it certainly has to be positive not negative time, but it also needs to be enuf time ???? (Jane)
We all ‘mother’ our children differently, argue quality v quantity, nature v nurture etc. I hope I have raised 3 strong independent contributors to our community. I believe I have and celebrate all who have strived to do the same! (Charlie)
But I love this: career, parenting, entrepreneurship are all disruptive forces and there is no balance. (Zoey)
What about you, where do you stand on this issue? How and where do you draw the line between parenting and career?
I personally found the discussion around this yesterday to be heavy with judgement. That said, I do have pretty progressive views on dismantling the establishment as it were. I for one would love a wife. I think my husband loves it when I say that too but not for the same reason! We are currently investigating the feasibility of a nanny a couple of mornings a week simply so I can get to work earlier and in no way are we in a position to afford it. If I want to progress though (and I do) I need to be present more at work. Most of us are doing the best we can based on our priorities and conditioning. I still find the reaction I get to the commitment I have to my work challenging. My husband on the other hand is commended far and wide for his. Many people I work with aren’t aware that I have two children three and under. While I didn’t have meetings in my hospital room (or string a coherent sentence together outside of “isn’t she amazing”) I absolutely commend Carla for her dedication and am inspired. There is no one good way of “parenting”. Spending all of the time with your kids is not going to garauntee you some sort of superior outcome to the parent that can’t.
Thanks so much Sarah. Hahahaha love your comment about the wife. Look I don’t necessarily think that everyone was judging and I certainly wasn’t (I am in awe of Carla, her drive and the incredible business she has created), but I do think many of us find it an uncomfortable subject. It challenges so much of our deep down conditioning about parenting and motherhood. I have always worked and loved my jobs but haven’t been career focussed. Now that I have a career I absolutely adore, I am settling into a new way of thinking and I have to challenge myself everyday to make sure I shape the new me in a way that is utterly authentic and true to me. I love that you are so fervent on this subject and I can’t wait to see where this takes you. You’re a formidable woman Sarah Gooley! x
Dude, I’m just like everyone else. Fighting my battles, trying to get ahead and hopefully not fucking my kids up in the process! S xx
I hate the term work-life balance, in my opinion it is just life, whether you’re a man or a women, parent or not. And everyone should be able to make the choices that suit them without judgment.
Could not agree more!