International Women’s Day is on 8 March each year. This year their campaign is seeking a Pledge for Parity. I personally think the choice of words is poor and confusing. It took me some reading to work out what they were on about. Put more simply, what they are hoping to do is raise awareness and foster action that will help close the gap between men and women when it comes to supporting and valuing their contributions – be it politically, economically, socially or culturally.
We’re still worse off and it’s not changing fast enough
In Australia, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows that the gender pay gap to be an average of 20.3%. That is, women earn an average of one fifth less than men, or about $322 less each week. When Superannuation is considered, on average Australian women end up with a balance that is almost half of their male counterparts.
The folks at the World Economic Forum predict that, based on progress to date, global gender parity will not be reached until 2133. In my mind that’s pretty shitty and really does not reflect the important role we play as women in this world.
Being a working mother is hard
A few years back, I used to think working mothers were pretty irritating. Many didn’t work full-time, they had to leave early to pick their kids up from care or school because they were sick or whatever. My view was pretty simplistic: make a choice. Put the time in at work or put the time in at home.
I had no idea.
Fast forward to today and I’m on maternity leave with my second child. I’m a ‘working mum’. You’d think I’d discovered a cure for cancer or alternatively was the direct cause of climate change, the way we’re collectively praised or bashed in media circles on any given day.
I really enjoy working. It’s an important part of my identity and the job I do is something I am proud of. I like having an income and most of the time, my work is fulfilling. Other times I fantasise about wining the lotto and telling them to stick it – it’s all about balance.
Being a stay-at-home mum is hard
I tried being a stay-at-home-mum, but it wasn’t for me. I admire women who do it and think the sisterhood of SAHMs deserve recognition. When I was doing it the guys at the drive-through bottle shop and I were on first name basis.
I have reconciled that at the end of the day we all love our kids and are just doing what we need to despite the “to work or not work” choices we make.
But progressing your career is next to impossible
Although I am content in my role as a working mum, an issue I have struggled with has been progressing my career. This has limited my ability to meet some of my personal goals as well as contribute more to our family’s income.
Out of necessity, I have had to pick up the primary carer role in our household, which in turn means that I require a fair bit of flexibility from my employer. My resulting part-time arrangement and requirement to start early and finish by 4pm so I can pick my kids up on time, makes me not a very attractive prospect when compared with other candidates who may not have these requirements.
When you consider some figures recently published by Women’s Agenda that show on average in Australia, women are doing about 311 minutes of unpaid work each day, while the fellas are doing 172 minutes. This gender difference in unpaid work reflects the traditional role of primary care giver falling to women.
How do we minimise the gap?
Since reading Annabel Crabb’s, The Wife Drought, I’ve formed some strong views on how we can minimise the gap between men and women, especially in the workforce and with regard to unpaid work. I continue to read more material that supports these views. I am pointing this out because what I’m going to say isn’t a new idea, but I think the more people who raise it, the better we might be positioned to actually get some action.
So now that I’ve overloaded you with some facts, here’s what I think we need to start doing. Let’s stop talking about working mums and start talking about working dads.
Our current culture automatically assumes that women will be primary carers, be it for children, partners, siblings or parents. This is reflected in the amount of unpaid work we do as well as the pay gap.
In my personal situation, if I could shift some of this primary care role to my partner, this would support me to be able to contribute more, particularly when it comes to work. If I was in a position to do this I could work more, achieve more of my aspirations and goals, and also contribute more financially.
My partner works in the construction industry though, and flexible work arrangements for men would be a novelty and potentially jeopardise his standing with his company.
At the moment he makes more money than I do, but if we step back and look at who has more potential to earn into the future, it would make sense for the primary carer role to transition to his good self. The obstacle to this is his industry and the culture.
We need to start changing the culture around the primary carer role. It needs to be challenged with the notion of shared carers and providing more flexibility to working dads. And not just within industries that perhaps have dad sitting at a desk. I’m talking across the board – we need to normalise men being carers not have it seen as a cultural weakness or being “pussy whipped”.
If we start supporting working dads with more flexible arrangements and normalising this culture, they are going to be able to support working mums. This in turn will contribute to reducing the disparity between men and women and addressing issues such as the pay gap, but also perhaps even more importantly diminishing the differences between men and women in our society.
Granted, the policy structure that would be required to support this would be complex. However, I think breaking through the cultural norm will be even more challenging. Until there is a politician or union willing to get up and start making some noise about these issues I find it hard to believe that any government, union or organisation is taking the issue of supporting gender parity and women seriously. We will continue to experience bias and discrimination simply because that’s just the way it works. We will continue to be undervalued.
So this International Women’s Day, please, lets start talking about men.
Do you work for, or know of, an organisation that supports men? Please share.