Wasn’t it lovely to celebrate International Women’s Day last Friday? As a woman in business for nearly thirty years I wasn’t actually aware that this day existed for much of my career. Apparently the very first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1909! Today with social media and online publishing you’d need to be living under a rock not to have known that last Friday, was ‘the day’. I didn’t head to any formal celebration or breakfast to hear an inspirational politician or senior exec inspire me or tell me that the future’s looking bright. Instead I started working at around 6:30am, hung out a load of washing, fed the dog and started answering emails, all before making sure my posts were published to acknowledge International Women’s Day.
Growing up in the 70’s I was lucky enough to be influenced by my parents; my mother a staunch labour supporter and a social worker and my father, head of an International corporate conglomerate. Dinners were always eventful; the true justice of humankind was heavily contested against the economic viability of how western economies needed to be sustainable. Never the twain did meet. Most likely why my parents divorced in 1976. My oldest sister ‘came out’ in ’71, a trail blazer for the feminist movement. She’s now 62, has published over four books on feminism and is a very well respected and highly engaging speaker, speaking internationally on the subject of feminism. So, I’m familiar with the topic and as a woman who has owned and run a business successfully for over 25 years, here’s my opinion.
Scroll forward to 2019, how does the front line of gender equality look? Some say the conflict between men and women at work is increasing. The well-intentioned introduction of ‘inclusion and diversity’ has helped women stay in the workforce and maintain a career path. Flexibility in the work place, mentoring and ‘women only’ networking groups, designed to empower and inspire women have flourished. But can we have it all? Michelle Obama eloquently pointed out in December “That’s a lie. It’s not enough to lean in, because that shit doesn’t work all the time.”
Case in point; I recently spoke to some younger 30 something professional women colleagues who are realising that working full time and working over 60 hours a week isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Three have now left corporate senior executive positions to seek alternative ‘career paths’. Perhaps that’s why the mumpreneur career is gaining such traction.
Then there are the blokes and by that, I mean the young, middle aged and the senior men within the workplace. Increasingly men are heading to the golf course, or to the pub without women colleagues. On the flip side women are signing up to ‘women only’ networking groups to find inspiration and a like-minded environment.
To me, this behaviour contradicts what we’ve been striving for these past 20-years. The dramatic change that has swept through working patterns over the last two decades has influenced this, with dual income now the norm rather than the exception. The reality is, if you’re on a senior, ‘up and coming’ or on an emerging career path, the expectation is that you are ‘always on’, so work is a constant intrusion, even if you’re supposed to be off. And that applies to both men and women.
There’s also a cultural backdrop that sits snugly underlying the working pool. Most young professional parents want to be part of the ‘at home’ environment and by that, I mean both genders.
As a mother of three up and coming professional people (gender withheld) I worry about what the workplace environment will present. Having been raised by two independent professional working parents, they have always had a tremendous sense of equality amongst gender. What worries me, is that statistical corrections for the sake of balance, may in fact, be counterintuitive to this up and coming gender neutral generation of professionals.
For what it’s worth, I don’t have the answer. What I do think is, we’ve got a way to go, before we strike a balance.