Wasn’t it lovely to celebrate International Women’s Day this month? 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 not know about International Women’s Day. I didn’t head to any formal celebration or a 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 women have led some to believe, they can have it all. But as Michelle Obama so 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 exec 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. I’m sure men still head 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 to network amongst themselves. Of course there are studies and loads of articles that show that women and men network differently. This we know.
So how can equality move forward if this networking preference stays the same? Working patterns over the last two decades has changed dramatically, not withstanding that dual income is now the norm and not the exception, so its a ‘here to stay’ problem. With more people in the workforce comes more competition. This, coupled with the reality that 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 sexes.
Plus there’s the cultural backdrop that sits smugly underscoring the working people of the world. Most parents want to be part of the ‘at home’ routine and that includes the Mum and the Dad.
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 any statistical over corrections we see, in an effort to restore gender balance and the trend for divisive networking preferences, may in fact, be counterintuitive to our efforts.
Personally, I think the up and coming generation is far more gender neutral than those who have gone before them and we should give them some credit. Maybe we should hand over the reins or just loosen them a little.
What I do know is we’ve got a way to go before we strike the perfect balance.