Why can’t I talk about my children at work?
Are we tired yet of inequality discussions about how men and women are perceived at work? Do we need reminding again of how in a macho culture we all need to be a little bit more like men, while being a little less valued as a result?
An article on the BBC website this week, ‘Is it a mistake to talk about your children at work?’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36491992), set me thinking, as it seems to agree that while less than ideal, it is indeed seen as a weakness for women to discuss issues they are experiencing with their children in a work environment.
The daddy bonus versus the mummy penalty
A March report from the Fawcett Society, ‘Parents, Work and Care’ (http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/2016/03/motherhood-penalty-for-women-and-daddy-bonus-for-men/parents-work-and-care-2016/), based on a survey of 2.5K parents of children under 18, highlights the unfairness of perceived value of mothers and fathers in the workplace, as 29% of people think men are more committed to their job after having a baby, compared with the 46% of people who think that women with a baby are less committed.
With women continuing to provide the majority of the care and men taking the glory, it’s no wonder that women looking for a better way forward look outside conventional career paths and seek other ways where working can be better assimilated into family life.
And it is no wonder that very few men have taken up the option of extended parental leave that was introduced last year, as the biggest barrier to this has to be cultural perception – and the fear that instead of levelling out the playing field for men and women, this will drop men taking career breaks into the same backwater that many mothers find themselves in.
Is there a better way?
Some women need to make a living; others want to make a difference. Whatever the motivation, it should be possible to do what you want to do without also having to put on an act, where having children means you can talk about them, in all the inspiring, messy glory that they dump on your lives.
That old truism where, as a working woman, you are expected to be as ‘good’ a mother as someone who chooses to stay home full-time, while at the same time working as hard and long hours as if you didn’t have children, has never felt more of a burden – it’s a wonder that more of us don’t crack under the pressure.
One of the worst aspects of my children’s school end of year assembly is the certificate you get for just showing up – while I understand attendance is another stick the government can beat the school with, I really disagree with the message this sends out, that in life showing up is enough and is to be rewarded – from primary school to the working ‘bums-on-seats’ brigade and why women need to be seen to be in work rather than applauded for their achievements, even if this causes multiple conflicts with their family life and care for their children.
Like many other women I have found that working for myself allows me to balance work and children more effectively, but children still remain a taboo subject in some situations.
What if we did?
But what if we did talk about our children at work? What if we allowed ourselves to be the whole authentic women we are, if we included lessons learnt at home that could be applied in a work environment, much as we would apply relevant lessons learned in work at home?
What if we didn’t just talk about our children, but we were able to balance our need to care for them with our desire to take part in fulfilling work outside the home.
I met with a new client recently, and it was a breath of fresh air to talk about our children and both the richness and the limitations they brought to our lives, all without impacting on our professional abilities and aspirations.
With many women looking outside a traditional career path and seeking flexible or part-time work, but with the demand for such jobs outstripping current availability, it would be great to see all jobs advertised with flexibility as standard, whether that be to care for your children while performing at a senior level, or to pursue a life goal that doesn’t involve children.
Then we could talk about whatever we liked at work without fear of it affecting our career negatively, leaving women feeling less fractured and more able to have a healthy relationship between work and home while hanging on to their authenticity.