Must try harder. It’s no secret that there aren’t enough women in the boardroom, or politics, or on TV. The reason is, we just not putting the effort in. We lack drive, confidence and ambition. What would Margaret Thatcher say? The Government are planning to send information packs to parents of teenage girls to set them straight, and fill their pretty little heads with aspirations so that some day, many years from now, they might do something worthwhile.
And yet, just a few days later, women doctors are being blamed for the crisis of the health service. Not funding cuts, not an aging population, not the ‘worried well’ but women who will insist on having children, even when they’re a doctor.
“When they go into practice and then in the normal course of events will marry and have children, they often want to go part-time and it is obviously a tremendous burden training what effectively might be two GPs working part-time where they are ladies. I think that is something that is going to put a huge burden on the health service,”
This wasn’t said by some aging Tory grandee in the House of Lords. This was said by Anne McIntosh, a female M.P. and former lawyer.
And there it is. In a nutshell.
Boys, as you were. Girls, shame on you for not having the required ambition when leaving school but wobetide you ambitious types if you want to keep your job AND see your children.
Women now, it’s true, have infinite choices and opportunities. They can work full time with no children, with children, part time or not at all. Whatever the choice, many women will ricochet between guilt, frustration and confusion as to what that choice should be, and what the rest of the world thinks of it.
It is the eternal conundrum that society needs a constant supply of healthy, educated children to grow up and pay their taxes but that, inevitably, someone needs to look after them until they get there. If you can work and take care of children, but not at the same time. Added to that the general day to day tasks which explode exponentially with children, and the “have it all” generation of women is slowly realising that they actually meant “do it all” and we’re knackered. And it’s still all our fault.
I have always been firmly of the belief that flexible working is the saving grace of modern parents. The Government would love to rely on nurseries and extend the school day and cut holidays in a bid to be ‘family friendly’, but actually, most children and parents quite like each other. A simple solution to spiralling childcare costs would be to find ways to rely on paid childcare less.
However, feminism will always have a job to do until these are no longer considered women’s issues to solve. When men, when considering parenthood, make those same choices and have those same opportunities.
I remember a conversation with some friends last year. My friend is one these evil G.P. women who only wants to kill you for part of her week, whereas her husband works long hours, often away from home. Wouldn’t it be lovely, I said, if you could both work 4 days a week instead. Same family hours worked, more even split. My male friend said “I would love to work 4 days a week but, in my situation, I couldn’t because I’d still be expected to do 5 days work in 4, and it would be career suicide.” Welcome, dear boy, welcome.
But he’s right. There is an unnecessary stigma attached to part time working and the reason is that it’s really only the women that do it. They tend to be low paid and low status, or career limiting. However, slowly, that is changing. Recruitment agencies such as Timewise Jobs are doing a lot to convince companies that high level positions can be done in less time and more efficiently. The more it is considered the norm for men to apply for these roles the less stigmatised it will become. The more men phone in to say they can’t come in because their child is sick, the less demonised all working women will become as a result.
As a society, we risk throw years of training and experience down the drain because 25 hours a week isn’t good enough, whilst forcing others to work over 50. And however much Ms McIntosh might resent maintaining the training of 2 doctors instead of one, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than starting from scratch even though they have nearly 40 years of working life left. Never mind that I might want my doctor to have some kind of empathy with me and my children.
My own career frustrations have always boiled down to the fact that I would love to be Director General of the BBC, if only it were offered as a from home, 9 til 2, term time only contract, and I’m not naïve enough to think that the country can run on us all doing 3 days weeks. However, an expectation by employers that men and women will take an equal share in family life is not a pipedream.
One of the reasons many parents (especially mothers) set up their own businesses, is that they can fix their own hours and are not subject to the 9 to 6, Monday to Friday constraints of the office. However, it is not an option open to everyone. The rest rely on employers to recognise that quality work can still be done in less time, more efficiently or not necessarily within eyesight. This is to be encouraged.
I am lucky that my husband regularly works from home, and we both often work in the evenings, after the children have gone to bed. Hopefully our sons will grow up with the assumption that it’s not just Mummy who gets their breakfast and helps with the homework (although I doubt my husband has ever woken up in a cold sweat about World Book Day).
There will always be people who say it could never happen, that businesses would never survive, but their predecessors said that about reducing the 6 day week, introducing the minimum wage and going out of their way to make sure people didn’t lose limbs at work. Government incentives to encourage homeworking, tax breaks for flexible contracts and a real investment in fibre optic broadband would cut commuting time, reduce travel costs, childcare costs and benefit far more people than the billions spent on HS2.
The alternative is that we inspire girls to achieve their wildest dreams, until they give birth when they must make a stark choice that their partners are not expected to make.
It is not the girls that need the leaflets, it’s the boys.