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Men, step aside from your job and become the ‘mum’ for a while

October 20, 201510:55 am373 views
Men, step aside from your job and become the ‘mum’ for a while
Men, step aside from your job and become the 'mum' for a while

Transfield chairman Diane Smith-Gander caused a big stir last week , and this time it wasn’t because of the company’s involvement in offshore detention on Manus and Nauru.

Smith-Gander, who is also president of the Chief Executive Women group, said that in order for women to rise to the top, men need to step aside from their jobs.

Some argue this is a form of reverse discrimination and “sexist” against men.

Women – men brace yourselves – shouldn’t always have to be the ones who stay at home.

Illustration: John SpoonerBut Smith-Gander’s point isn’t about sacking capable men from positions in order to make way for women who are not qualified. She wants gender equality.

Workplace discrimination against women – whether conscious or unconscious – happens as we speak.

Women are not being given enough opportunities to rise to the top.

But that’s not the only reason. There are family realities, which are sometimes out of an employer’s hands, that also play a part.

Women leave work to have children, and then as the primary caretaker, don’t go back.

Setting targets or quotas of 40 or 50 per cent women on boards (up from a current rate of about 20 per cent) is useless when the pipeline of talented women isn’t there.

We will never achieve true gender equality if we don’t rethink the very notion of the role of women in work and in life.

Women – men brace yourselves – shouldn’t always have to be the ones who stay at home.

A 2013 Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women report, which examined the issue of gender equality, found the middle years of women’s careers are the most critical career stage for companies to address.

Both women and men at this stage are striving for promotions, but the reality is men often end up getting promotions, international assignments and skill-building roles, which result in them getting more confident and qualified for the top jobs later.

The research, based on survey responses from 815 members of the Australian business community – 74 per cent female and 24 per cent male, and more than half of whom held senior management or board positions – said this middle-tier level was exactly when women’s voices and advocacy hit a low.

This was partly due to employer attitudes: 40 per cent of women reported they were criticised for “female traits”.

But it was also due to demands in their personal lives. More than half (55 per cent) of women at junior to middle-management levels between ages 30 and 39, were starting families. Integrating the challenges of work and family had become all too hard.

Women at this mid-tier level (50 per cent) were also more likely to have recently returned from parental leave and 30 per cent were more likely to have moved to a more flexible working model than executive women had the privilege of.

“As they observe the lack of females promoted to senior roles within their organisations and calculate their own odds of being promoted to a senior role, many make the rational and informed decision to look for opportunities elsewhere, or to focus on their families,” the report says.

So how can we break the cycle? Aside from having a more inclusive workplace culture, identifying opportunities for women (including appointing females to certain jobs in the first place), having more-generous parental leave arrangements (some of the big banks such as NAB have already started doing this), more-flexible working arrangements, and more-generous tax settings, it needs to start at home.

Successful female leaders have depended on it. A 2012 report by Bloomberg News’ Carol Hymowitz, based on the views of 18 female chief executives of Fortune 500 companies, found that almost half had primary-caregiver husbands.

In some professions and households, making this a reality may be easier than in others.

Some careers don’t lend themselves to part-time work. In some households the man may be earning substantially more than the woman (usually due to inequality in pay) and it may not make financial sense for him to stay at home. Or some men work in industries where taking the kids to work may not be an option – mining or mechanics come to mind.

But the point is, we need to be prepared to have these conversations, more often than we are at present.

Last year I interviewed several high-profile women based on a new trend: Most of the nation’s most powerful business, union and social sector lobbyists are now women.

Most of these incredible women had one major trait in common: no it’s not that they are raving feminists. It’s that they had a partner who, at some stage, had been willing to stay at home and look after the kids. The job sharing was either full time or part time, and the men didn’t see staying at home as a negative.

During her investigation Hymowitz had made an observation about the women she interviewed: all, to use her words, had “figured out early what every man with a corner office has long known: To make it to the top, you need a wife. If that wife happens to be a husband, and increasingly it is, so be it”.

news source & image credits: theage.com.au

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