"Yes, it's an important issue. Yes, I believe that women are still disadvantaged because of their child-rearing and caring responsibilities. But I also believe that this isn't just a problem for women to solve."
As a young Principal of a law firm, I get to go to a lot of great events. As a feminist, I’m always keen to go to events thrown just for women. It’s great to hear about females kicking goals.
But one topic that I’m really tired of hearing about is the struggle of women trying to ‘juggle’ or ‘have it all’ (which invariably means ‘children + work = gasp!’). I’m not sick of the topic because it shouldn’t be talked about. I’m sick of the topic because we don’t seem to have progressed the conversation, or the solutions, in a long time.
I’m particularly sick of talking about this topic when there are no men present.
Yes, it’s an important issue. Yes, I believe that women are still disadvantaged because of their child-rearing and caring responsibilities. But I also believe that this isn’t just a problem for women to solve.
If we’re ever going to get equality in the workplace, we need to do two things: 1) We need to put this issue on the agenda of male and female events so that we talk with men about finding a solution, and hear from both men and women on the topic; and 2) We need to change the discourse – let’s talk about the positives: the joy of children and work, the things that help all of us (male and female) have fulfilling careers and personal lives.
At a young women lawyer’s event that I attended recently, three incredibly talented women (a barrister, a judge and a CEO) spoke about their struggles in balancing work with their personal lives throughout their careers. The information they had to share was important. Their stories should not be hidden or forgotten. But there was a massive disconnect with the audience, because the majority of the young women present hadn’t even started working yet and certainly weren’t contemplating children. But here they were being told how hard their lives were going to be as women in the law, before their careers had even started!
Do young male lawyers get that same talk? Are older male lawyers expected to talk about the issue? Are men encouraged to think about flexible work practices? Generally, no, despite the fact that they would benefit directly from being included in the discussion.
I’m concerned that by continuing to share our struggles in female-only forums, we may further impose the current (out-dated) societal ‘norms’ on our future workers. We also limit men from being able to contribute towards a solution.
We need to change the discourse.
We should talk about what has helped us thus far. We should talk about what we need more of to make life better for both genders:
- The partner that helped with child-rearing;
- The programs that encourage flexible work practices;
- How work enriches the lives of parents and their children;
- The power of financial independence and a full superannuation fund.
If we talk about what works, in the company of men and women, young people may then commence careers and relationships with a mutual understanding of shared responsibility as opposed to accepting an inherited female battle.
If the problem is not just for our young women to solve, then we need to broaden our audience and flip our discourse on its head.
Catherine Brooks is a Principal at Moores.