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Where are the real male role models and sponsors?
Sep 21, 2013

Where are the real male role models and sponsors?

There are relatively few role models for young people.  We are in a society that is ruled by men

-Catherine Deneuve

I have a morning ritual. This involves getting up before everyone else in the house, putting the kettle on, getting the newspaper from the footpath (yes I still read printed newspapers) and settling in to read the paper with a hot cup of tea, made the old fashioned way with tea leaves.

On Saturday mornings, this is even more special, as the Saturday paper brings me two writers whose work I read before anyone else - Kathleen Noonan and Madonna King.  They write in very different ways on usually very different topics - speaking to my heart, soul and brain.  Madonna King often writes as I think - only she expresses it much better than I ever could and today was one of those days.

Today, Madonna King wrote on a topic that I talk to people about a lot.  Some might say too much at much at times given the rolled eyes I am met.  And it is this, in short - in order for women to be equal in leadership, on boards, and in politics, and they have children, they have to have partners, in the truest sense of the word. This is the link to Madonna King's  article Abbott numbers not that much different to the rest of business.

The thing is, I am as disappointed as any feminist about the lack of women on the front bench in the Coalition's new government.  I understand however that the Coalition has had a steady team for many years and the front bench reflects that.  I am more disappointed that there appears to have been a lack of mentoring or sponsorship of women to get them into those leadership roles. And going forward it is NOT the responsibility of the sole female front bencher to be the mentor or sponsor - male front benchers including our Prime Minister have to be that as well. 

Bob Hawke, former Prime Minister, said on a national news channel on election night, that Tanya Plibersek would otherwise be a good candidate for Leader of the Opposition but for the fact that she had a three year old.  This is an example of the unconscious (or not so unconscious bias),  that exists - I tweeted immediately pointing out that the other contender had a child of a similar age, so why was this relevant?  And why was the person interviewing him not onto this immediately?  It seemed to take a couple of days for this comment to be mentioned in news.

But enough of politics.  One of the real issues as Ms King rightly points out, is that women of talent, who happen to have children as well, often 'opt out' rather than as Sheryl Sandberg would have us do, 'lean in' to their careers.

And I agree with Ms King that there is a very good reason for that and it is something I counsel professional and executive women about as they are about to embark on parental leave (and let's be honest, it is not really parental leave if only the female gender takes it). 

No matter how equal the relationship before embarking on the joy of parenthood, something happens.  Whether it is from guilt, because their partner is still 'working' and they are 'just at home looking after the baby', women tend to take on the bulk of domestic tasks and organisation. Which is fine, and probably nice for a change.  But when their leave finishes and they go back to work - guess what?  They generally don't lose all of those jobs.  Their partners have developed the art of what I call 'learned helplessness', with the female of the species complicit in this arrangement.  Don't misunderstand me, we often create the very situation we then complain about for years.  And they often return to work part-time or flexibly.  So they get to leave the office by 5pm to collect little Jimmy from day care.  Because apparently having ovaries means we're the only ones who can do that.

And then - guess what?  Another pregnancy, another baby, another length of leave, another return to work, and the workload has suddenly, if not doubled, is at least one and a half times what it was before.  No wonder womens' careers stall.  They think they can't possibly work full time with all of the caring responsibilities and organising and thinking they have to do.

And then, they find themselves saying things like 'I'm so lucky with Frank - he is such a good help'.  HELP!  Life partners, parents of their children, are now assistants in the domestic duties, rather than an integral part of them. I even heard a young woman speak of her husband 'babysitting' his own children.  What the hell happened?

So here is my message. Societal change is needed.  Men are parents too, and are just as capable of taking a risk with their careers as women, and perhaps leave the office early to pick up a child from day care or after school care, or earlier if their child is ill.  A good example from my own life was coming out of a long meeting to find five missed calls and messages from school advising me that my son was sick.  (As an aside, why is that the few times you don't take your mobile phone into a meeting, is the time something happens on the home front, but I digress).  The messages became more and more shrill.  By the time I got them it was almost school pick up time anyway, and my nanny/carer was on her way.  I asked what I thought was an obvious question, which was 'do you have my husband, his father's, phone number?'  Of course they did, so I pointed out, through gritted teeth, that my husband had a car, keys and a drivers' licence, so perhaps the next time I was unavailable they might try ringing him. It happened again recently when I was waiting in reception to see the headmaster when a drama unfolded - a child had broken his arm, and his mother wasn't answering her phone.  I knew the family and wearily pointed out that his father worked from home and was about three minutes away - so how about calling him.  

Ladies, you need a real partnership if you want your career to progress.  Let's see more men taking flexible work arrangements to care for children (I'll even organise a parade), more fathers on tuckshop duty, more men managing the soccer team, more men carrying around the following in their heads:

  • birthday party RSVPs
  • gifts for members of their own family
  • what school forms need completing
  • things to go in the diary
  • how many ink cartridges are needed at home
  • the various shoe sizes of their children
  • what time is the electrician coming
  • is the mastercard bill due today
  • what day is the swimming carnival again
  • does everyone have clean and dry clothes

BEFORE they leave for work in the mornings.

Only then, I believe, will women with children achieve true equality of numbers in executive positions.

(With apologies for the sweeping generalisations contained in the above, and to the army of single parents, both male and female who do it all on their own every day of the week - you have my utmost admiration and respect)

No spouse was injured in the writing of this article