The C word. Yes, throws many of us on the corporate slag heap, unable to deliver quite the career potential we had. Puts us waging an invisible sister to sister battle, unseen by many, but oh so passive aggressive.
Of course, I am talking about children.
Now, my corporate career pretty much finished on or about 1 March 2004. Nine months later the baby pops out. I had this grand vision of having nannies and au pairs, while I could continue to have what I deemed a successful career. However, number one, a return from parental leave, and the side-lining to a “project role” was followed by number two, a move, and then number 3.
During this time, I went on a work retreat to some fabulous location. The purpose was to develop team skills, strategic planning blah blah blah. We had an inspirational after dinner speaker who had done some marvellous things and was a real success in his field. But I discovered two things about myself on this trip.
Firstly, I didn’t really want to be away from my children and husband, making small talk with colleagues who, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t socialise with. The whole exercise seemed a bit pointless, and the co-ordination required for me to attend this three day event was a logistic challenge. My career was no longer mine: we had to make joint decisions about work. From Me to We.
Secondly, I thought the inspirational speaker was a selfish jerk who did what he wanted to do without much thought for his long suffering wife and children. Long periods away from home, many missed family occasions. “Success” seems to be a fairly one dimensional measure, and I rethought what success meant to me.
So, while everyone makes different decisions, as a family we felt it best that they have a parent who is there after school, able to talk when the taciturn one wants to, able to be vented to after a day of challenge, coach their sports team or reading group, chauffeur them and their mates, and help nurture them into amazing human beings.
Parenthood in a corporate sense seems to focus on the baby stage: covering off parental leave and ensuring jobs are still available. However, as those babies grow into children, and then teenagers, we have the challenge of 12 weeks of school holidays, and a school day of 9 till 3, along with all the demands (and rewards) of community involvement. Public dialogue drives me a bit batty, with continued discussion about why there are no women in senior roles on boards / in management. It’s really quite obvious (to me anyway..): the C word. Many of the women I went to university with are in the same situation as me, and deal with this by making things work as well as we can. But careerwise: we are out of the game, we are invisible, and we can’t get back in.
And yet we hear, constantly, about the skill gap, which justifies the immigration numbers. In fact, I heard some words yesterday which made me shake my head: “those who want work are in work”. Another employer was moaning about how they had to settle for two people job sharing a role, like that was a bad thing. How about the nature of work changes to make this more accessible for working parents? Surely employers don’t need to “own” people through employer / employee relationships. Can projects be done in ten week chunks?
But very few employers offer the flexibility that we need, so we go and create our own niches where we can balance all the elements in our lives. Talents and experience are enormous, social conscious is usually pretty high, but skills, by and large, are wasted. We are labelled as Liam’s mum, a school mum. No longer an individual in our own right.
Now, this is really a first world problem. And I could be perceived as a grumpy middle class housewife, and perhaps my corporate career would have petered out if we had chosen not to have kids, or if we had backed my career and not my partner’s. But here’s my challenge. As a parent of three girls, how do I counsel them on managing career? Encourage them into traditional female roles? Those roles are really flexible. Choose a partner with a flexible career? Volunteer myself to be there for their kids?
Yes, I feel like a total gender traitor writing this: but under current conditions we simply can’t have it all. The “have it all” narrative is where women must get educated to support themselves well, travel the world, get a great job, pay off debt, find the right man, afford a mortgage and deposit, squeeze out kids, all before the age of 34 when our fertility (apparently?) falls off a cliff. No.
Those people I see as successful are those amazing people who manage all the facets of life: they have found something they love to do, they contribute to the community, and they are doing a great job of the juggle. So, while we may not be headlining conferences, on the rich list, or engaged in discussion of the issue, we are doing what we can to raise great humans, and make some impact on the lives of those around us. You may be invisible to many, but I see you.
Love to talk with you if you think this is at all interesting. Check out my website www.delfi.co.nz