My mother was a pioneer in her field. As a female aviator she had many doors closed to her in the sixties and seventies, but ticked off a few firsts: NZ's first female chief flying instructor being one. And for the women she trained, those doors closed to her were opened for the next generation. She was 100% on her passion – which made for a dedicated career woman, but perhaps a mum who was not there as her kids grew up.
We all make choices in our lives. As a woman in my twenties I was all about career, and wore what I did as a badge of who I was. When my first child came along, in my mid-thirties, I thought I might outsource some of the work to nannies so I could continue that career. And then a couple of things happened: a move, a restructure, and third baby on top of the two growing interesting little people.
Now that my kids are at primary school, I am really enjoying being around my kids, watching them grow, being there for funny, awkward conversations, playdates, taxiing to the things we do. And I can see those relationships developing over the next ten years. And these kids have at least 12 weeks of holidays per year, finish school mid afternoon… I have made some proactive choices to be there, and be part of my kids’ tribe, and am fortunate to have a partner who supports this choice. But in my head, I struggle with the badge – what am I?
I am painfully aware of women underrepresented in the higher echelons of business and government. I hear the discussions around paid parental leave, which seems to be seen a panacea for getting women to engage with the top jobs. But actually – that baby becomes a toddler, a school kid, a teenager, a sibling. And then (hopefully) a functioning member of society. A parenting process which takes years.
Two things: some of the most talented people I know are at the school gate. They have had amazing careers, and are now the sports coaches, the parent help, the PTA. They are part of the tribe who are bringing up my kids – yet their skills, experience and insights are largely unrecognised by the traditional workforce.
Secondly, women’s own attitudes towards each other can hinder females in the workplace. Earlier in my career I confess to being rather passive / aggressive about working mothers, thinking that they clearly were not fully driven. With the benefit of hindsight I can see this was rather ridiculous, and these women brought a lot more insight into the office than I did for the life stage I was at. Indeed, in the last couple of years I have developed up proposals with another mum while our kids had swimming lessons, validated budgets through connections at school, and developed strategy for an organisation or two at the school crossing. This isn't to say anyone's choices are better than others: just different. Diverse, if you will.
Mothers – as let's face it – it's mostly women - who want to work but on their own terms are possibly the largest underutilised resource in New Zealand. My tribe – the only workforce who relish a zero hours contract. Wouldn’t it be great if organisations could not be so obsessed about FTEs, but rather getting stuff done with great people. And there are some organisations doing it out there, enabling their staff to live full lives – awesome work. But there’s not enough. And quite frankly it's hard to see much change in some of those metrics that governments like to measure until more organisations offer choices.
As my daughters get older, I commit to moving beyond the age old question of what they want to be when they grow up. If I start with a base view that they live to their potential, then that can drive conversations about ways to enable that and allow them to live to their potential, and find their own tribes.