Sunday, January 25, 2015

My 'Career Itch' story by Kiri Stejko

Kiri Stejko, Director, Career Itch

One of our great friends here at mums@work is Kiri Stejko. As a HR expert and a specialist in recruitment and talent management she is the executive director of Talented Woman (our sister company) and mum to a cheeky, curly haired one year old. We're very excited for Kiri as she's also just launched her own company - Career Itch - a six week holistic coaching program guided by 3 key experts - a career coach, a mindfulness expert and a personal trainer.

Here's Kiri's personal 'career itch' story...

Realising that my career has spanned twenty years to date takes me by surprise. Twenty years!! It feels like yesterday I was studying psychology at university thinking I didn’t have enough life experience to be of real value helping people. But what would I do if I didn’t become a Psychologist?

I worked in hospitality for a while and saved until I had enough to travel overseas. I hoped to become enlightened whilst doing something exotic and crazy like skydiving over the Swiss Alps. In reality, I created a credit card debt and returned to hospitality to pay it off. Hospitality meant working with great people, in a lively environment, with youthful late night hours. I wondered if I could make a career of it. I imagined having my own restaurant one day. I was offered a job as “Functions Manager” at a fine dining establishment and was thrilled. It was retracted the week before I was due to start. I was blind-sighted and at a complete loss.

I asked some friends what they were doing. One kindly got me an interview with a recruitment agency and was successfully offered the job. The industry is people oriented and in the realm of psychology, therefore was definitely of interest. There was opportunity to use psychometric testing in recruitment processes. I was enthusiastic about the possibilities that lay ahead.

I learned a lot about recruitment, sales, corporate employers and how people feel when they are looking for a job. I worked with some excellent people, had some fantastic managers and also experienced a horrible boss. I had a Career itch after about 2 years. It was another year or so before I left. I’m sure it was evident to management well before then that my heart wasn’t in it. My mind was often elsewhere and I lacked motivation. I partied after work and hangovers enhanced the following morning’s resistance at going to work. I was glad to eventually leave.

I was determined that my next job would be one I had chosen, rather than it choosing me. Interviewing people, I saw desperation in the eyes of many, hope in all and always the same disappointment with delivery of rejection news. I wanted to help people realise that not every job is right for them and they should assess the employer in the same way the employer assesses them. I believe that interviewing is a two way street.

To practice what I preached and be able to choose my next long-term employer, I took a temporary job allowing more time for the long-term job search. I didn’t want financial pressure to force me into a decision. After months of interviewing and temping, going through highs and lows and confidence blows, I finally landed a job I truly wanted. It was with a global corporation as a member of the internal HR team, setting up an in-house recruitment function. I was beside myself with excitement. There were times I thought no one was ever going to give me a chance without the internal experience all these types of jobs required. I needed the experience, but how could I get it if no one would give me a chance? Finally someone saw my passion, determination and motivation.

I loved that job. I was impressed by the leaders, my colleagues and the company culture. I enjoyed my day-to-day work – learning, growing and progressing. I found my feet there. For the first time, I felt I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to work my way up the ladder of a global corporation and become a senior leader in HR. I was in the perfect place to do it, with supportive Managers and lots of development opportunities. I just had to keep working hard and give it my all.

A few years down the track, a friend pointed out I had not much time left to travel to London on a work visa (they aren’t given to Australians over 30 years old). Despite loving my job, I wanted global work experience. I thought this could be my only chance to get that. If I didn’t do it now, would I regret it when I was older? This question went around in my mind… and wouldn’t go away. That told me what I needed to know.

When I resigned from that job, my boss was taken aback. I was progressing well, on track for promotion and whilst supportive of any choice I made, I was strongly encouraged to reconsider my decision. I hadn’t made it lightly, so there was no going back. I was confident that if I was doing well then, I could succeed elsewhere too.

Keeping that level of confidence in a new country, culture and company was important. The perspective I gained from working outside Australia was empowering. At the induction in my first job in London, there was a presentation with a map showing the world presence for that company. I was shocked to see that Australia was left off the map. I guess there was no room on the powerpoint slide. I didn’t have the guts to ask if they had anyone in Australia – my comfort with extroversion wasn’t strong then and still isn’t, but I’m learning.

I worked two yearly contracts (restricted by the visa) and when asked to stay on in my second role with a sponsorship visa, my instinct told me it was time to go home. Not a Career Itch, more an unsettled feeling that I missed home too much. When I returned to Australia, I took a short-term contract. Six months later I was in Hong Kong meeting a potential new boss and considering an HK based role. I was scared at the prospect of moving overseas again. However, being offered a permanent role in Hong Kong was also exciting and I had a big decision to make. I stared out at a crowd of people foreign to me and felt fear. I didn’t know anyone, knew very little about Chinese culture, didn’t speak the language. Why would I do this? Did I want to do this? Could I do this?

The “could I” question was the one that got me. So much courage was required to make the decision to take that job. It was a step up in my career and the challenge made it appealing. Part of me fought against it and another part of me asked that question: Will I regret it later in life if I turn down this opportunity? I knew I would. I don’t want to live life with regrets. So I moved to Hong Kong. Little did I know I was about to experience a huge Career itch.

I missed my comfort zone. I missed family, friends, speaking English and being easily understood. I missed working in the same time zone as my team (I covered 14 countries in this role and my team was mostly virtual spanning 20+ locations). I missed everyday casual conversation. I learned Mandarin which was useful on trips to Singapore and mainland China, but not at all useful in Hong Kong. I had underestimated the personal challenges associated with feeling lonely, isolated and overwhelmed at work.

I became depressed. I recall walking along a busy Hong Kong street crying endless quiet tears. I wore sunglasses despite the overcast day. I wasn’t sobbing. I was strangely calm, but flat. Nothing felt right. I didn’t want to be in Hong Kong, I didn’t want my big job. I questioned whether I could even succeed. I retreated into myself and obsessed over whether I could admit defeat and go home. I’d been in Hong Kong for 2 months.

I decided to confide in my manager who was not surprised and said I wasn’t performing to expectations. Apparently it was obvious I wasn’t doing well (I thought I was hiding my personal crisis successfully) and she consequently gave me “permission” to quit. She understood the enormity of the decision. She removed my anxiety of letting down the company. She knew that I had to resolve my career itch or I would never succeed. I was distracted, demotivated and desperate. In that state of mind, I was useful to no one.

As soon as I had permission to quit, I desperately wanted to succeed. I had to muster all the confidence and courage I could to give this opportunity my best shot. I sought therapy, revisited my motivation and set clear goals for myself. I set a timeframe and decided if the Career itch remained present in 3 months, I would also give myself permission to leave.

The change of mindset enabled me to pick myself out of the pit of despair and enjoy another three years in Hong Kong. I had survived my biggest Career Itch to date and came out the other side stronger, happier, more successful, more experienced and more confident than ever.

There has been several more years in my career since then and I continue to learn and grow with each new experience. The rest of the story can be shared in another blog. But with this story, the lessons I have learned when dealing with a career itch, are these;
  • Your network is always going to be a great source for career moves. Stay in touch with people you respect and connect with.
  • When your instinct tells you that you’re not in the right job, pay attention and trust your gut. Act on that instinct.
  • Be clear in your goals – plan your next step and take control of your career. It’s up to you to steer yourself somewhere you want to go.
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away from a great job to achieve a personal life goal. Be confident about what you want and can achieve in your career, and don’t forget about your life goals along the way.
  • Be courageous when offered something that feels bigger than you’re ready for. If someone sees the potential in you, you have the ability to succeed.
  • Don’t give up when you feel overwhelmed by a difficult situation. If it is impacting on your career, take action or you risk damaging yourself and your employer. Be honest with yourself and either pick yourself up, or move onto something else.
For more info about the Career Itch Program tap here.

By: Kiri Stejko
Source: Career Itch

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Inspiring mum profile: ‘I’m the unlikely combination of CEO and single parent’


When Annabelle Daniel left the public service to lead an NGO, she started with little more than a desk in a shared office and a mandate to help the one in two women in need of accommodation who are turned away from shelters.

The self-confessed 'unlikely' CEO started with Women's Community Shelters two years ago to develop innovative solutions for offering crisis accommodation for women in need.

This week, the organisation's first shelter will open in the northern Sydney suburb of Hornsby, the only such refuge between the NSW Central Coast and Sydney's North Shore.

The shelter will initially accommodate around 10 women without dependents (a segment Daniel says is severely under-resourced) and provide a holistic range of services including health, legal and housing support. While it has received some federal government support, Daniel notes the model they've used demonstrates the capacity for social financing, connecting with local community support and tapping philanthropic sources.

She believes the facility will be full within three months given the desperate need for accommodation. Offering space for ten women is a small start, but one Daniel hopes to expand on with the NGO looking to open another five or six similar centres in NSW this year and potentially expand into other states -- at a time when other services are being forced to shut down due to state funding cuts.

"A lot of groups are interested in seeing what we're doing with this one. We've done the groundwork and I believe this can be replicated," she says.

For Daniel, the opening is the culmination of two years of figuring out how to develop and run an NGO and determine innovative and sustainable solutions for women. She says leaving her leadership position in the Department of Human Services (where she oversaw the Child Support program) was a huge leap into the unknown, a move that initially "terrified" her.

"I'm female, a single parent and a CEO. Now that's a combination that doesn't happen all that often but I make it work with flexibility," she says, noting her two children are eight and five. "That's the freedom of working for a small NGO. My board is focused on outcomes rather than backsides on seats time."

Indeed, Daniel says the board has provided her with advice and experience she's not sure she could have found elsewhere. "Working with them the last two years has been like being in an accelerated MBA course in terms of the skills and knowledge they bring in."

Her desire to work in the not-for-profit sector emerged when she took a year of unpaid leave from the public sector to run Elsie, the country's longest running women's shelter. The experienced changed her life.

"It opened my eyes and made me realise what a bubble if been living in, how privileged I've been, and just how much work still needs to be done to support women," she says. "It was that experience that lit the fire in me."

Daniel did return to the public service following the 12 month stint, but made the difficult decision to leave permanently when the opportunity to build and run Women's Community Shelters came up. "I didn't have a computer and a phone for the first five weeks", she says on starting the new role. "I had a desk sharing an office with The Big Issue. One of my board members had a connection there and they organised a wonderful sharing arrangement."

She says she managed the fear of dong something completely different with her career by simply acknowledging she was afraid. "The trick for me is knowing that it's ok to acknowledge your fear about taking a leap, but not to let the fear of taking a leap stop you. You have to trust yourself, back yourself, you can't let doubt eat at you."

Managing a young family at home, she adds she's extremely organised and realistic about what she can and can't do. "Don't set the standard so high you can't possibly achieve it. The perfect is the enemy of the good, sometimes you have to be happy with good."

The short facts on Annabelle Daniel's story


Born. North Shore, Sydney

Grew up. Lane Cove, Sydney

Leadership qualifications. Currently a CEO, but academically, BA (Hons) LLB (Hons)

High school ambition? To be a lawyer because my best friend wanted to be one!

First ever job? I was a weekend receptionist at a car dealership at 17. Various positions in car dealerships kept the money flowing until well after I finished studying!

Who and what do you lead? I lead Women's Community Shelters, a not-for-profit organisation setting up new women's shelters in NSW communities.

How do you stay informed on a daily basis? I am a voracious reader and read everything. SMH, Australian, Guardian, The Conversation, New Matilda. I am also a keen Women's Agenda follower.

And manage your wellbeing? Utterly frivolous pursuits like Facebook discussion groups on clothes and shoes, swimming at the beach, Ipad games, and doing simple things like hanging out with family. I don't get nearly enough exercise though!

First thing you do in the morning? Check my phone.

An average day in the life... It's so random some days - but emails, documents, presentations to groups, a visit to a shelter and lots of talking!

Leadership 'superpower'? Being curious about other people. If you are genuinely interested in other people, what's going on for them, and what makes them tick, most of the other good leadership skills fall into place. Empathy, flexibility, understanding, boundaries.

Advice to your 18-year-old self. Don't be afraid to change direction, if you work hard and back yourself, you will be fine. Also, it's OK to be terrified, just don't let it stop you doing something that could be amazing.

By: Angela Priestley 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The risk of sniper attacks in the 'mummy wars'


Have you been ever been injured by a sniper attack in the 'mummy wars'? It could have come in the form of a random comment from a passer-by. A loaded suggestion from your great aunt. An email from a colleague. A voice of 'concern' from another parent while dropping off the kids at school. Or even a sweeping generalised statement from a male opinion writer.

However the bullet arrived, the chances are that it hurt.

Or perhaps you fired the gun yourself.

The 'mummy wars' is that perceived battle that exists between mothers who chose (or are forced into) one way of living over another, particularly working over not working.

But it's not just 'mummies' who get involved in such wars but plenty of daddies and anyone who's ever had a kid, or has spent more than an hour with a kid, and believes they're qualified to comment on the lifestyle and parenting ways of mothers.

As with any need to address the habits of another group of people who are different to the tribe you believe you're in, the reason the 'mummy wars' exist at all largely stems from guilt and fear: the guilt that the choice you believe you're making may not actually be the best one; and the fear of somebody doing something different to the way you have been taught it should be done.

The problem is that those with such fears and guilt can swiftly launch an attack on a mother that can have serious consequences. Such wars can force women into decisions they wouldn't have otherwise made. Being on guard for sniper attacks can destroy the confidence of mothers, it can lead some to try and "do it all", sacrificing much-needed sleep in the process.

Indeed, the 'mummy wars' can seriously hurt the mental wellbeing of mothers. And those who are often at most risk of attack happen to also be the ones who are at risk of dropping out of the workforce altogether.

Currently, we have some decent support services for new mothers -- although recent tragic cases involving abandoned babies in Sydney would suggest the system is still catastrophically failing some women and children.

The problem is that much of this system of support starts to break down as a child moves from newborn to toddler. Community health services are frequented less, and some nurses may even raise eyebrows if a mother keeps visiting. Doctors stop asking questions about how mothers are coping. The, 'isn't she adorable' comments from random members of the public stop as tantrums, food-throwing and a desire to climb everything in sight become the norm. Mothers groups start to meet sporadically, instead of every week.

On top of this, it's during the toddler stage that many mothers will return to work, or transition from part-time work back to full-time. They'll be navigating the childcare system, dealing with difficult drop-offs and the relentless cycle of seeing their little person's immune system tested with seemingly every virus and stomach bug imaginable. They'll probably have even less time for socialising, friendships, exercise and hobbies.

It's especially at this point that mothers feel the expectation to do everything. To work, manage the caring responsibilities and the household duties. While it's perfectly acceptable to walk around in your pyjamas when dealing with a newborn, social expectations on one's appearance start to increase just as the baby's getting more mobile. No wonder it becomes a prime time for voicing that guilt and fear through the so-called 'mummy wars'.

So, not only do support structures break down for mothers as their babies transition to small children, but they increasingly find themselves at risk of 'mummy war' sniper attacks.

Feminism was supposed to give women choice. And yet all these choices made us afraid. The 'mummy wars' have become a cultural habit that will be very, very difficult to break.

However, there a things we can individually do to reduce the risk of sniper attacks against the mothers we know.

A good start involves taking a self assessment. What is it about the choices of others that makes us so afraid? How do our personal notions of guilt affect our respond to the actions of others?

This self-assessment needs to be undertaken by women and men. Parents and non-parents. Bloggers and newspaper comments. Parents who work and parents who don't.

If we really care about mothers, then we should at least respect them enough to ask -- what is it about them that makes us so afraid?

By: Angela Priestley
Source: Women's Agenda

Monday, December 1, 2014

The second shift: The post-bedtime ritual of successful working parents


Almost half of high-earning working parents regularly burn the midnight oil to get to a full-time week. Is it sustainable?


I am writing this essay at 9 p.m. That’s not unusual for me. I write and edit a lot of things at odd hours. I started working this way when my first kid was born seven and a half years ago, and now as I’m expecting my fourth, it’s become the rhythm of my life. Working a "split shift"—some during the day, and some at night—lets me work long hours and still do family dinners and play with my kids. As I talk to other working parents, I’ve become increasingly convinced that this modern version of a second shift is far from crazy. Indeed, it’s often the key to that alleged impossibility: having it all.

This is really a matter of work/life math. While we could all be more productive during the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday, when you add small people and a household into your life, these 40 hours are rarely a true 40 hours. In the past few weeks, I’ve had a doctor’s appointment and so have my kids. I had to get new tires on my car. I went to a Halloween parade. My 7-year-old had a morning off from school when we didn’t have a sitter. I transported another kid to a post-school playdate. We had a new dishwasher delivered and installed during an 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. window. My husband and I split many duties, but even if I kept my nose to the grindstone during every non-interrupted minute, it would be hard to work more than 30-35 hours during the classic workweek 40. Indeed, according to the Bureau of Labor StatisticsAmerican Time Use Survey, the average married mother with kids under age 6 and a full-time job logs just 33.88 hours of work and work-related activities per week. That doesn’t even meet the technical definition of full-time, which is more than 35 hours a week).

It would be nice if some productivity trick could let you do as much in 34 hours as you could in, say, 45, but in the long run, that’s unlikely. In any case, working 45 hours is more likely to lead to the kind of paycheck that can support a family. Warren Farrell, author of Why Men Earn More, has calculated from census data that people working 45 hours per week earn more than twice as much as those who work 34 hours per week.

To meet my income and career-advancement goals, I generally need to work 45-50 hours per week. If I can only log 35 hours by working until 5:30 p.m. most days, I have a few choices. I could keep working every night until 8:30 p.m. and not see my kids. Or I could stop work at 5:30 p.m., hang out with my family until 8:30 p.m., and then get back to work.

So that’s what I do. I’m far from the only one. I recently completed a time diary study of 1001 days in the lives of professional women and their families while researching a book. All these women earned six figures and had kids at home. They worked, on average, 44 hours per week, despite the presence of dentist appointments, preschool volunteer shifts, and the like. About 45% made this work by doing a split shift like mine. In some extreme cases, I saw women leaving work around 3:30 p.m. to get their kids at school, and then scheduling conference calls (often with people in other time zones) from 8-10:30 p.m. They weren’t just catching up on email. They had literally moved the latter chunk of their workdays to the night.

Of course, if I saw this strategy in 45% of time logs, that means that 55% of high-earning moms didn’t do it. Some kinds of work don’t lend itself to this; if you’re doing procedures on patients, you’re probably not going to schedule one for 9 p.m. A split shift requires doing work that can be moved around on dimensions of time and place.

Some people were also just philosophically opposed, which I understand. There’s a certain simplicity when work is work and home is home, and never the twain shall meet. Split shifts cut into leisure time and, if you’re not careful, sleep. Since I usually work from 8:30-10:30 p.m., and I rarely watch TV. I’m fine with that tradeoff, but not everyone is. Since I write for a living, I have an adequate creative outlet. But if I had an office job, I might want to knit or scrapbook at night. My husband generally does a split shift too, but if he worked fewer hours, he might reasonably expect me to spend a bigger chunk of my late nights with him.

There are ways around these problems, though. I’ve started arranging our childcare so I can work through the evening at least one night per week. If I work until 7:30 p.m., then I can often relax that night instead of going back to work. As my kids get older, they sometimes sleep in on weekends. That means I can get up early on those days and use that time (at least until the baby arrives). Two hours on Saturday morning is one split shift I don’t have to work on a weeknight.

But overall, this schedule is a great tool in the work/life toolbox. Sending emails at 9:30 p.m. gets a bad rep, but next time you get such a missive, don’t assume you have a workaholic on your hands. You’re probably just working with someone who’s found a way to get it all done.

By Laura Vanderkam
Source: Fast Company

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Working Mum's guide to getting organised for Christmas


Christmas is nearly upon us. If you are anything like me you'll wonder where all those months between this December and last have gone! Tis a busy life as a working mum. May this list of tips and resources make this festive season a little less stress and a whole lot more rest for you, our hardworking mums...

  • Childcare centres often close at Christmas so talk to family and friends who may be able to help out if you need still work. Ask with plenty of lead time as they're more likely to be accommodating - last minute asking can be a bit like last minute shopping - people are more likely to feel put out, impatient, uncooperative. 
  • Schedule in some me time - once you start writing all those lists of things to do, people to organise etc it can get a bit overwhelming which is no surprise given mums do still take the load in the organising and preparation element of the festivities. 
  • Outsource where possible - don't be afraid to delegate jobs to partner, kids, guests or a paid service. We know things need to get done but they don't need to be perfect - it's the quality of energy you do it in that makes all the difference to your experience. And this is what inspires your loved ones (it's not the perfect spread, the ironed tablecloth or the glossy presents!) 
  • Use one of these 7 Christmas planning apps - we love the free Ink Card app which will print and deliver your personalised christmas cards directly from your phone to anywhere in the world.
  • Free Christmas gift planner from Working Mums Collective to help you plan your prezzie buying. WMC says "make sure you have enough wrapping paper for your gifts. Start wrapping early so you don’t have to do it all in one go. Or take your gifts to a charity gift-wrapping service in a local shopping centre. Not only will you be helping a good cause but also it takes the stress out of it for you."
  • Buy on the Internet where possible - it's often cheaper, it saves you time and entering the crazy, racy world that is shopping centres at Christmas time.

Here's a few more tips from Sarah from the Working mums Collective...


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

PND Awareness Week - Two leaders in perinatal excellence open their doors to new mums



In order to return to work after having a baby mums need to feel they have access to the resources and support that enable them to successfully make the transition to being a working parent. Easy said than done right? Well, yes and no. There will always be challenges during the transitional stage but just how difficult will depend on a number of factors including mental and physical state, financial situation, partner and family support, employer support and career support.

With 1 in 7 women experiencing anxiety and/or depression during pregnancy or within the first year of baby's life sometimes a specialist perinatal health professional is also needed. Post Natal Depression Awareness week highlights just how common it is for mums to be in need of extra support.

Two organisations Mums@Work endorse are The Gidget Foundation and COPE (The Centre Of Perinatal Excellence).

The Gidget Foundation launched Gidget House in February 2014. Gidget House provides integrated care and support services to public and private patients. It provides specialised psychological services for mothers who have a diagnosis of, or who are at risk of developing, a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, and are pregnant or have a baby up to 12 months of age. Partners are also able to access specialised services.

This month COPE  (The Centre Of Perinatal Excellence) was launched spearheaded by Dr. Nicole Highet (former Deputy CEO of beyond blue). COPE is a not-for-profit organisation devoted to reducing the impacts of emotional and mental health problems in the pre and postnatal periods. COPE addresses the identified issues that we know are currently preventing people from accessing timely and effective, information and care via a number of national programs including:
  • Aboriginal Mapping Project
  • Research on Understanding the Emotional Journey of Having a Baby
  • Report on economic analysis of costs incurred for not treating perinatal depression and anxiety
  • Deploying the latest digital technology to make screening more efficient, effective and importantly, obtain valuable outcome data to inform service provision, policy and practice.
  • Creating a National Perinatal Workplace Program


Post Natal Depression Awareness Week - What's on?

Bun in the Oven


The Gidget Foundation has launched a clever fundraising initiative to raise awareness and much needed funds for perinatal anxiety and depression through their 'Bun in the Oven' event campaign. 'Bun in the Oven' fundraising events will run from November through to December with a emphasis on hosting an event during Postnatal Depression Awareness Week 16-22 November 2014.

'We are asking all our wonderful Gidget supporters to host a casual brunch, morning tea, or perhaps a 5 o'clock wine with friends, family or workmates during Postnatal Depression Awareness Week or before the end of December. Guests will hopefully make a small donation to the Gidget Foundation, which will help us continue with our work in education, awareness raising and advocacy around postnatal depression as well as support our programs to assist families.

It’s about baking not baby making! It's designed to be fun and easy for anyone to put a bun in the oven!', says Stephanie Hughes, General Manager at the Gidget Foundation.

To register for a ‘Bun in the Oven’ event download the active pdf registration form


If you would like more information on either The Gidget Foundation or COPE please tap the following links.
The Gidget Foundation
COPE

Every mum needs a little support at some point in their work and parenting career. Reach out today. 



Sunday, November 2, 2014

We need a male equivalent to the term 'working mother' - An interview with Annabel Crabb



Could there be anyone more perfect than Annabel Crabb – astute political commentator, social satirist, TV-presenter, scribbler, baker, author and mother of three – to write about the work-life balance? We spoke to Crabb about her new book The Wife Drought: Why Women Need Wives and Men Need Lives and in the process pondered many other whys: like why we need a male equivalent to the term working mother, why we need to start asking men how they balance family and work and why apathy is the solution to the gendered division of house-work.

Women and politics


Daily Life: What made you write this book, given that you’ve said you don’t like being on record about political issues? Is this issue bigger than politics?

Annabel: It’s not really a political view; it’s more of an observation. I have young children and I have noticed is that there are a lot of women in my situation who are racing around doing this kind of work-family juggle. It seems to be a very female arena and the work-life balance is seen as a female thing.

I started thinking about it through the political framework about a year ago when Tony Abbott swore in his new cabinet. There was a lot of public debate about how there was only one woman in that cabinet, and he said that he wanted to speak for people who were forgotten about, like women struggling to balance work and family. I wrote a slightly terse column around that time, where I said ‘look, frankly there would be more women in federal politics if they got the same sort of spouses as the men get. When you’re doing a job where you have to travel 18 weeks of the year at least then you really need a very particular sort of spouse.’ I wrote the column and was pummeled by correspondence. And a lot of women said, ‘it’s not just politics, that’s everywhere.’

Then I started looking at the stats. I was looking for a breakdown of the comparative rates of wife-having between men and women and it just wasn’t anywhere to be found. We do so much research into women’s fortunes in work, why not look at what else she’s doing with her time?

Men


DL: You say that we don’t often talk about these issues, but surely we’ve been having this conversation for a while now. What’s new here?

Annabel: I don’t think we always talk about it. The studies that we do of women’s fortunes at work are often just restricted to those workplaces or focus on quotas or mentoring. I’m a supporter of quotas and of mentoring, but a woman is not forging ahead because she has another 40 hours a week to do at home then having drinks and nibbles at 7pm with other women in the industry isn’t the way to fix that.

I think that you’ve got to stop only talking about women.

The great galvanizing force of feminism has totally worked for women in the last fifty years, but men haven’t really changed. Certainly fathers haven’t changed the way that they work. Twenty years ago 87 per cent of father worked and now it’s 90 percent. For women the big tectonic shift has been from stay-at-home mums into part time work but they haven’t really dropped the housework and this has given rise to a generation of mad jugglers.

We need to look at men and ask how they could have the same flexibility that a lot of women enjoy in the workplace. There is substantial evidence that there are more men and fathers who would like to work flexibly and spend time with their families than are currently taking up that option. As long as there are significant barriers, both structural and cultural, against men working flexibly in line with their family commitments then I think you can’t solve the woman problem either.

DL: Is that a problem with the fact that Australian men have such a narrow range of acceptable models of masculinity? I mean, Norwegian men don’t feel like gender deviants when they look after children.

Annabel: Norwegian men! People always say ‘well but Norway’! The Norwegians, apart from cleverly investing all their money in a sovereign wealth fund, also introduced a form of paid parental leave that radically encouraged men to take it up. Their policy was to say that there is a sizeable chunk of paid parental leave that is only available to your family if the Dad takes it. And that really changed the proportion of men taking parental leave, which has changed the division of household labour, and it’s changed the participation of women in the workforce.

Daily Life: Is that also to do with them having free, universal childcare?

Annabel: Yes, and there’s no doubt that that would change things quite significantly. But there are other things that I think exert an impact on the long-during nature of this breadwinner model. There’s the gender pay-gap of course, which in the lower pay-segment of the workforce is only about 8% but up in the higher echelons it’s about 28%. The decision about who is going to go part time when a couple has a baby is explicitly skewed by the likelihood that the guy on average is going to be earning more than the woman. People don’t make decisions that financially disadvantage themselves. And the other thing that makes a difference in Australia is that we have a higher rate of part time work and that’s largely undertaken by women. You have this situation now where 45% of mothers work part time but only 5% of fathers.


Social Change


DL: So what do we do practically do you go about changing that?

Research shows that men are better than women at asking for everything from pay to better conditions, but the thing that they’re really crap at asking for is less work. How do we change that? Well, legislation doesn’t change that. What could change that would be reasonable people having a think about the assumptions that they make: why do we have names for working mothers and not for working fathers, why do we not ever ask working fathers who they manage?

That’s why I wrote the book. It’s worth thinking about this stuff. I have spoken to a lot of men about their experiences and I used the stories of the ones who had given it a shot, met mild resistance, ploughed on and got there in the end. We are going through this sort of work-place evolution in terms of flexible working, I just think that we need to give it a little nudge to communicate that it’s not just for women. It’s one thing for a CEO to release a document and say that they’re so proud of their flexible work policy, it’s another to be spotted leaving the office at 4pm to pick up their kid from sport. That sends a really powerful message.

Community


DL: Is it time to start looking at other relationship models? How do we get a village to raise a child? Should we start thinking more about community?

Annabel: Sounds terrific doesn’t it! I think that the notion of community is changing really rapidly and it’s about communication. It used to be so dependent on geography and the new notion of community is something that is much more about becoming intimate with people you’ve never met, either through Facebook or you may be part of an online collective, or business models that are actually based on old-fashioned concepts which ultimately built on trust, like Airbnb.

DL: So can we do that with kids? Can we pool that labour more communally?

Annabel: I don’t know. Logic would tell you that the old fashioned idea of it taking a village to raise a child must resurface at some point. George Megalogenis the other night was talking about how when he was a kid migrant women always worked and they would have communities that would look after the kids while mum was at work. So you would have these women who would be in charge of a troop of 7 kids. So do we, in this era of high child-care costs and high stress and centres that don’t cater for people’s flexible need is there room for an entrepreneurial genius to cater for people’s shared child minding needs?

You’d have to say that one of the barriers to that would be that standards of parenting have intensified. Stats from the United States show that a working mother today spends more hands-on childcare time with her child than her mother did, who didn’t work at all. So the barrier these days to our dream of village childcare is in the public liability issues…

DL: Beliefs in attachment parenting would probably also be a pretty big barrier to collective models of parenting…

Annabel: Oh totally! Human procreation patterns are just such an interesting thing. I spend half my time feeling guilty that my kids haven’t grown up on a farm, like I did. It’s just such a fraught business…you’re haunted by the ghosts of your own childhood in a good or bad way and you feel this incredible obligation towards your own children.

Failing as a parent is just a quantifiably different thing to failing at work. I think that guilt is such a factor in so many women’s experiences. They mention it so early in the conversation. One of the reasons why women find it really hard to let go, in terms of the gendered division of labour, is because they’re not entirely confident that their spouse will do as good a job as they do. And it’s hard to admit because it makes women out to be complete nutbars but it happens for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is that the assumption is that you will be the primary caregiver that you will be better at that than anyone else and to relinquish that is hard, as hard as it is for men to relinquish the idea that they’re the primary breadwinner. And I think the other thing is about external approbation as well. Because of those assumptions, a woman whose kid goes to school with odd socks on will often feel in some degree as if she’ll be blamed by others when they see that and not her husband.

The workplace is more straightforward in many ways. One of my interviewees in the book said, ‘with parenting you have no idea if you’ve done a good job, give it twenty years and see how they turn out.’ If you’re used to a structured workplace where you get all this feedback and rewards and bonuses and whatever then parenting can be pretty confronting. Those moments where you’ve done your absolute level best and you’re so tired that you want to sob and your kid tells you that you’re a terrible mum or comments on some aspect of your parenting, and that can really hurt!

Filth


DL: And then when you add domestic labour on top of that… Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique has such a lovely description of the endlessness of housework, how invisible it is and how utterly unrewarded…

Annabel: Yes, there is a strange detail about housework. It’s such a source of stress in households because it’s not just a finite and mutually agreed group of tasks that can be divided up. It’s a fluid amount of work because in any normal relationship two people will have different ideas about what constitutes cleanliness. Two people who live in the same house may look at that house and one may say that it’s a pigsty and the other will say, it’s pretty tidy isn’t it? Often it’s just about realizing what is making you grumpy and working out whether you’re working from the same assumptions or not.

There’s a guy called Jonathan Chase, who wrote an article called ‘The Case of Filth’, and he talks about how sometimes the answer to these arguments about housework is to just do less of it. He says: The inequitable division of household labour is one of the only areas of inequality in the world that can be saved by genuine apathy.

First published: 18th October 2014
Source: Daily Life