Don’t keep Mum about being a working parent
So, at last, and hopefully once and for all, women in the workplace no longer have to regard being a mother as some kind of dirty little secret.
Thanks to the frankness of Tanya Plibersek and Julie Collins, the idea that working mothers need to somehow disguise or apologise for their maternal status has been blown to smithereens. I, for one, am rapt.
News of this welcome development came in simple form last week; a single-sentence intro on a plain old news story, but one that felt a whole lot like a turning point.
“Working mums in their 40s are at the heart of Julia Gillard’s new-look ministry”, wrote Phillip Hudson on his Herald Sun report about the latest bunch of women to be elevated to senior government posts.
Reading that and the words of the new Ministers, about “muddling through” as a working family, and “juggling” dual roles was the eureka moment that will hopefully have annihilated the archaic idea that a woman cannot be both a serious employee and a blue-chip mum.
I was saddened to read recently that, in the minds of many working mothers, talking about anything to do with parenthood in the workplace is seen as career sabotage.
My colleague, Susie O’Brien pointed out correctly that really since women started claiming the right to bring their considerable skills to the workforce, it has been understood that if they are mothers they should work hard to hide that fact.
O’Brien wrote about the “invisible family” syndrome, this understanding that you don’t swap stories about your children at work, or put up their photos, and you talk to your husband about any childcare or other family issues “in code” so as not to appear, what, unprofessional or lacking in single-minded focus?
But, to counter any suggestion that this behavior is justified, or that parenthood has a negative impact on their work ethic or productivity, she highlighted a very large new American study that found - surprise - mothers are not only just as hard-working as non-mothers (and fathers), in many cases they are more intensely engaged while at work.
According to the US journal Social Studies Research, the study of 35 to 65-year-olds across industries and job types found mothers “put in greater effort at work than female non-parents” - though the researchers said they “cannot determine how mothers manage to do this”.
Let’s leave aside the whole ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ novelty discussion, and just concentrate on fact: Working mothers have demonstrated they can do anything and do it well, and now it seems they have finally realised that and are confident enough to be out and proud about motherhood.
Discussing her promotion, Plibersek summed up two key issues that have plagued working mothers; that once you become a mother you are too often considered only worthy of “mummy track” type jobs-lite, and that if you dare to reject any offer of promotion, due to timing, that’s that for your chances of ever progressing again.
She said she was pleased to have busted the second point - by having been re-offered a Cabinet position after turning one down during her last pregnancy (her third child) - but what she may not have realised is that she went on make an even stronger one.
In declaring that her little girl’s promotion to vice-captain of her school was a much bigger deal in her home than the mother becoming a Minister, and especially by confessing of her family “we just muddle through like everyone else”, the competent Plibersek dismissed this “invisible family” joke.
Julie Collins was similarly frank, saying that she and her husband are no different from any other family, and have always “juggled our work and family life” - raising another important point; that contemporary fathers are now just as torn, just as consistently required to multi-task, and just as much of the working family equation as working mothers.
As I write, I am sure I can hear the faint sound of pins going into partition walls, as family photos go up in offices all around the nation. Thank God for that.
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