Having It All?

Developing More Inclusive & Flexible Cultures

havingitall_edited-1International Women’s Day are calling for the development of more inclusive and flexible cultures in a bid to accelerate gender parity. One aspect of this must surely be the age old struggle for women to have both a career and a family.

But can women really have it all? Is it possible to juggle motherhood and a career without one or even both suffering?

I was a full-time mum until I packed the last of my children off school. After that I worked school hours only until the time came when I realised that whilst I was taking the summer off, my children all had holiday jobs! With three children in as many years, paying for childcare was not an option but that wasn’t the reason I chose to be a stay at home mum. It might be an old fashioned viewpoint but I didn’t want to miss out on those early years for the sake of a few extra pounds in my pocket. Did my choices impact on my career? Undoubtedly, but for me it was a sacrifice worth making.

But that was a generation ago and today’s women are unlikely to have that choice in the first place. In the UK, recent legislation (Shared Parental Leave) is supposed to make it easier for women and men to co-parent by allowing either parent to take time off following the birth of a child but how many couples will really take up this opportunity and will men in particular be secretly penalised by employers for not taking their careers seriously enough?

The society that I was born into had clearly defined parental roles and I wonder how much that has really changed in the last 50 or so years.

Sure fathers today are a lot more hands on when it comes to their children, but when a child is sick it still tends to be mum who juggles things at work so she can be there to care for the child. I wonder what response a dad would get if he told his employer that he had to leave work to collect a sick child from school?

Developing more inclusive and flexible cultures should start from birth, in the way in which families guide their children as they start out in life. As a nursery school governor back in the late 80s, I was involved in a study on the use of the outside play equipment and was amazed to find that the majority of girls felt that the boys had a greater right to the traditionally ‘male’ toys such as bikes and trucks. My own daughters – despite being born into a home full of lego and cars – instinctively veered towards dolls’ prams at playgroup so maybe children are hardwired to be interested in gender-typical activities?

Most schools nowadays have bought into the idea of providing an inclusive education and hopefully future generations will have inclusivity at the heart of everything they do, but that doesn’t mean we should just sit it out in the expectation of a more inclusive and flexible society in the future. What happens to those school children educated to believe in an inclusive culture when they hit the workplace only to find that it still perpetuates a male-dominated culture?

Do we have to wait until our children are at the top of their game before we can expect to see inclusivity slowly trickle down amongst the ranks?

Only when women have fair representation in the workplace across a range of employee roles and leadership positions; when employers respect differences in working styles and are flexible in tailoring positions to the needs of their employees; and women have fair and equitable access to all opportunities, networks, and decision-making processes will we be able to say we live in a truly inclusive culture.

Only then can women have it all if that’s what they want!