A thought provoking piece appeared in the Independent this week by Miriam Donahue, recounting how she once broke the glass ceiling but then handed back her promotion in favour of having time with her family.
She makes very good points about quotas, about women in politics and women on air. I too believe that at least some of the reason that there are fewer women in top jobs, heading boards and leading political parties is due to focus on family. I am not convinced that “women” are prevented from progressing in their careers (though some certainly are); I think that “mothers” need more flexibility and therefore often step back from their careers (as described in this post: Hitting the Glass Ceiling)
It doesn’t mean that it’s right but it’s at least explainable. There are some jobs in which very long days or anti-social hours are a pre-requisite. Of course a project that goes live over a weekend needs a project manager who can work at the weekend. And an early morning radio show needs a presenter who will work early in the morning.
However, there are many other jobs for which time spent in the office is not paramount – the end result, the quality of the work, the achieved deliverable is what is important. And for such jobs, some employers are flexible and will faciliate many different working arrangements. As long as the work is done and done well, does it matter whether it’s achieved through a job-share, a four-day week, or working from home?
Yet many, many employers will not allow flexibility for their employees. To me, this is the problem. Blanket refusals – the constant “no” to requests for shorter days or shorter weeks (see The Work Conversation). These requests are coming from mothers who are not trying to shatter glass ceilings, who are not trying to be the next CEO, but who want to or need to continue working, who want to feel fulfilled rather than frustrated, and who want to spend at least some of their week with their small children.
The point is that it’s not always clear-cut; not always a straight-forward choice between a ceiling-shattering career with long hours versus a more “backseat” approach balanced with family life. For many mothers, neither is acheivable – they are in mid- or senior-level roles, in normal office jobs, and are not allowed to work any form of reduced hours. They are feeling frustrated and anxious and guilty. And that’s not helping anybody.