I expect a lot from an employer. I want equal pay, equal opportunities, equal ability to have the life I crave as either a parent, a child with aging parents or a friend with mates who are my family. I seek this for my female colleagues, and I especially want it for my male ones.
When our male co-workers are co-parenting and balancing the needs of family life with stimulating careers, that’s when we’ll have reached genuine equality. For me, women having it all is not good enough, and it’s really exhausting! I challenge any woman to achieve this mythical having it all and still get eight hours sleep each night. I want more, and I want it for everyone. I aspire to a time when every individual feels able to fully take part in all the segments of their life—as a marathon, not a sprint. I want this for my daughter, and I especially want it for my son.
A colleague of mine was considering whether to take three months of parental leave following his baby son’s arrival. If he achieved the promotion he was aiming for, he was committed to taking the time but felt it would be career suicide if not. He believed he would be perceived as less committed to his company by putting his family’s needs first at this stage. In some companies, this situation is described as a woman taking the "mummy track." I passionately hope that we don’t need to create the "daddy track" in order to finally smash this perception.
For me, the most inspiring comment ever made on a conference call (and I feel I can say this with a decent level of authority after clocking up years of conference-call participation) was by John, a 40-something leader, who said: “I’m dropping off now to pick up my daughters from school.” When he said this, there was a tumbleweed moment as the women all cheered, albeit on mute. It was the new norm, and it heralded the coming of an era when we could be open about the rest of our lives. We didn’t need to magically transform as we entered the office building; it would be okay to come to work with makeup smudged from our kids’ farewells at the school gates that looked to everyone else like they were blowing a raspberry on our cheeks, but for us was clearly an expression of ultimate love.
It was going to be acceptable for men and women to be home for our kids’ bedtimes every evening and no longer believe attendance at the nativity play or sports day was a badge of honor to be worn. We would be able to take time to support our aging parents during vulnerable times and also manage our own transition to being their caregivers.
We, the women, were promised a lot as girls. We sat through school assemblies where, week after week, we’d hear about women who’d achieved in their careers. We were promised the challenging, enthralling careers we wanted. Now it’s time for more. It’s time for women to seek what they want (not what someone else tells them) in all aspects of their lives as workers, mothers, daughters, friends, sisters. It’s also time that our men had the same promise made and kept. That will be real equality.
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