How often do you hear it being said “Well now that she’s had her baby she isn’t going to be so work-committed?” How often have you caught yourself thinking it? I need to put my hand up here and admit that there was a time when I was guilty of such biased thinking. But my own experience as well as that of coaching returning mothers and some research carried out by www.workingfamilies.org in conjunction with www.oneplusone.org
has really changed my mind on this. I’ve been hugely affected by the lengths that working mothers go to ensure that everything runs smoothly at home AND at work. It’s almost as if the double burden of being a mother and an employee catapults them into super-decisive and super-organised mode. Speaking for myself, a habitually spontaneous (read chaotic) type, my post –baby years were by far, my most organised. I couldn’t believe how obsessed with my baby son Cameron’s schedule I became. But being obsessed with his schedule didn’t result in less engagement at work. Indeed I would say quite the opposite. It made me realise how much I LOVED my work and I had to admit to myself that although it was hard to leave him in the mornings it was absolutely fabulous to get into work and talk with adults about adult things. The mental stimulation of my work was an absolute necessity after the months of tending to a new-born’s needs. If anything Cameron made me appreciate my work all the more. But of course it also made me much more careful about how I spent my time at work because there was no way I was going to be idling away chatting to people or gilding the lily on something I was writing if it meant missing Cameron before bed time.
Which is probably why one of the research conclusions from Happy Homes, Productive Workplaces report was that women’s engagement in work was reported as higher than men’s. And, those who DO NOT work flexibly are less engaged than those that do! (Do read that sentence again because it’s quite counter-intuitive.) This is quite fascinating I think because it really does challenge the assumption that women will not want to focus on their careers if they have children. In the study there was absolutely no correlation between parenting and being less engaged at work. And once again, flexible workers were MORE engaged than full time workers. I have always wondered about all those youngsters engaging on social media and chatting each other up during the working day and whether they really did work as hard as the time-poor mothers who can barely gulp down a coffee. Well now we know!
But what about men and their engagement with their careers? Maybe work isn’t quite as engaging for them or as integral to their identity as you would have thought. For so long there has been the collective assumption that men are the breadwinners and women the caregivers. This leads to the notion that men are more career-engaged. Evolutionary psychology would have it that the men were the hunter gatherers and the women stayed back at the den tidying and looking after the babies. Mind you, when you watch a pride of lions where the lionesses do the hunting and the lions stay back at camp with the cubs tumbling all over them, you do wonder if the psychologists maybe got it wrong. Furthermore, it’s really just been after the Industrial Revolution when rural work gave way to factory work that such a distinct gender divide opened up. The war years put paid to that with women taking over “mens’ work” while they were off fighting. And women were pretty good at it. Waterloo Bridge is otherwise known as the Ladies Bridge due to the number of female construction workers on it.( Incidentally it’s the only self-cleaning bridge – now I wonder who thought of that?) Women’s participation in the workforce is increasing fast probably correlating to their increased attendance at Uni. 59% of graduates in the Uk are now female and the Office for National Statistics forecast, that, at this rate, 70% of graduates in Europe will be female. Will that translate into more female participation in the workplace? I guess one of the things that’s changed is that Work no longer involves heavy lifting; we’re forever hearing that it’s all about collaboration and emotional intelligence now, skills traditionally seen as more female. Perhaps work no longer suits men as much?
There is certainly more blurring of the gender divide between caregiving and breadwinning. We have just seen Shared Parental Leave being launched and Richard Branson has stolen a march by announcing full pay for FATHERS who want to take up to a year off to look after the kids. A real sign that traditional roles are shifting. The Hefor she campaign that Emma Watson very compellingly spoke about at the UN is all about men’s rights to parent and to be caring and compassionate and not to have to feel all the burden of being the provider and the strong one. A fascinating twist on the equality argument. Increasingly we find that we are coaching senior women in the City who are the breadwinners and whose husbands are doing something more flexible which allows them to do pick ups. This isn’t surprising because apparently now 1 in 3 households has a female breadwinner. Perhaps now the myth that men are more career-engaged than women will dissipate as more men take on more caregiving and women more breadwinning. It will be interesting to see how the world of work changes shape to accommodate more female flexible workers and it will also be interesting to see if men can look after children AND keep the house tidy!