Work has become too demanding for many professionals and senior executives in Australia and elsewhere in the Western world. In too many fields success at work turns on an all-encompassing time commitment. But work doesn’t have to be that way and we would all be better off if it wasn’t. Women have succeeded well and truly in demonstrating they are equal to the task of every job that a man is. But women have done so by working on terms established by men whom, in most instances, had been able to count on a wife to look after their domestic lives, including the important task of raising the next generation. These days very few men or women can rely on having a full-time support person at home. And they shouldn’t have to.
Instead, we need to change the way we work. It’s pretty obvious really but it’s a reality not many employers want to face up to but if we don’t we will continue to see a lack of women in senior roles. Changing the way we work isn’t just about tinkering around the edges; it requires wholesale change. Paid parental leave is one thing but actually returning to work after a baby is a bigger problem.
In early 2010, I embarked on a quest to see how far the professional and corporate workplace in this country had progressed in accommodating rewarding — in an intellectual and financial sense — part-time work. My quest evolved from a feminist exercise to a universal one, especially for those with a working partner and a family at home. These days most men and women graduating from university aspire to a successful career but they also want partners who will share the duties at home. They want to share the ‘breadwinning’ and the ‘caregiving’. At least that is the case in the United States according to recent research that was published in The Unfinished Revolution.
Early in 2013, Arianna Huffington, the founder and editor-in-chief of the influential on-line newspaper, The Huffington Post, launched The Third Metric, Redefining Success beyond Money and Power. It has its own special corner in the Post reportedly getting millions of hits each month and since its launch, Huffington has been promoting The Third Metric. In an article appearing in the UK’s Stella magazine in July 2013 Huffington describes her mission as this: “Changing attitudes from the macho culture of stress”. She went on: “the first revolution was women getting the vote, the second was getting an equal place at every level of society” (which she regards as incomplete) and the third “is changing the world that men have designed. It’s not sustainable.”
When Huffington decided to take ‘the movement’ global, she discovered things were already underway. She had her editor search the web and they were amazed how much was already out there, they were “just connecting up the dots”.
Welcome to the fold Arianna! I have met (and read about) many members of the so-called movement here and overseas who are plugging away, challenging conventional ways of working. Some are making it happen for themselves but they remain exceptional. One prominent member is Anne-Marie Slaughter, who came to prominence in 2012 after resigning from her dream job as the first woman director of policy planning at the US State Department. Her article for The Atlantic Monthly called ‘Why Women still can’t have it all’ was prefaced this way: “It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.” Many readers will have read the article; if you haven’t I recommend you do.
Another less prominent, but perhaps more enduring, member of this movement is Jessica DeGroot, the founder and executive director of the Third Path Institute. For nearly 15 years, the US based DeGroot has advocated for “integrated lives” and a “shared care” model helping parents and others to find ways to make it happen. She knows it is not easy, a key challenge being to persuade the bosses, who are still predominantly men. One major blocker is that most bosses tend to promote employees who model their own path to the top, typically long hours in the office and too few at home; and their successors do the same, even female bosses who typically sacrifice more to get to the top. Third Path aims to break this cycle by training influential people to become ‘Integrated Life Coaches’, so they can promote better ways of integrating work and life, including a shared-care model for those with family responsibilities.
With the influential Arianna Huffington on board and the substantial following Anne-Marie Slaughter formed immediately after publishing her piece, let’s hope momentum around this important issue builds. Because that momentum will help create better options for those of us who want successful careers as well as plenty of time to share the responsibilities and pleasures of home, family and the rest of our lives.