The Australian Financial Review reported yesterday on the results of research into discrimination against working mothers:
More than half of all working mothers in Australia say they have been discriminated against purely because they have children to care for, according to research commissioned by jobs website and training provider FlexCareers.
Fifty-two per cent of the more than 400 mothers surveyed said they had been discriminated against.
The survey found 11 per cent have an ideal flexible work arrangement, while one in four resigned because their requests for flexible hours were denied.
Almost half of all the working mothers surveyed said that a flexible work arrangement was the most important factor in their career choice, followed by pay and a passion for the role.
The results of this research should absolutely be of concern to women and to the companies that invest time and money in hiring and training women. The gender pay gap, the loss of knowledge and abilities, the gendered wealth disparity that so disadvantages women right through to retirement is still underpinned by cultural unwillingness to let go of the idea that men are breadwinners and women are homemakers.
It’s research like this that makes parody accounts like the Man Who Has It All so popular. Funny because it’s true, awful because it’s too true.
The real issue for women is not that women have trouble managing career and children, but that it is only women who have this trouble.
Where is the other parent in this research? The underlying assumption of the research, reflected in the results, is that when two people have a child, primary care of that child is the mother’s responsibility. Career sacrifice, the need for flexible working arrangements, the financial and professional penalty of caring for children is still not seen as not a parent’s issue, it’s a woman’s issue.
Positing flexible work for women as the only means of increasing female participation in the workforce actually has the opposite effect. It disadvantages women by reinforcing the perception that they are not as hard-working, career driven or fully committed to their work as men, and widens the divide between men’s and women’s career paths.
Women are never going to be able to access an equal level of professional opportunity until men take on equal responsibility for unpaid work, and the assumption that this is the case permeates every workplace.
The solution is not to provide more flexible working arrangements to women, it’s making flexible working arrangements the standard for everyone. And to do that we must also dismantle the assumption that men shouldn’t take as much pride in a carer’s role as they do in a professional role.
Men and women both have much to gain in pursuing that goal.