Like most Australians, I’ve partaken in my fair share of Zoom calls this year.
It’s the new normal, right? We’ve learnt, as a bi-product of the pandemic, that we’re actually well-equipped to handle business through our screen.
On a personal level, this has been particularly handy. It’s meant that despite having my first baby in January, I’ve still been able to keep up to date with what’s been going on at work, and it’s made my transition back from parental leave a lot more seamless.
Many employers have jumped on board with this too and have done their best to support their workforces navigating a new chapter.
Not so for Brisbane City Council though apparently, which this week came under fire for barring a request from one of their councillors, Kara Cook, to participate in meetings remotely following the birth of her third child via c-section.
Instead, she was instructed to catch a cab to work after giving birth early next year.
“The answer yesterday was no,” she told ABC Radio Brisbane, with claims that using technology to include her was simply “not possible”. This was despite the fact the council has relied on technology extensively during the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.
“They hadn’t foreseen that we might need to have hybrid meetings and they weren’t prepared to update the technology to allow that to happen,” Cook said.
“There’s an unwillingness to move with the times.”
Cook revealed that her only options were to either take leave or to attend the meetings in person with her “unvaccinated child”, who would be too young for early immunisations.
“Any woman who’s had a c-section would know you can’t drive. Council’s response to that was they would give me a cab voucher,” she said.
On LinkedIn, Cook addressed the conflict in full, suggesting she had come forward to share her story in a bid to empower other young women in politics.
“In 2020, parents should not be locked out of political processes due to pregnancy or raising children,” she said. “What message does this send to other young women who are considering a career in politics?”
She accused the council of exhibiting a “lack of foresight” to women’s needs and said their position was “indefensible”.
“Council has proven it has the ability to facilitate virtual meetings during COVID, why this cannot be applied for other purposes is indefensible,” she said.
While hundreds of women across the country leapt to agreement, not all have supported Cook’s umbrage.
LNP councillor, Fiona Cunningham, who is also expecting a baby in the new year, told the ABC that she “didn’t share” Cr Cook’s frustrations.
“I’m also having a caesarean — it doesn’t make us special — thousands of women do this every day,” she said.
“Hybrid meetings would not work for me … I’m taking that time to spend with my baby.”
A council spokesperson denied any wrongdoing, saying that while hybrid technology could not be implemented in this instance, the CEO was investigating what could be done in future.
“Brisbane City Council will do whatever it can to help both the Councillor for Morningside Ward and the Councillor for Coorparoo Ward return to work following the birth of their newborns.
“Similar to other levels of government, Councillors have the flexibility to take as much or as little leave as they choose.”