International Women’s Day #BeBoldForChange
Happy International Women’s Day 2017! This year the theme is #BeBoldForChange which got me thinking about the action I could take to help bring about parity for women more quickly.
A sense of inequality doesn’t strike me on a personal level very often. I’m a business owner, an equal partner in it with Dave. I work in an incredibly male-dominated industry, on reflection more often this is a positive thing for me as an individual as it offers a point of difference it shouldn’t. And that is just as bad. Me and Dave also take equal responsibility caring for our little daughter. Mine and Dave’s ingrained values are ones of equality; not just in gender but in all parts of life. As a woman, my life doesn’t often expose me to the more obvious negatives of inequality though I know sadly it is still deeply ingrained in our society.
I’ve never been more aware of this inequality than when I became a mum and started to meet and chat with more parents. Despite changes in maternity/paternity leave the vast majority of those that stay at home with the baby/children is the mum. Of course, they need time at home initially to recover and feed and care and bond with the baby (I know I did), that’s a given. But what I’ve observed is further down the line, when the mum has returned to work, the inequality continues. Firstly in most real life situations I know of the mum is the lower earner, so it seems the most sensible choice for her to be the one cutting her hours. Unequal pay is the inequality that drives this decision. Then because the mum is the primary care-giver, when the child is ill she is the one to phone in work to take more unpaid leave, she is the one to step out of work early when the child is poorly at nursery, she is the one to request a change of hours when the child goes to school. This must affect her opportunities whether employers admit it or not. And further because they are the primary care-giver it is the mum that knows the child’s rhythms, routines, likes and dislikes more than the dad and so it all just gets further reinforced at home.
Yes, Dads can now take equal paternity leave but even if you take unequal pay out of the equation I’ve had conversations with friends where they’ve admitted that in reality it’s ‘frowned upon’ in the workplace for the dad to take it, or to reduce their hours, so Mum is the one who is considered ‘acceptable’ for this set of choices.
Plenty of mums I know want to be the stay-at-home parent. Choice, options and equality are what’s important. But until there is truly equal pay and a culture that accepts parenthood is a fact of life for the majority and both parents have equal responsibility, we are not going to find parity. I think this begins with awareness of our own decision making, and speaking out when we feel our decisions are being quietly swayed by society. Let’s think boldly and speak boldly #BeBoldForChange.