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It’s not all about Women’s Sacrifices…

Ksenua Zheltoukhova

29 November 2011

Reading Kate Bolick’s article in The Guardian this weekend reminded me how much the rules of the game have changed in the world of work. Technically it is now a world of fair opportunities and fair competition for both women and men. However, in practice – not so much.

What’s curious about Kate Bolick’s article though, are the (now 20 pages of) jeering comments below on her admiration of ‘single women can live and thrive as themselves.’ No matter how many equality and diversity guidelines exist in the workplace, the subjective expectations of women are either ‘a feminist with a cat’ or ‘at home with a baby.’ There is less pressure within the society on working dads to take parental leave, and there is more pressure on them within the households ‘to provide for the family’ by working full-time.

Many women do have the choice of how they decide to balance work and home responsibilities, whether they delay starting a family to pursue a career, or opt for jobs that allow flexible working. Sadly, such occupations often come with a pay cut. The Work Foundation’s recent report, The Hourglass and the Escalator, showed that women now take up 78% of administrative and secretarial jobs and 66% of sales and customer service occupations jobs, with the gender pay gap in Britain remaining among the highest in the European Union.

Such choices of employment are not unusual. We know that interruptions to employment due to caring work (for example childcare) account for 14% of the gender pay gap. With women’s earnings being on average 19.9% less than men’s per year in 2010, their decision to withdraw from the workforce and be supported by their partner’s wage is an attractive one.

That is why certain occupations and industry sectors leave women little option of balancing work and family life. Career opportunities for women in senior leadership continues to receive a lot of attention in the media. Lord Davies’s report Women on Boards (2011) found that only 12.5% of corporate board members of FTSE 100 companies in the UK in 2010 were women. Somewhat ironically, the ability for women to pay for childcare only comes when they are receiving wages along the lines of those awarded to senior managers and up.

 

Similarly, women make up only 12.3% of all people working in all science, engineering and technology occupations, despite representing 45.1% of the whole workforce. That is partially due to the fact that in these industries education and employment associated with career development are not particularly family-friendly. Workplaces must cater for women’s needs, but – unconventionally – those are not just the needs for flexible working and childcare options. Women want to pursue the careers of their choice, they want to progress into senior roles, and they want to use their talent.  Perhaps they don’t want to have a family just yet.

Until male (and female) managers realise that being a woman is not synonymous with being a Mum, some of us will have to carry a cat to job interviews, just to demonstrate how serious we are about our careers.

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