We are enticed to experience shock and frustration when a high-profile female leaves a senior role. As females we are told that we can and should pursue careers, follow our dreams and raise children in the current system of work. A system of work that was created for men with partners at home to manage households. It has been in existence for over 100 years, with some changes, but just dents really in the context of making it successful for today’s families. The latest high-profile female to quit her job is politician, Kelly O’Dwyer but many have gone before her on a similar path such as Em Rusciano, Jessica Rowe and Maddi Wright, all leaving media roles citing family reasons as one of the main catalysts. Let’s not ignore the many, non-high-profile folk, including myself who have made the decision to step away from careers when we have been at the pinnacle, after having built what we perceived as “futures” for 15-20 years.
“Having it all” is not really having it all. Something always has to give. The give often varies from family to family and individual to individual. Combining work and parenting is exhausting, relentless and most of the time, sad as it is, we hurry and wish the years away in search of reprieve from the exhaustion and the very full calendars and schedules. We seldom discuss the reality of working and parenting publicly though, as we post the most glorious 30 seconds (if that) of our day where there are smiles, beautiful meals and holiday snaps in our perfectly curated social media feeds.
In the current system of work we are largely expected to work in structures and systems as if we don’t have kids or other commitments and responsibilities. Hours in a senior role, hover around 60 hours per week, with workloads spanning across the entire 24 hour period of a day, because now they can. We are under an illusion that because we can negotiate to arrive later or leave earlier we have “flexibility”. In theory we do, because we have at least in some workplaces broken the back of being physically present for 38 hours per week in our workplaces, however waking at 5 am to get a couple of hours work in before the family wakes or logging back on at 9pm with a glass of red in hand has elongated the 8 hours per day into 18 hours. It has made us more tired, irritable, overweight and disconnected from anything other than work. We work whenever we can grab a moment, whenever the laptop, tablet or phone is nearby, and whenever we have distracted loved ones for long enough, so we can punch out another few emails.
It therefore comes as no surprise whatsoever to me and many others who have also made the decision to walk away from all that comes with being a working parent when a female in a high-profile role quits. The feeling of never having focus on one thing at a time, the guilt that permeates every single experience we have every day, because we got there late, we missed a personal or work milestone or we had to apologise for leaving early. It’s the feeling of never being enough for our partners, our kids, our work, and above all ourselves.
It is now up to us to change the system of work.
It is up to us to work in a way that suits us.
It is up to us to ask why we would continue slogging away every day in the way we do, when there can be an alternative.
We can have a system of work where we are engaged to fulfil objectives of a role on our terms, in the hours and days we want, no questions asked. Where sharing the same role with a colleague is as normal as having one person in the role. Where if job sharing is a problem for your boss, it’s their issue to work through rather than yours. Where the working relationship consists of the objectives and outcomes of the job to be done. Where useless, time-wasting activities that currently constitute so much of the working week are abolished and real work is done.
Together, we can change the system of work. The tipping point where they need us, rather than us needing them is almost here. The war for talent is here. Our world is now a lot smaller, creating opportunities for us to work nationally and internationally without leaving our cities.
I would like to see a sea of red on Monday 18th February 2019.
I would like to see everyone that cares about changing the system of work so we can live healthier, more fulfilled lives in red.
If we really change the system of work, we will see a greater gender balance in senior roles across all industries in our country, we will achieve gender parity and we will increase the respect for women in our society.
Julie Bishop started it, Kelly O’Dwyer has continued it and now I would like to see us all stand in red to demonstrate our commitment to changing the system of work for good.
18 February 2019
National “Change the system of work” Day