07 Mar

let’s hear it for the mothers, the grandmothers, the daughters and the aunties

In my 20s, I blithely dismissed the idea that having a career as a woman is tough. Ditto the idea that our prospects are impacted by our gender. I worked in libraries. All around me, I saw women in leadership positions. Glass ceiling? What glass ceiling?

But then I grew up, stepped up the ladder a couple of rungs, stepped out of libraries, and saw past my blinkers. And I realised just how bloody hard it is.

That’s not why I’m writing this post.

I’m writing it because I think as a society we pay lip service to the idea of recognising non-traditional families. And this International Women’s Day, I’ve got something to say about it.

Mothers face a particular set of challenges as participants in the workforce. Whether they work because they want to or work because they have to or a bit of both, there is at least some recognition that it’s not easy for women to balance motherhood and work. There are still big, impenetrable barriers that stop women who are mothers from participating in the workforce in the same way, and with the same sort of career progression, as men. But there is at least some basic level of recognition that as mothers, women have responsibilities outside the office.

Is it enough? Absolutely not. It is not even close to being enough.

Organisations aren’t family-friendly – at least, I don’t know of one that really, truly is. But in many cases, they are a bit friendlier if your family is a traditional family than they are if it’s not.

What about the women with aging parents? Do workplaces support them? What about the grandmothers that are on call to pick up sick grandchildren at school? Do they drop a day’s pay to fulfill their responsibilities as primary carers?

Because this is how *real* families work.

It’s not mum, dad and two kids. Sometimes it’s mum and two kids. Or mum, grandma and two kids. Maybe it’s two mums and a kid. Or something entirely different.

Families aren’t always cared for by one mother. There are other women in the mix too. And it’s not only children that women care for. I see this everywhere.

And what I also see is how hard it is for these non-mothers to fulfill their family commitments, because in our workplaces, the provisions for caring for families are built around the idea that familial care and familial duties are about a mother caring for her children (‘hers’ in law).

That’s not always how it works in the real world.

So when we talk about how hard it is for women in corporate Australia, in academia, in any work context, let’s not forget that we’re not all mothers, but many of us have other family responsibilities to negotiate, too.