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“I work part time. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about my career.”

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Alexis was fired for 'acting like a man'....

I’m skilled at my job. I’m educated. I’m determined, ambitious, resilient in character and I’m a problem solver. I’m a hard worker, a team player, pragmatic, experienced (it’s getting a bit much, I know, but I have a point).

All those career buzzwords you’ll find on CVs, well, I am actually those, or I possess those. The ones I’m not, like Tina Fey says, I can fake until I make it. Many have done it before me.

But one of my actions defines me career-wise more than my skills, experience, education, temperament and ambitions.

I work part-time. There are a lot of Australian women who do the same. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistic (ABS) Gender Indicators report 2016, 43.6 per cent of employed women worked part-time in 2014-2015. For employed men that figure is 14.6 per cent.

This year I started working four days a week.

part time work
"Part-time work is not the runner up in the career game. For me it has been a winner." Image supplied.

I seem to pay a utilities bill every four days and spend way too much time on my hands and knees cleaning indiscernible stains off the hallway carpet. I'm not living in a dream world. I understand dropping down to four days a week is not a stellar career move.

For a start, potential employers aren't enamoured by it. I have a friend who is working three days. She has applied for a few full-time jobs in the six months and none of her applications have been successful. Out of eight applications she has been to three interviews. She is definitely over-qualified for the jobs she is applying for, and in every interview working part-time for ten years has been raised. That's when, my friend says, she feels like a strange specimen in a bottle and the panel inevitably leans forward, perplexed, to try to understand better.

It's no secret to anyone who has worked part-time that it connotes to the wider community a lack of commitment and ambition. What an interesting conclusion to come to, I hear all those part-time workers saying as they sit down to answer emails and finish off reports on a Wednesday night. I might just binge watch another series of whatever people are binge watching. I just have to find out what people are binge-watching first because I've been too busy WORKING and looking after kids and making sure Mum is okay and helping organise that school fundraiser and... urggh... what was I going to ask people again? 

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Tom Schuller, a social and educational researcher, is the author of The Paula Principle, which explores why women overwhelmingly work below their competencies and are disadvantaged in the workforce.

Schuller told journalist Jackie Dent from The Sydney Morning Herald women who work three or four days are seen as "less committed" and therefore suffer in terms of employment options and advancement.

"It is very clear that it's not so much having children but moving into part-time work that blights women's careers. And it's a very arbitrary division," he said.

"People who work part time are often more committed to their work. It is a mental model in our heads that anyone who shifts out of full time is less committed to their work. This idea needs a real rethink."

In a controversial proposal Schuller suggests part-time should be defined as less than eight hours a week. I think that could be too short a working week, but I do agree that what constitutes part-time work needs to be redefined.

Should three or four days be considered part-time?

part time work
"Women working part time is often what keeps families afloat. And it is usually women who work part-time." Image via iStock.

The winds of how we work are changing. Take a look at social research and occupational reports and you cannot help but trip over the number of times flexibility is mentioned as the future of working.

Women working part-time is often what keeps families afloat. And it is usually women who work part-time.

It may hinder a woman's career, but the women I know say they understand the price they are paying for flexbility. I worked for a decade part-time and I understood too. You take a backward step career-wise. You don't expect too much at work. You don't ask for too much. You make yourself small. You are so very grateful all the time.

Is that how we want talented, skilled women who are making choices that enable them to do their best at work and at home to feel?

Why should the price to keep families together and women in the workforce be so high?

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Why can't part-time hours, the three and four days, be a legitimate path to senior roles?

Why can't organisations - at least the ones large enough to absorb differing work schedules - embrace the part-time worker and provide meaningful, challenging positions for their talent?

I started this part-time roller coaster nearly 17 years ago when I had the first of my three children. What I didn't understand back then was there would be different years and ages of your family life where you just feel you might need to be home a bit more. It's not an exact science. These are children growing up in this strange world and then there's you, trying to be you. Timetables don't work. Flexibility helps.

Part-time work is not the runner up in the career game. For me it has been a winner.

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For too many organisations, employers and banks (see how your loan application shifts when you have 'part-time employee' on it) it has one hell of  PR problem.

But if we want it, if it helps women's lives stay both afloat and anchored, we need to change its image.

That starts by redefining what part-time work is. Because if you are good at your job, contributing to your company, an asset, and all of those career buzzwords, we shouldn't let bad PR ruin it.

First campaign: let's redefine what part-time work means so it can reclaim the gravitas it deserves.

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