Let me count the ways working mothers are meant to feel grateful.
Landing a part-time job.
Landing any job after three, five, seven years out of the workforce.
Working four days a week when you’re paid for three, or five days a week when you are paid for four (it’s part-time, shut-up, there aren’t many jobs like that around).
Leaving one hour early on a Wednesday to go to a parent/teacher interview (but staying back at least an hour, maybe two, for the whole next working week to show you are serious about your job).
Being able to communicate with work all night and on your days off, particularly with colleagues who email at 10.34pm.
Being able to communicate with work all morning and on your days off, particularly with colleagues who email at 5.17am.Advertisement
Part-time work has long been seen as the Holy Grail of the work/life balance. Yet studies show that part-time work for women only serves to make life busier (they take on more household duties as well as working). Added to that round-the-clock franticness, is that their work status, compared to their partners, becomes less equal. You’ve seen it before, the more “flexible” you are the more rigid a partner’s work becomes as they start moving on up the career ladder, earning more money, working longer hours and being able to contribute to the household less.
Your life becomes busier when you work part-time. Image via iStock.
Part timers may see their career trajectory wilt and become adept at cleaning shower screens, they may also see less hours a week at work equal more menial positions.
Or, if you are returning to work after time out to look after children, a complete disappearing act of your work experience. One minute you are an advertising account manager who has years of experience liaising with clients, overseeing complex projects, managing staff, budgets, deadlines, hooking new business, winning industry awards, then ABRACADABRA, five years later (after your husband leaves you for his boss - true story) you return to work as an office assistant.
DailyLife reported just this week on a job ad for an editorial assistant at a magazine that put mothers with deep experience in the workforce on the same skill level as a new graduate.
The job ad read in part:
Would suit a grad, but also a mum looking to return to the workforce.
"How is it that having children, and taking some time out of the workforce to care for them, suddenly voids a woman's entire career history to such an extent that she's no more valuable than someone fresh out of uni without a single day of experience?," Kasey Edwards asks.
How is it exactly? Did staying home with babies delete parts of their brains reserved for learning, skills, education and how to get someone to buy you a complicated coffee on the coffee run?
I'm currently employed full-time. I've had three kids and I've spent nearly 14 years employed part-time and working for myself writing two novels. On a handful of occasions over the years I've been introduced at a social or, even, work event, to a colleague.
"How is it that having children, and taking some time out of the workforce to care for them, suddenly voids a woman's entire career history?" Image via iStock.
They'd say they've never seen me before and I knew why.
I was that woman in the far corner of the office you never notice. I sat at my desk all day, never took lunch, made sure all my work was done and then I'd quietly slip out so I could pick up my kids.
I was grateful for having a three day a week part-time job, worked hard, and kept an eye on the clock from about 4.40pm because if I didn't get out of the office by 5, on the dot, I wouldn't make it to the child-care centre or after-school care in time. Worse than the fine was always having your kids be the last pick-ups.
Having no flexibility with your leave time because you need to pick up children makes you feel both anxious and that you're not a "team player". It makes you feel you are letting people down, even though you have already put in an extremely productive day and are, probably, taking work home with you.
I have to say again I was grateful. Always grateful. Always feeling guilty and grateful that my employer was doing me such a favour by letting me work part-time.
But here's the rub. Over the years I have spoken to so many women - in granular detail - who work part-time. I would estimate 50-70 at least. I have spoken to this many women about their work arrangements because I'm always trying to find that one woman who has the work/family/realities of finance/who am I arrangement that actually works. I've been asking questions about it for a lot of years.
This woman is the Loch Ness of the work/life balance world. Self help books keep sighting her in their Seven Steps to a Blissful Balanced Life waters, but I can never find her.
These women I've spoken to, and maybe my data set is very motivated and filled with "good girls", always, ALWAYS, work many more hours than they are paid for. They hardly take sick days (because they save them up for if a child is sick and for a lot of women that doesn't happen as often as you think) and they are loyal employees with a lot of years at the same company under their belt.
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I have a graphic design friend who has returned to full-time work after years of desperately trying to make her part-time hours add up. She was working a full-time job in four days. In the end she thought she may as well work full-time and get paid a full-time wage. I have a doctor friend in the same boat, a journalist friend, a lawyer friend, the list goes on.
And all these women start conversations about their working arrangements something like this:
"Don't get me wrong, I'm really lucky to be working part time I just wish..."
What? What do these smart women wish who are trying to do the right thing by their families, their workplaces and themselves?
They wish they would be paid a fair amount for the job they do. They wish their employer would somehow realise that they are cramming a whole extra day of (unpaid) work into their work week? They wish that their skills and abilities - not the amount of days they work a week or the time they have to leave the office - would define them in the workplace? They wish they weren't so bloody exhausted from taking work home and staying up until midnight a few nights a week so they don't get behind? They wish that they weren't so grateful all the time and, after ten years and ten glowing performance reviews, were able to discuss a pay rise?
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I do feel lucky that I could work part-time for so many years. I really do. But the decision to do so has meant many things, financially and career-wise specifically, for me and my family. And I'm absolutely okay with that.
What I'm not okay with is women who work part-time being taken advantage of. And while they are being taken advantage of they're saying "thank-you".
We now have little cars taking pictures on Mars and computers that can scan the human body for disease and all those tattoo removal places and employers can't think of fulfilling jobs with a career future for their part-time workforce? They can't come up with a job description for a four day a week job, that will actually take four days (or three day or two day) to do?
Part-time working mothers (and people who are pursuing passions or who have life commitments that don't involve children and require them to have flexible working arrangements) who are doing a good job at work shouldn't let gratefulness over-ride the other emotions of their working life. They should be asking their employers some hard questions about their future, their value, their remuneration, their boundaries.
Don't let gratefulness drown out how valuable you are. Don't think you need to be small at work because you work part-time. Don't say Yes to finishing off that report, when the hours you are paid mean the answer should be No.
Once you start you will never stop.
Oh, and ignore colleagues who send work emails at 5.17am. It's a scientific fact that what they lack in talent they make up for in unnecessary emails.