They say it’s the little things in life that count, which is why I gave myself a pat on the back recently when I convinced my child’s school to change the way Mother’s Day was celebrated.
Until now, mothers were invited to attend a mid-morning event, which was a logistical and stressful juggle for those with jobs outside the home. For some of us, the pressure of work meant we couldn’t always be there, leaving both mum and child with a heavy heart.
Meanwhile, Father’s Day at the school is celebrated with a breakfast BBQ held early in the morning. The earlier start probably originated from a traditional view that dads work and couldn’t be late to their ‘busy and important’ jobs.
While some may shrug off this unequal approach, for me it was yet another example of how gender stereotypes hold women back. So, I lobbied the school and was deeply satisfied when an announcement finally went out that this year there would be an earlier breakfast for Mother’s Day so the ‘working mums’ could be involved.
Soon after the announcement, class parents put the call out for volunteers to bring food and help with the post-event clean up. Dads were especially encouraged because…you know…Mother’s Day. But the emails that flowed in offering cakes and breakfast buns all came from mothers. All of them.
The pride I felt from my personally driven grass-roots revolution faded. My little victory was tainted by the sad realisation that when it comes to making changes that bring about equality, even as small as this, not many blokes are keen to get involved.
And on reflection, I get it. I really do. Negotiating a late arrival to work so you can bring cupcakes to school and stick around to help clean up afterwards, can be a right pain.
There are apologies to be made to colleagues and bosses, meetings to be delayed or changed, not to mention the fear of being judge by those in the office who like to take note of the later comers and early leavers.
Around the same time, I experienced this dismay, I heard Tony Abbott describe the Human Rights Commission’s push to get more women working in companies contracted for government work as “anti-men”.
Now I knew exactly where he was coming from.
If more women enter the workforce, the less they can do the stuff that has traditionally been expected of them (like bringing cupcakes to school events). The more women work, the more blokes will have to step up and help with these things.
Judging from the myriad of global data about the division of labour at home, that could mean blokes might end up having to do twice as much work at home as they do now. According to the OECD, women worldwide do an average of 4.5 hours each day of unpaid work at home, while men contribute less than half that much time.
At the same time, to get more women hired into those roles we’ll need to kill the ‘merit’ myth once and for all. The myth driven by the stereotype that tricks our minds into thinking that skills and expertise can only delivered by a white male in a suit. As well as taking on the washing and folding, men will have to relinquish this handy advantage.
So, if I was a man, I reckon I’d find all this talk about gender equality in the workplace a little unnerving too.
I mean, who wants to take on more housework?
Who wants to lose their professional credibility?
Who wants to do the cupcake run to school?
These things suck. They really do. And I know this because that’s what I’ve experienced since becoming a mother.
When the midwife handed me my first baby she may as well handed me an apron and feather duster. When our first child arrived, our lives flipped over into a parallel universe where I was expected to step into the role of ‘homemaker’ and my husband the ‘breadwinner’. When I returned to work, my manager declared “there will be other things on your mind now,” as he took away half my job.
But thankfully there are some men who aren’t as concerned as Tony Abbott when it comes to evening things up in the working world.
Perhaps they are motivated by the plentiful evidence that companies with more women in leadership roles outperform those without. Just one research company to make that claim was Morgan Stanley Capital International who found that companies with more than three women in leadership positions generated a return on equity of 10.1 percent per year compared to 7.4 percent for those without.
Or, putting aside the profits, perhaps they are motivated because it’s simply the right thing to do.
Going back to that Mother’s Day breakfast. Thankfully some dads have responded to a quiet prod from my husband who has put his hand up to organise things.
So, this week when we arrive for our celebratory cake and cuddle with our kids, I am still hopeful that my cup of tea will be served to me by one of the dads who aren’t afraid to step up for equality.