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No need to stay mum on facts of working life

Date

Petula Dvorak

The push to normalise the role of working mothers gets lost in all the sniping.

''The thing that surprised me is that the job is really fun - and the baby's been easy" ... Marissa Mayer.

''The thing that surprised me is that the job is really fun - and the baby's been easy" ... Marissa Mayer. Photo: Getty Images

She said her baby was ''easy'' - curse you, chief executive Marissa Mayer.

Another woman said raising five children ''was hard work'' - curse you, too, stay-at-home mother and first lady runner-up Ann Romney.

After seeing all the jackal attacks on famous women who talk about motherhood, I'm sure Buckingham Palace is already putting together a PR strategy for how the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge should talk about her baby.

With all the choices facing women today, there is one discomforting constant: someone will always be there to tell us we're doing it wrong, whatever we're doing.

The newest round of the mummy wars over balancing work and life came when Mayer, the head of Yahoo!, broke new ground by being one of the first chief executives to speak publicly about parenthood.

''The thing that surprised me is that the job is really fun … and the baby's been easy. The baby's been way easier than everyone made it out to be. I've been really lucky that way,'' Mayer has said, prompting a firestorm.

Some women thought Mayer, with her huge salary and paid support staff, was setting too high a bar for other women, who might struggle with not-so-easy babies, financial constraints and a job outside the home.

Of course, that means Krispy, the shift manager at the local diner, will now be empowered to fire his swing-shift waitress when she's late after a night with a colicky baby. ''Whatsa matter witchu? Marissa Mayer can make it to work on time with a kid at home, why can't you?'' he'll snarl, before putting out his cig in her coffee cup.

It's hard to say that fear is wrong - we have light years to go before we're a nation that truly has family-friendly workplaces.

But here's the deal: every child is different, every mother is different and talking about it is the only way to make progress.

Yes, Mayer undoubtedly has great paid support. She probably isn't running out to buy the groceries in her lunch hour, vacuuming while attached to a breast pump, or showing up with the perpetual vomit on her lapel because the child erped on her way out the door.

But the truth is, those of us who do or have done all that aren't also chief executives of a multibillion-dollar company with 12,000 employees whose business strategies are analysed by Goldman Sachs and whose leadership decisions are instantly translated into percentage points on the New York Stock Exchange.

I sincerely hope she has a supportive spouse and quality childcare that will help her with the baby - whether he's ''easy'' or not - while she takes the helm of a big technology company.

Hearing Mayer addressing her role as a mother in any fashion is refreshing. It breaks down the idea women have to act like men and leave behind anything that reminds people they are women to make it in the business world.

Take the empowerment talks of Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook, who encourages young women to forge ahead while admitting she concealed for years that she left the office at 5.30pm to be home with her children.

Talking about that is daring. Women made up only 14.1 per cent of executive officer positions in Fortune 500 companies last year, even though we are 46.6 per cent of the workforce.

But it can't be only up to chief executives to be the role models representing working mothers.

Romney was right. Even with a huge pot of resources and no outside job, raising five children is harrowing and fantastic and all consuming.

Imagine how hard it is for a parent with no partner, limited income and no choice but to work outside the home. It's an issue that was barely addressed in the presidential campaign.

Each time one of these women - whether Romney or Mayer - speaks publicly about the balance of work and parenting, we get a little closer to understanding this is an issue about families, about society, about the wellness of our community. And keeping quiet about it doesn't solve anything.

You want to know when real progress is made? When we hear a chief executive's speech that includes tales of long, colicky nights - from a dad.

The Washington Post

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16 comments

  • I am so over these boring, "look at moy" articles written by yet another woman who feels the need to partake in this ritual moaning and groaning about life because... wait for it... she has had a baby. And shock horror! This has impacted her life! What a revelation -NOT.

    Commenter
    Linda
    Location
    Goulburn
    Date and time
    December 17, 2012, 10:08AM
    • How about all the stay at home dads?

      No love! Would most people think that it would be harder for a guy to do this job. Women are great and do amazing jobs raising kids, working and raising kids at the same time. About time that stay at home dads and single dads who raise their kids get some attention. You can make a TV about it but that's more about other things than the facts they are stay at home dads.

      I'm currently looking after my 2 kids at home. I enjoy it.

      Commenter
      Stay at home dad
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 10:56AM
  • True progress is also made when marginalised mothers are included and not patronised in the debate or used as budget cut collateral damage. I'm glad you identified the challenge for sole parents with limited income. The US and UK largely demonises single mothers with Australia following their lead.

    It's all "nice" for society to praise a token woman/mother who has broken through the glass ceiling but really, there are far too many disadvantaged mothers/single mothers being pushed into poverty and then blamed for it for not being like Mayer.
    Expected to achieve the same but without the resources required to do so.
    The normalising of working mothers hasn't really done much for the role of motherhood and what involves in adequately caring for a child. When we place so much importance on paid employment participation yet undervalue the work involved in actually raising our children, something is seriously wrong. The balance and identity has become skewed.

    Why should any mother even feel compelled to compare herself to a CEO or any privileged, high achieving, well supported, well educated, rich white woman?
    I'm sure most fathers don't compare themselves to Bill Gates or the thousands of male CEO's. Most fathers I would say are realists, they don't live in Mummy War la la land.
    Lucky them.
    Mayer has a skill, she utilised that skill and has been promoted and remunerated well for it. Nothing remarkable beside the fact she is
    1. a woman
    2. a mother.
    She can afford to be a CEO, most mothers couldn't and I believe would choose not to.
    When we stop even referring to a CEO's gender or parenting status, that too will be progress.

    Commenter
    Riff Raff
    Date and time
    December 17, 2012, 10:13AM
    • Well, as a dad I frequently rock my daughter to sleep when she's sick at night. Last night I was up for 2 hours at 2am (biceps are killing this morning!). Then I was up at 7am to spend a bit of time with her before having to go to work. The suggestions that Aussie dads don't spend nights looking after their baby if they're colicky is offensive. Fathers love their kids just as much as mothers do. I get very tired of offensive articles by SMH insinuating otherwise.

      Commenter
      JamesM
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 10:42AM
      • You missed the point of the article JamesM. Nowhere does the writer suggest that dads don't spend time looking after their kids. The point is they do, but then they go to work and pretend it doesn't happen. This puts more pressure on their female colleagues who can't conceal their own family's needs for the sake of their employer - since if kids need looking after during office hours it's usually still Mum who has to take the time off, not Dad.

        As the author says, progress is likely to be made when both men and women are more honest about the hard work they put in to raise children, even (especially!) when it doesn't prevent them getting the job done at work.

        Commenter
        Tony
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        December 17, 2012, 11:50AM
      • @Tony.
        Really?? Can't agree with the generalisation. My wife works part-time and because of it expects me to be more flexible in my work-home caring arrangements because she has less time at work to undertake what is expected of her (or, what she expects of herself). The fact that this effects my work is something I just have to suck up. Lucky my employer is pretty flexible. Believe me, I don't pretend it doesn't happen, especially after spending 3 hours from 1am nursing my girl with a 40c fever.

        Commenter
        ajs
        Date and time
        December 17, 2012, 12:44PM
      • @ajs, you're indeed fortunate to have a flexible employer. What's not clear though is whether you consider your position exceptional. I find it's increasingly the norm, at least among those with understanding employers. But there are a lot of inflexible employers out there, and that's when you have a real problem. The tendency then really is to "suck it up" and not risk confrontation by drawing attention to your family situation.

        No man nowadays should feel like he has to 'be the hero' just to ask to leave work early one or two days a week so he can pick the kids up from school. But we're not there yet.

        Commenter
        Tony
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        December 17, 2012, 2:11PM
    • You bring a child into the world that is your ultimate priority, Mums and Dads can't have it all, there has to be sacrafice for the sake of the little one you brought forth. If I had a high faluting job with buckets of dosh and put my baby in childcare everyday. I would be looking more at the bigger picture. Less hours and time for baby. Babies are only babies for a short time, they grow so quick and before a blink of the eye they are asking for the house key and out partying with firiends Saturday night. Regardless of cost those precious first memories of your child are the most valuable in life. Take it from me, my life is coming to a close.

      Commenter
      Pickled Herring
      Location
      Frankston
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 11:06AM
      • Life no matter what your circumstances is about balancing completing and sometimes conflicting priorities and demands. It is the way we go about managing this that gives our children one of their most important life examples and lessons.
        I'm not much interested , when it comes to my family and my life, in taking too much advice from armchair experts who havent walked a mile in my or my family's shoes.

        Commenter
        Seriously
        Date and time
        December 17, 2012, 4:21PM
    • There should be no reason to hear any chief executives make speeches about colicky nights, whether male or female. Surely, they are earning enough money that their partner can stay home and deal with the colicky nights?

      Commenter
      liklik
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 12:12PM

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