The Knot

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Big Fat Motherhood Statement

Friday, 12 January 2007:
I suspect that the opposition may have a government-winning policy on their hands if they are smart enough. Apparently the way to solve Australia’s growing childhood obesity problem is to keep mothers at home. In the kitchen, where we should be. Brilliant. Genius. There are a lot of women who would give anything to do just that - even vote against their political instinct in favour of their maternal instinct.

John Howard’s done very little to truly assist those mothers who work because they have no financial choice. So Kevin Rudd, this could be your chance. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics more than 60% of mothers work either full-time or part-time. That’s a lot of voters. Of course, some of us work because we choose to. We are the lucky ones who can call it quits if our children are in danger - or at risk of obesity. For an increasing number of women, working is not an option. It’s a means to an end. Before we complain about the kinds of food that the children of working mothers are served up each week, think about what those children might be eating if their mothers were not contributing to the household salary. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that parents should take responsibility for their children’s health. Of course we should and my husband and I share that responsibility.

It’s just that I don’t think that working mothers should have to bear the blame for everything that goes wrong with our children.

Some of the mothers who don’t work have chosen not to because they can afford that option. Many of the working mothers that I know do so because they enjoy working. Choice is a wonderful thing. And then there’s the group of mums who would rather be at home with their children but just cannot afford to do so. They work full-time or part-time, full of guilt and blamed for everything that goes wrong with children in our modern existence, just to help put food on the table.
So now working mothers are to blame for obese children too. Is that working mothers in two-income couple families, one-income single parent families or one-income couple families? Do working mothers still get the blame in the case of the stay-at-home dad? Must do. I didn’t read or hear any suggestion that having a stay-at-home dad suddenly equated to healthier kids. So when a mum goes to work she’s got to be serving up healthy food concurrently. If we were any sort of mums at all we’d be getting out of bed earlier to chop up vegetables for a healthy lunchtime salad or whip up a tasty plate of healthy fluffy sandwiches on rye bread.

Working mothers are much maligned and this week’s research findings are just another example in a long history.
It’s true that we can’t be in two places at once - until we find a viable solution to the childhood obesity problem then clearly fantasy is the preferred option in the short-term.

But we can vote


The Palin Fall-Out

When I raise the subject of Sarah Palin with my mostly well-informed network of girlfriends, the most common response is bewilderment that someone, man or woman, so ill-equipped has been able to go so far.

We don’t hate Sarah Palin. For the most part, we don’t actually care about Sarah Palin, per se. What we do care about is what she represents and how the Palin phenomenon has helped to define a type of woman.

I first encountered this style of woman when I was in my first real management role more than a decade ago. She appeared to be the sweetest woman in the world, and everyone would say how ‘nice’ she was.

But she would tell me how great people were whilst sticking a knife into their back: “Peter is really great at his job. I really like him, it’s a shame that he didn’t meet his budget ... again.” All delivered with a smile on her face.

She was willing to assist, was never fully informed or particularly insightful and didn’t have executive-style polish.

She was the woman that left you wondering how on earth she got the job. She was unlikely to have slept with the boss, not impressive in her role, but yet always had the boss’s ear.

You know the type. Looking back I think I may have worked with more than a handful over the years.

My theory is that there are two kinds of CEOs. One whose mission is to succession plan with the view to delivering the next generation of industry leaders. They generally have a career plan of their own that extends beyond their current role. The other kind only succession plans because they have to. They have no plan to move beyond their role or company and therefore don’t want the best of the best bumping up behind them. So a non-threatening, ill-informed woman, with years of industry experience, who they believe to lack the ambition to take their job, gets the nod.

Some might say that this is a cynical view, but you probably also recognise the scenarios.

Well they are generally wrong about the lack of ambition, which half of America is starting to realise with Sarah Palin. When voters chose her as the Governor of Alaska, the first woman to ever hold that office, did they realise that they were inadvertently elevating her to a role that would see her being potentially held up as a voice for women? If she’d been in the corporate world, it would have been handy to have stamped her file, ‘reached her potential’ as the Head of Alaska.

I once had a conversation with an MD who took me under his wing to explain the reality of the corporate world for women. He said that there were two types of women in business: the power-suited bitch, who is headstrong, upfront and ambitious, and the ‘smart’ type who is happy to sit back, learn, and take direction. He advised me to be the second type.

With every decision there is a real consequence. One of the biggest for all women being that if/when she falls on her face, or is shown to be out of her depth, there is an inference about the ability of a woman for the job. This happens in a way that it never does for a man. No one is questioning the competence of the gender of the US President, for example. Just as no one ever said that a man couldn’t do a role just because the one currently running the business has destroyed shareholder value. But if a woman is unsuccessful or looks the fool, as in Sarah Palin’s case, then we as women lose.

I don’t agree with her politics and am even appalled by some of it, and yet I was hoping that she wouldn’t turn out to be a bimbo, when she was first introduced to the world as the Presidential candidate’s running mate. It’s a cruel twist for women that having spent the past year assessing the virtues of Hillary Clinton, the woman that eventually gets the Vice Presidential candidature nod is the complete opposite in every way.

Hillary, as her adversaries pointed out, represents the other type of woman – the one that many CEOs, without a plan to go anywhere, stay right away from. So we are left with the preferable type and the endorsement of the Palin phenomenon.