Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Trouble with Working Women

Did anyone see the BBC programmes "The Trouble with Working Women"?

Presenters Sophie Raworth and Justin Rowlatt

Since this is a subject close to my heart I watched the first one "Why can't a woman succeed like a man?", and found an intelligent but entertaining look at the place of women in the world of work. The main finding, (which we didn't need to be told, did we?) was that it is the childbearing years that changes things. Up until then, men and women are level pegging. At the stage of having children it is overwhelmingly the women who make a choice. Men do not seem to be as torn between work and family (but that would be a whole other documentary and I'm not going into that now!) Although I did think that the enlightened employer who gave his female employees 9 months maternity leave on full pay, should have redressed the balance with more than the statutory 2 weeks for the men. This is the 21st century and men are parents too!

Some women essentially do not have a choice; they either have to work to earn the money, or they cannot afford to work because childcare is too expensive. Some women make a choice to continue working but not to pursue a certain career because the career doesn't 'fit' with family life. I noted at the time that when presenter Sophie Raworth had her first child (she was pregnant at the same time as me and I was interested in what she would do) she changed from reading the prestigious 6 o'clock news to the more family friendly time of presenting the 1 o'clock news.

Sometimes the choice of whether to continue to pursue a career, to work full time, to work part time or to stay at home is entirely a free one, they are the lucky ones. Or are they? Even the women with a free choice who choose to continue their careers find they do so at the expense of family life. Or, as Sophie Raworth said, echoing my post of a few weeks ago "The problem with having it all is that you have to do it all, every day". And the professor who concluded that putting your children into childcare for the first four and a half years of their life can lead them to be "agressive and disobediant when they start school and all the way through" didn't help with the guilt factor either!

The conclusion seemed to be that women cannot 'have it all'. So, no surprise there then!

The second programme "Why can't a woman earn as much as a man?" I thought would show what I have thought all along, that on average women earn less because the majority of women work fewer hours and work in lower paid jobs. And yes, women earn less because they choose to work part time or they choose to work in fields that are traditionally less well paid.

But, this was where the programme became very interesting. Are girls choosing 'girly' subjects and hence going into less well paid careers because of influence at school? Here was the bombshell: girls from all girls schools do earn as much as men, girls from mixed schools don't. This really held my attention.

Teaching as I do a traditionally male subject I try very hard to ensure that both genders feel that they have a right to succeed at this subject. However, I am saddened by the small number of girls that go on to study my subject at University compared to the number of boys. It's almost like they are saying "A level is enough, I won't push it any further".

At home, my husband and I have tried to avoid gender bias in toys and books and subjects with our daughter, but since she has started school she has been influenced by other children who have told her that cars and trains are for boys and teasing her for liking "Thomas the Tank Engine". Even at the library last week, she wanted a book called "Who's in the loo?", but thought that she couldn't have it because the librarians, in a drive to encourage boys to read, had stuck a big sticker saying "Boys into Books" across the front of it, so she thought only boys could take it home. (We did take it home)

Where do these attitudes come from?

What I took away from this programme was that I need to encourage my daughter to continue her education without seeing a gender bias in subjects. To pursue what she wants to study and to be aware of the choices and implications of her choices. Life will never be easy for working women, but we mustn't stop having ambitions and dreams.

For a while now she's wanted to be an astronaut.

Job for a boy?

Well, being a woman didn't stop Linda Godwin:

Picture courtesy of NASA


Strictly said...

Or Helen Sharman, the first Brit in space (first Brit, not first Brit woman)

Working mum said...

Ooo yes, how could I forget Helen Sharman?

cheshire wife said...

When I left the job that I had at DoH, many years ago now, I trained two men to do my job as my replacement(s) and a comment was made that a woman needs to be twice as good as a man. I think that comment was spot on.

Working mum said...

Cheshire Wife - not that I want to brag, but when I went on maternity leave it took four people to replace me!

Expat mum said...

When I stopped working in the corporate world, I was lucky enough not to have to worry financially, but I certainly didn't feel it was much of a choice. I was trying to do it all and I couldn't.
My other point - I have always wondered if the traditionally lower paid (ie. female) jobs would be as badly paid if men had done them. I don't think women mean to pick low paying jobs, - just that the areas they are drawn to are therefore lower paying jobs.

Hullaballoo said...

I saw the programme and found it very thought provoking. I marvelled at the stress of working mothers, which I take for granted. No wonder I feel exhausted by the time I reach work!

Maternal Tales said...

Definitely interesting. Yep, don't think anyone can have it all. I'm at home with the two children, but part of me feels guilty that my husband has to work all hours to bring home enough pay for us all. But then I can't see what job I could get that would fit in with the children and make it cost effective. The job I had before I had children involved lots of travel so instantly that's a no-no when you're a Mother (or a no-no in my case because my husband travels so much and we couldn't both do it).

The bit about girls from girl schools getting better grades is interesting too...

Mean Mom said...

Things do seem to be changing, but just not quickly enough, I think. Gender bias is passed on by some thoughtless adults, it seems and then their children repeat it at school. I'm sure that some people worry that their child's sexuality will be affected, if they play with the 'wrong' toys. I played with cars, lorries, tanks and toy guns when I was young, as well as girly toys. (I've never shot anyone in real life, though!) My lads played with tea sets and a toy vacuum cleaner, as well as their boys toys. Unfortunately, they rarely make me a cup of tea and will only vacuum for money. Lol!

Emy said...

Interesting. Just wanted to say hi and thanks for the comment you left a couple of weeks back. Wondering if you have any advice as i will soon become a first year teacher. Thanks Emy

Working mum said...

Expat Mum - that was touched on in the programme, women are drawn to more caring, nurturing jobs that don't pay well; if men were to do these jobs, would they be better paid?

Hullaballoo - yep, just looked like a normal day to me!

MT - so you are one that had to give up your career because it didn't fit with family life; and I hadn't thought of the guilt of watching your husband working hard to earn all the money. Good point!

Mean Mom - you are right about parents keeping the gender differences in toys; I saw a mum in Toys R Us tell her son he couldn't ride a pink scooter because it was for girls. I thought "He can ride it if he wants to!"

Emy - will pop over to see you. Despite the stress and the exhaustion I do think teaching can be the best job in the world, or I wouldn't do it!

A Modern Mother said...

Great post.

Wish I could have seen those documentries, thanks for the summary.

Catharine Withenay said...

It has been too long since I called by - lots of interesting blogs for me to catch up on. I'm with you on the campaign for minimal out-of-school activities. I think it's mainly selfish: I don't want to turn into a taxi driver.

I plan to watch the working mum programmes on i-player, but am very interested by your summaries.

And on yet another matter, I hope you - and your breathing and voice - get better soon.

Working mum said...

A Modern Mother - they're available on the BBC iplayer for the next month, just click on my links

Catherine - thanks for popping in, suprised you have the time with the move and all!

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

What a fantastic post WM! I offer an A-men sister!

Kelloggsville said...

Good post, thank you for taking the time to be so detailed. I have always worked full time (and the only women in my office), initially by necessity and then choice. My salary is an ok level for the industry but I am regularly undermined by the men. I have to work harder than them to stay ahead. Do you remember the cartoon titled "fantastic suggestion Miss Jones, perhaps one of the men would like to make it". As a mum/wife/housekeeper so many mornings I feel I've done a days work before I get to work! Sometimes I want to yell "stop the train I want to get off" but if it ever stops I get bored! I am happy with my lot! x

The Dotterel said...

Interestingly, we had a large number of girls taking (and doing very well at) maths and physics in the mixed sixth-form at the boys' grammar I used to teach at. But they'd joined us from the neighbouring (all girls) high school!

Working mum said...

Kelloggsville - in the documentary they called it the "Hermione Granger effect"; the woman has the ideas but doesn't get the credit.

The Dotterel - I used to work in a girls' school and more girls did Maths and Physics there.

Jacki said...

The funny thing is....this documentary could be one shown here in the US and no one would know the difference! Why is that? Two different countries, but women go through the same struggles with trying to balance family life and career.

It's all very interesting.

scrappysue said...

the sad thing is, this argument will continue to be played out long after we're gone. as long as it's women having the babies, and having the genetic makeup that we do - the playing field is never going to be level.