Yesterday I spent the day at ExCel London visiting The Work and Family Show 2014. I have never been before (the irony being that I never had time before of course), and decided to let fate decide if I should attend by entering a competition for tickets being run by Chiswick Mum on her blog. Luckily I won and fate let me go (Thank you @Chiswick_mum!).
I was at the show all day and enjoyed some really interesting panel discussions including fine-tuning your job-applications, how to borrow money to start your own business, balancing your life and working flexibly.
Although some of the workshops covered Diversity and Gender issues, The Work and Family Show 2014 doesn’t specifically promote itself as a Women’s event, and a couple of the most interesting panel members were men, so where were all the men? Juggling work and family is surely no longer a ‘women’s issue’ and as inspirational as it was meeting such a large number of women doing something they love, and hearing their opinions, I was a little saddened to see just a handful of men attending the event.
The Time, Health and Family Report produced by Working Families in January 2014 highlights the fact that young fathers aged 26-35 are twice as likely as mothers to resent their employers for a lack of work-life balance. Certainly, the happiest time in my own Banking career was when I had the chance to work part-time in a job-share, and although that flexibility undoubtedly cost me promotion and opportunity, I was happy because everything balanced. Such opportunities are very rare for women in a Trading environment, but they are non-existent for men.
I have spent decades working in Banks where there are Women’s Networks, endless Diversity initiatives, a toe-curling annual event called ‘Woman of the Year’ (toe-curling when you are surrounded by men all day and they don’t have an award) and superb maternity benefits. And yet, the status quo has barely changed in the last 20 years. Even now very few women get promoted to the higher corporate levels and when there is the annual headcount reduction, women seem to be over-represented in the cull. Senior managers promote in their own image and when they are eliminating headcount they seem to preserve in their own image. Part-time and flexible work is seen as a women’s perk and the culture does not encourage men to be anything less than career-focussed. Presenteeism is King and clocking up long hours seen as a badge of honour.
The last 20 years have been an interesting experiment, but it hasn’t worked. It is still ‘Them and Us’ and that certainly isn’t what I wanted from equality. There is a lot of talk of quotas and targets to improve the ratio of women in senior management and as board members, but maybe the best way to bring women to the fore is to encourage men to step back and focus on their own work-life balance. Create a few gaps and see who fills them.
I really hope that The Work and Family Show 2015 will find a way to attract more men, they really need to know what they are missing!