Thursday, 31 May 2012

What's the best job for a woman?!

So, hot on the heels of the 'feminist' admission, as I travelled to London for work on Tuesday I was met with the latest research from the BBC that 'Women hold fewer than a third of top jobs'.
The report that accompanies this headline has the bylines of 'urgent action' and 'Best candidates'.

Unsurprisingly (to me) women are most strongly represented in secondary education.

I can't help but wonder why we continue to invest in these reports, sometimes I wonder why we pay for repeat reports which reinforce what should be blindingly obvious. But yes, we are improving- I know where I work has considerably improved over ten years, but really, it's not even a drop in the ocean.

In a usual, pre-parent state of affairs, I sat down in a drunken stupor with one of our previous CEO to tell him where I thought our organisation was going wrong.
When I started in my first job, women were probably about 10% of the management base, and I think I was the youngest manager by about ten years. Getting the job I thought it was on merit, on starting the job I thought it was a paperwork error.

Fortunately, eleven years on the situation is much improved.... but now I have a different way of looking at things... as a mother.

Every quarter we have performance reviews, I'm competitive, I make sure I'm hitting my deliverables and I look for ways to keep my job challenging. I know most of my faults, and I try to think about these before I leap into action

Each quarter I'm asked about career progression, and my naive response is always the same "I don't want a promotion, I can't work any harder." And that's the sum of it, I want to be the best, but I want to be the best as a mother, and as an employee. I hope a promotion isn't about longer working hours, I hope it's about applying the expertise or intelligence gained to realise more benefit to the organisation.

The reality is this, most people I work with arrive in London on a Monday with a suitcase in hand, and return home on a Thursday if they've managed their diaries well.

When looking at 'top jobs' it has to be about what constitutes a top job. In the case of the BBC research it's about influential positions, and senior positions within key sectors.
And the underpinning factors are, I hope, now acknowledged, a lot of the time, should women choose to have children, it's about how that is factored into the career paths.

I am, on the one hand, against the norm, and therefore I wonder if I should have a good chance at hitting a 'senior position'. I have had two six-month breaks (aka maternity leave) and am in the fortunate position of having a husband who has offered to be the full time parent as an acknowledgement of a financial equation.

But, it's about the compromises, how much money substitutes being away from your family? Even with children who have 'flown the nest' who really chooses later on in a relationship that it would be good to spend four days a week apart? I don't see how even the best holidays in the world make up for one partner being at home 'with the house' whilst the other lives out of a suitcase. For me, it's not what we signed up for.

So when I think about whether I'm in the third of women who have a 'top job' I think it's more about classification.
The reality is, all things being averaged out, I have a top job. On average I work from home two days a week, on average I have one night away from home a week. We can afford a stay at home parent (it's still cheaper than childcare) and we live in our idea of a perfect home.

I appreciate there are women who aspire to the top jobs as defined by the BBC, I know that equality is a key feature of any society, and economy, which is successful, and I know that there is a glass ceiling, in many sectors there is discrimination and values which prevent women succeeding. And, yes, this needs to be sorted.

But on the other hand, so many other aspects go hand in hand with recruitment policies.
Why are women most prominent in senior positions in secondary education, my cynical side cannot help but associate this with work-life balance, and the flexibility of correlating with school holidays, etc.

This is a secondary consideration in my mind, the primary consideration to me is what women perceive as a 'top job' as, whilst I would like a senior position, the priority is making a job work for you.
I can't help but declare that my job must not compromise my relationship with my children, or my husband.
And therefore a 'top job' is whatever meets this criteria first and foremost.

So, whilst I may not be categorised by most as holding a top job, for me as a person, I definitely do!
Working mums
Perks of the job: Overlooking the Olympic Park: November 2008, six months pregnant!


  1. I've got a top job mate - I used to think working at the place you are was top but this one tops the top with knobs on. Sometimes being lower down in the food chain is is ultimate goal.

    1. You've got green fingers... you never should've joined the rat race- far too talented. x

  2. I like this post. I totally agree that if a woman wants that job she should be considered as favourably as a man. But I often wonder how many women of the correct experience for the job have been asked whether they actually want it. I suspect, as you point out, that many women have chosen not to go further in their careers, because that doesn't fit with their priorities at the time. I'm certainly one of them - hope I don't get slated for saying so!

    1. I did wonder about getting slated... but I do think parents do a fab job of multi-tasking, and businesses would probably get far more benefit if they managed to create more opportunities to enable flexible working.

  3. This is totally true for me. My husband always says that he wants us to continue to strive forward but my priorities have changed since having children. Yes, I'd still take a promotion but only if it didn't take me away from my children for longer. I've even considered taking a 'step down' in my career to work more locally so I can spend longer with my children

    1. I think the same thing often... how to get the best quality of life whilst ensuring we can cope financially.... it's a horrible dilemma.


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