Invest in Women, Invest in the Future
by Nadine McGrath, March 2019
The theme for this year’s Queensland Women’s Week, which coincides with International Women’s Day is Invest in Women, Invest in the Future. It’s about recognising how far as women we have come but yet how far we still have to go.
When I told friends, family and colleagues about The Forgotten Women initiative and that women aged 55 and over were the fastest group of Australians homeless it sparked lively conversation.
I don’t profess to have the answers to the financial troubles plaguing many older Australian women. We know there are multiple complex systems at play, gender pay and superannuation gaps, time off work to care for family, relationship breakdown…the list goes on.
However, I am a woman now in my early forties juggling career and family. I understand the challenges we all face, and how it could happen. As a journalist, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing women from many sectors of society – who have given enormously to care for their families, built successful careers, given to their communities.
As a woman both establishing my own business and working with women in business, I also understand the struggles women face in this sector first hand. While equality for women has come a long way in recent years, there’s still some way to go.
Studies show working mothers are the most time-pressured groups in society. Many women are participating in the paid workforce while also all the unpaid jobs of running a family. Housework, cooking, homework, dealing with sick children, extra-curricular activities, appointments mostly fall on us women.
This isn't to say men don't try. We have only limited paternal leave here in Australia, which makes it difficult for men to take time off while their partners work. In many cases, if a woman loses time in the workforce to care for her children her partner's career may be advancing. He will become the more financially lucrative partner for the household so it may not make sense for her to stay at home.
Recently I discussed with a good friend who works in HR about the challenge women face women in returning to the workforce after time off to raise a family. She says it can be challenging when there are gaps in the résumé. The workforce doesn’t, unfortunately, stand still when a woman has children - technology advances, workplace skills change and breaking back into the workforce can be difficult.
Finding work with flexible hours is also a challenge, with many mums resorting to a different type of work and often paid less than before they had children to fit in with school hours. To top this off, we often feel guilty when working we are not spending time with our family or guilty if we need to take time off for family.
There’s a perception that if a man takes time off work for his family, he’s a good dad but for a woman, she seen as not committed to their work. I’ve got many stories about mother’s guilt from women and myself. Just recently, I attended a lunchtime leadership ceremony for my daughter, a middle school vice-captain.
I arrived a couple of minutes late, and my daughter Kate was giving a speech in a packed auditorium. Standing at the back, a teacher asked: “Are you Kate’s mum?” and proceeded to usher me down the long aisle with my heels clanking the wooden floor to sit with the other parents. Just as I sat down my phone rang. It was a journalist I desperately needed to chat to and had been awaiting her call. As I pressed the "Sorry, can I call you back later?" message it dawned that this was the perfect example of mother’s guilt. I was feeling guilty about working and being late for my daughter’s ceremony and guilty for not taking the journalist’s call.
I think as women we are still putting these arbitrary criteria on ourselves to be the perfect wife, mother, employee. But we have to accept that there is no such thing as perfect and life can be a messy juggle.
One of the biggest and saddest challenges I’ve noticed in my recent years in business and interviewing women, is we often undervalue ourselves. Indeed, I think it has an impact on our overall financial well-being.
In harnessing my media skills throughout my career, changing the status quo of an under-representation of women as media sources, elevating their voice and influence is front and centre of my mission. But women still have to value themselves, their credentials and opinions. They have to put themselves forward to be interviewed, for that pay rise or promotion.
Recently I posted on in business social media page about women understanding their value. It was in response to seeing various posts where women were asking for professional services but at very low prices. A woman's business or services should not be seen as of less value to her male counterparts.
It was a post which struck a nerve, with more than 100 comments and offers for me to be interviewed for magazine articles and on podcasts. Sadly, highly educated women were commenting about other women wanting their services for free.
In Australia, women own almost 40 per cent of small businesses, an increase of nearly 20 per cent in the past 20 years. Women are wanting to solve problems but also crave greater flexibility. However, we have to be careful that women in business are also not exploited, even by other women.
I’ve talked extensively with women in small business who have faced undue hardship in their businesses or even lost a lot of money, some facing bankruptcy through being exploited. Psychologists says that one of the most common problems they treat in women is learning to be more assertive. We must learn to value ourselves to build wealth for ourselves and families in the long term.
It’s not all doom and gloom. I hold out hope for women leading into the future, spurred on by one of the most significant revolutions of the modern era. We’re living in the longevity revolution. In common with other developed nations we are living 30 years longer than 100 years ago, well into our 80s and beyond.
Learning about the Longevity revolution has made me realise that life is more a marathon than a sprint. I’m understanding now that while I’m amid a very time pressured stage of my life juggling family, career and other challenges which seem to come up daily that I still hopefully have many good years of my life to live.
This formal ideal of retirement to withdraw into seclusion is no longer relevant or desirable. We need to show support in the workforce for an ageing population, valuing their experience and expertise for as long as they are able and willing to participate in the workforce.
One great woman showing the achievements of women but also an ageing population is Ita Buttrose. Ita has had a long and distinguished career in Australian media. She’s also cut through a traditional male-dominated media executive. Ita’s appointment as chair of the ABC shows what can be achieved as both a woman and at age 77 into our 70s and beyond.
Do I believe women can have it all? I think we can but not necessarily at the same time. I think there will be times when our families have to take priority and times when our work will take priority.
Our generation of women must foster the next generation of women leaders, lead the way for our daughters and grand-daughters. As a mother of two sons and a daughter, we also have to teach our sons about equality that it’s ok to pick up the slack, be home with kids while their partners are at work. While we’re not there yet our boys are getting practice making beds with hospital corners, ironing a shirt and cooking – it’s time for us all to share the load.