Author: Anele Ndlovu
Nigel Farage made the following declaration regarding women who work in an urban environment: “I think that young, able women who are prepared to sacrifice the family life and stick with their careers do as well, if not better, than men."
The statement attracted considerable media attention with the BBC picking up on the story and once again bringing to light one of the most consistently talked about topics: women and discrimination. Although UKIP’s leader may have been talking about women in the city, this topic no doubt applies to most of today’s women, particularly young driven women like myself who are constantly bombarded with the question; “Do I have to choose between a family and a career?” Or, even more appropriately: “is it fair that I have to choose and sacrifice one to be successful in the other? , Why can’t I have it all?”
Most young women starting out in their careers with dreams of making it big have to face the elephant in the room – it has to be either one or the other.
In modern day Britain, we are constantly being bombarded by hopeful feminists with the notion that this is the 21st century - that women can dream as big as men. Yet nobody wants to face the fact that although women can dream as big as men, and go as a high as men, there is a price to pay. A price that is sometimes too high for some women to pay. Recently, I spoke to a like-minded young woman in her mid-twenties. She’s worked extremely hard to make it in her male dominated industry, yet in the back of her mind she is aware that the moment will come in which she’ll have to renounce it all in favour of her family duties. She has decided that motherhood most perfectly suits her life’s vocation, and she is thus prepared to give up everything she has achieved so far to be successful on that front. She knows that the sacrifice she has to make is to work part-time – something that is likely to impede her prospects of further career development. This story is perfectly apt if we consider a study recently produced by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. It concludes that the perfect work and family balance for women is to work 15-24 hours a week. Is this so? Is ‘balance’ really the best women can aspire to? We all know that nobody is able to climb to the top of the corporate ladder with only 15 hours of work per week. It is unrealistic.
An opposing school of thought suggests that women have everything going for them, and that we are allowed extensive maternity leave periods that allow us to easily step back into work after having children. However, a few months ago, the House of Commons Library revealed that as many as 14% of women who take maternity leave come back to their jobs only to find their career in serious jeopardy.
As a young woman it gets tiresome to read constant research either advocating for or against women having families and careers. What I would much rather read are practical steps women can take to achieve the best they can in both their private and their professional lives. It is time to stop the debate and shift toward taking concrete action.
Perhaps self-employment and flexible work is the answer to all the problems women are facing today. They provide the opportunity for women to be truly in control of their careers and to decide how many hours to dedicate to their work and their family according to the varying needs they are called to fulfil on both fronts. Shouldn’t the public square start pushing for such a feasible and accommodating solution?
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net