To mother or not to mother

I have a friend, a smart savvy professional woman. She is younger then me, 31, but she has made a decision that she doesn’t want children. My immediate reaction is omg – you’ll get over it, your biological clock will start to tick loudly and you’ll change your mind. Then I stopped and thought – what a huge amount of courage it takes to make that decision.

It actually isn’t selfish (another of my initial thoughts!). Her reasoning is that whatever she does she wants to do wholeheartedly. For her, her professional career is an extremely important part of her self. Having a child would require compromise on both being a professional and being a mother, she isn’t prepared to be half hearted at anything.

In todays society we are often damned if we do and damned if we don’t. There is so much pressure to be a mother and yet we are also expected to participate in the workforce. For many of us financially we have no other choice but to reenter the corporate world after children, often in male dominated careers where it is difficult to break into the boys club when you have to make sure you get to child care by 6pm and then spend the evening cooking, arbitrating, educating and soothing.

Honestly, the more I think about it the more I applaud her decision. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids but I know I’m not a perfect mother and they have had to make sacrifices for my career. Unfortunately for them they didn’t get a choice. Hopefully, regardless of my intense mother guilt, they won’t spend years in a therapist office talking through abandonment issues caused by having a selfish career orientated mum. Instead they will celebrate the fact that they had a strong, inspirational mother who pushed them to be self sufficient and showed that with a bit of determination you can achieve.

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Bra Burning & Bloke Bashing

I’m a feminist, not exactly ground breaking news to those who know me. Don’t get me wrong, I love being feminine, I love pretty dresses and high heels (although at the moment I’m not allowed to wear them!). I have more handbags than most women. I shave my legs, at least when I think people might see them.  I also love empowering women to be strong and take leadership roles. I want to see more young women realize that being assertive is not a bad thing, that being bossy is a compliment not a derogatory label.

Even now, two  plus generations on from the bra burning feminist protests, we are still lagging well behind the fellows in our representation in leadership roles.  Of our top 200 ASX companies less than 5% have women CEOs and our parliaments are still woefully lacking in women members. Our current federal cabinet has one female, The Hon Julie Bishop, who is minister for foreign affairs and deputy leader of the Liberal Party.  Considering the current government ministry is 16% female and the sitting members are 22% female it is concerning that cabinet is only 5% female. As a paid up member of the liberal party this doesn’t bode well for my goal of becoming the first female treasurer!

This trend is repeated in my own community. Our local council has only two female councilors, 22%. The boards of our local hospital and private schools are similar. Our local community bank has only one female director – comprising 10% of the board! Yet according to the ABS the population of our shire is 50% female.

I wonder what the young women in our society see when they look around. What female role models can be found? I’ll admit I wasn’t a fan of Julia Gillard’s politics but I was proud we had a female Prime Minister. I was also appalled at the treatment she received. I don’t recall seeing male leaders subject to the same innuendo and discussion of their sexuality. Why is it our society tries to dewomanise strong women?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think men are all bad and out to undermine women, we do that well enough on our own without their help! Nor do I think women should be appointed to roles just because of our gender.My concern is that there are capable and strong women within our communities that aren’t being given the support and opportunities to sit at the table.  Research has shown that organisations that have boards with a higher percentage of women perform better.

My aim in the next twelve moths is to work in my local community to help and inspire women to lean in and become leaders.  As the amazing Carol Schwartz, AM said at a CPA luncheon last week “you can’t be what you can’t see”. I intend to stand up and by seen as a leader in my community, but I won’t burn my bras as they are expensive to replace.

If you too are feeling inspired to lean in, have a read of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Also have a look at Lean In, Ban Bossy,  and our own Australian Businesswomens Network.