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My reflections on an event I went to for International Women's Day

(10 Posts)
summerflower Sat 08-Mar-14 11:57:30

I was at a work event yesterday for International Women's Day. On one hand, it was really good - it was a series of short presentations from women in our institution about the areas they work in, fantastic stuff, and I am really glad that we have a senior woman who takes it on board to organise these things and actively champion women. On the other, aside from maybe two of the presentations, it was actually varying degrees of 'this is how I juggle my family and working life' to the extent that one of the presentations was completely 'these are the challenges I face'. (If you recognise this, please DO NOT out me or the institution!)

For context, our sector remains a fairly male dominated environment; many events are out of hours and at weekends, travel is expected etc; it is demanding, no question, if you want to progress. On top of that, at least in my department, a lot of the itty-bitty, not percieved as important but time-consuming work gets loaded onto more junior female colleagues, of which I am (still) one.

I am struggling to know what to think of this. Of all the 'this is how I juggle my family and working life' presentations, every single one of them said it was crucial to have a supportive partner/family. Not only was it mother-centric (a word I have just made up, I think); it was heteronormative (sp?). Every presenter was also white; although a good part of the audience was not.

I feel like it is wrong to be negative on what was a great initiative, but I'm a single parent, I have raised my DD myself for over a decade now, and I have another DC from a failed r/s to someone also in my sector (who embodied the delegate to the junior female attitude in our r/s, and has left me fairly damaged, tbh). I was sat next to a non-white female colleague without children; who faces her own challenges which are nothing to do with being a mother. I KNOW the challenges of juggling work and children and I do it on my own as I have no parental support. I KNOW the effect on my career. But I also think I contribute to the organisation beyond that, it does not and should not define me.

Being a single parent, and having no one to talk to about these things, I thought I would post here, and see what you think. Am I over-analysing, because I don't have a husband and supportive family?? The event somehow made me feel even more aware of that fact; rather than what I contribute to my organisation and field.

GarthsUncle Sat 08-Mar-14 12:12:29

I think with an event like that, people are talking from their own experience more than anything else. So the organiser would ideally have speakers with a broader range of experience.

Would you and your colleague consider speaking next year?

EmmelineGoulden Sat 08-Mar-14 12:13:54

summer You aren't over-analysing. I think what you have written here would make great feedback to the organizers.

Maybe you could offer to be on the organizing committee next year and provide some pressure to look outside the issues of motherhood and the solution of "finding the right guy". And suggest some other colleagues for the committee who feel the same way. (Assuming there is a committee, otherwise it may be a matter of offering to prepare a presentation). Even if you don't feel able to participate in that way, the feedback will give them something to think about and may make them look a little wider next year.

summerflower Sat 08-Mar-14 12:40:22

Thank you for your comments.

Yes, I think this was the first time we have had something like this, so I do not want to sound negative. The question is really how to build on it and make it more representative, I guess; and how, if at all, we can move beyond gender being about how women balance work and family. The discussion afterwards did reflect that this is an issue which affects everyone - but it is still women discussing it.

Agree that people are speaking from their experience but the cumulative effect was 'find the right man'!

NK5BM3 Sat 08-Mar-14 12:58:36

I think you make v valid points and you should feed that back to the organisers. I think too, that perhaps because a lot of the arguments and rhetoric around women and issues like promotion, seniority are about them having babies, taking mat leave and then somehow sabotaging themselves in their career, then a lot of the success stories will somehow be couched around how they have support in their lives to get on and succeed.

I went to a series of events about women leaders and the guest speakers have talked about work/life balance and having supportive family (dh or extended family), making choices (do I want to continue doing x or should I give up x now that I'm senior management?)...

Talking to friends who used to live in Europe, they talk about how it was v normal for fathers and mothers to take equal leave, to take on roles in volunteer sports clubs in the village/towns (eg fathers as well as mothers go off at 2pm to pick kids up and then turn up at 3 to run the brownie/beaver pack, football lessons etc).

I think in those scenarios in Europe you will get both gender senior manager perhaps focusing much more on specific work challenges rather than what you experienced at your event.

CaptChaos Sat 08-Mar-14 13:12:30

I think your concerns are valid. You would never hear a man talk about how he couldn't have got where he was without the support of his wife, apart from maybe at events where the wife would be present, it would be seen as slightly patronising and little-wifey, surely? You would also not have a man stand up and tell you how he deals with childcare. We should be beyond this, women shouldn't still be the sole ones worrying about childcare issues and whether having babies is going to fuck up their careers. I know we're not, but we should be!

UptoapointLordCopper Sat 08-Mar-14 19:29:20

summer I agree with the others. You are not over-analysing or over-thinking or over-sensitive or such like. Your post would give a very good feedback. Please do.

summerflower Sun 09-Mar-14 20:33:51

Thank you for your thoughts, I appreciate them. I will think about how to be constructive with any feedback. The event was worthwhile and it certainly made me think.

I think partly the work-family balance content is because women are really recently in senior roles too, there is an element of figuring it out still. When I say recently, I mean, within a generation. Progress, but not equality, and on reflection, it probably is true that a supportive dh makes a big difference.

Still, I guess I just don't want to think that the corrollary is: no support and you are screwed!! It can already feel a bit like that.

EBearhug Mon 10-Mar-14 23:43:41

Of all the 'this is how I juggle my family and working life' presentations, every single one of them said it was crucial to have a supportive partner/family.

I think that's true, whether you're male or female, parent or not. I think a lot of high-powered men wouldn't have made it without support at home.

I do think it's more of an issue for women, as they are still far more likely to be the ones who take career breaks for parenting and do more of the childcare and housework at home.

WacenaUganda Mon 17-Mar-14 21:36:33

Greetings to you all friends, by name. I am so excited to be here with you.

Peace and friendship,
Maggie
Uganda, East Africa

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