The concept of ‘ Women On Boards’ is about as alien a prospect to most ordinary working mothers as is the thought that our social and economic system will recognise having children as a public good (future generation of taxpayers and all that). Feminism may have fought and won the battle for equality in the workplace and though all women benefit from this right enshrined in law something is still missing from the equation.
It is this. Getting to the top of the corporate ladder involves having to manoeuvre around some missing rungs between middle management and top management. To be precise, three missing rungs which represent the three evils of: 1. visibility 2. the idea of personal choice and 3.childcare.
Unless one is a mother with a nanny, an extended family or who has children who are already grown up then visibility is a problem. In our working culture visibility=physical presence in the office all the time unless one is at a very important meeting=dedication to the job=high probability of promotion. Most mothers just cannot
manage high physical visibility all the time. A culture that learns how to recognise keenness and ability in other ways would be far more constructive.
Personal choice is a sling used to throw stones at working mothers who dare to ask for flexible working, time off to care for a sick child or who have to take annual leave at a moment’s notice. ‘If you cannot give 100% to the job then don’t do it’ is the popular verbal translation of the academic notion of personal choice. This second evil also has sub-concepts like ‘not the employer’s problem’ and ‘why should mothers have more rights?’ If spending a day/days looking after a sick child is a right then we should distribute this privilege more widely shouldn’t we? Opponents of this second evil are basically using the language of equality with the logic of a dead end road.
Finally, childcare. I speak as the mother of a 13 year old. Yes, you read me right. Why does the culture of Britain only recognise childcare as a formal requirement up until the age of about 11? I still cannot understand this arbitrary intervention that occurs at the start of secondary school whereby children are suddenly grown up enough to make their way on their own without parental presence. I have run the gauntlet of many mothers who think I am mad to be still picking my daughter up from school. There are many reasons for this which aren’t relevant here but an appreciation of childcare needs regardless of a child’s age would be helpful. For heaven’s sake, if Anne-Marie Slaughter felt she had to be there for her teenage son then minion me has a right too.
My favourite Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen describes development as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. Expanding the horizons of women on boards to include the diversity of roles that women play would be a start.