If the life of a working mother could take a form or image I think it would be of a contortionist. We leap through hoops, jump over hurdles, dodge imaginary bullets to juggle work and child and, after all that, bend over backwards to accommodate everything and everyone. If this does not demonstrate some sort of iron clad commitment to your work and career then I don’t know what will do to dislodge the ‘child ceiling’ that exists for working mothers.

A survey has uncovered yet another prejudice/barrier that working mothers face. A company called Business Environment conducted the survey and discovered that one in four female managers would not consider employing a woman with a family or who was of child-bearing age. Male managers held the same attitude too. Taking time off to have a baby or to attend to one’s children is seen as unproductive factors. Apparently an inability to work long hours is equated to a lack of commitment to one’s job. Long hours, it seems, is being seen as one of the solutions to the country’s economic woes. Women with children are viewed as the weakest link in the model of productivity.

This is a shockingly short-term view of the female success factors that could be harnessed in the process of  modernisation of an ailing economy. Women who work are tireless advocates of commitment and hard work. We want the best for our children and realise that our incomes are crucial in enabling us to do this. Never intentionally would most working mothers jeopardise their jobs.

However, it is important to challenge views and to point out that working flexibly or having to take emergency leave to tend to a domestic situation is not the equivalent of taking annual leave to sit in the park. It is the perception of others that distorts the reality of flexible working and part-time. If an economic lens is to be used to sit in judgment on working methods then it ought to be one of the ageing population. With more  and more people living longer a growing workforce will be needed to sustain the situation. Striking mothers off the employment radar is an economic and societal disaster in the making.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is in charge of dealing with disasters in the USA. Attention has turned to what the presidential candidates would do with FEMA given Obama’s belief that the state should provide essential services and Romney’s desire to privatize everything. Read the extract below and then ask yourself whether you would trust any private company to put your child’s life first before the profit motive. 

Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, which passed the House but not the Senate, envisioned a 41 percent cut next year for the section of the federal government that includes FEMA. In addition, Ryan’s committee specifically pointed out that President Obama has declared a record number of disasters during his term.

Here is that exchange from the June debate between Romney and CNN’s John King:

KING: What else, Governor Romney? You’ve been a chief executive of a state. I was just in Joplin, Mo. I’ve been in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee and other communities dealing with [disaster], whether it’s the tornadoes, the flooding and worse. FEMA is about to run out of money, and there are some people who say, ‘Do it on a case-by-case basis,’ and some people who say, you know, ‘Maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role.’ How do you deal with something like that?

ROMNEY: Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.  Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut — we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep?  We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do? And those
things we’ve got to stop doing, because we’re borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we’re taking in. We cannot–

KING: Including disaster relief, though?

ROMNEY: We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.



I live in Britain and I set the alarm clock for 2am to watch the second Presidential debate. It was certainly worth hauling myself out of my warm bed during a cold and rainy night to catch Mitt Romney put women in boxes. I am not American and, it goes without saying, I cannot vote in this election but my interest lies in the fact that American social and political trends always make their way across the seas to the UK. 

So can the UK now expect binders full of women to be the new catchphrase for equality rights? I certainly hope not because one of the mindsets feminists have fought against and continue to fight against is the placing of women’s issues in situations and locations that suit the patriarchy. Women figure in all layers of life and in all spheres of life. 

While Romney did not and will never grasp this fact he did the next best thing in patriarchy terms. He trumpeted the fact, allegedly false, that he promoted women to positions of high-power. Equality legislation has made it easier for men to play the equality card by hiring women and playing to the ‘women on boards’ debate while making cuts and demeaning women in other ways. It is easy and lazy chauvinism. 

Amidst all the twitter jokes, slurs and twitpics what is lost is the fact that Romney can only equate female rights to the workplace. Granted that the question was phrased in terms of pay rights but Obama was able to extrapolate his answer to include the role of women as mothers, nurturers and to highlight the difficulties faced in overcoming adversity both at home and in the work place. Obama said:

“And, you know, I was raised by a single mom who had to put herself through school while looking after two kids. And she worked hard every day and made a lot of sacrifices to make sure we got everything we needed. My grandmother, she started off as a secretary in a bank. She never got a college education, even though she was smart as a whip. And she worked her way up to become a vice president of a local bank, but she hit the glass ceiling. She trained people who would end up becoming her bosses during the course of her career…And that’s an example of the kind of advocacy that we need, because women are increasingly the breadwinners in the family. This is not just a women’s issue, this is a family issue…”

A vote for Romney will be a vote for the decimation of women’s rights. You know that saying ‘in your backyard’? Ann Romney’s daughter-in-laws have spoken about how she taught them to buy nice shoes and not bother their husbands with talk of domestic difficulties when they returned from work. There lurks the nugget of the rollback of women’s rights should the Republican candidate win. 


Contrast this show of female assertiveness with Margaret Thatcher’s words that feminism had done nothing for her. 


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.