Doesn’t that give you a warm, cosy feeling?
These are facts that we know – but what does the confluence of public- and private-sector policy actually tell us? The question is: What does that actually mean? To me, it means that, in South Africa, we believe that raising children is a woman’s job.
I want you to take a minute and take a deep breath before you continue. I want you to understand that I am about to say something that is going to move you! Whether positively or negatively – I cannot tell you. What I can tell you are two things:
1) Once you have read it, you cannot unread it.
2) The concept will stay with you, and you will talk about it to at least one other person.
So here it is: Until companies are saying, “When that baby comes, he is so out of here”, nothing of major importance will shift in the trajectory of a woman’s career. And until the public and private sector understand that gender is a business issue and not a female issue, not much real progress will be made.
Research shows us that economically active men in general have linear curves in their careers, while economically active women in general have M-curves in their careers. What does this mean? This means that men progress steadily (albeit sometimes slowly) throughout their careers, while women’s careers start off as strongly as men’s, dip when they have children, and start to rise again when the children are grown up. I am not just talking about maternity leave here; I am talking about who leaves early to take a child to the doctor, about who stays at home with the sick children, about who gets home in time for cooking and homework, and about who picks up and drops off the children. All this impedes a woman’s ability to stay late, develop the informal networks, go out for a drink and a chat, interact during the friendly, interdepartmental action cricket events, and, most importantly, be connected to the undertones, the movers, the shakers,
the new projects, the expansions, the mergers and the acquisitions.
In countries like Germany, where government is desperate to raise the birth rate, and with current fertility rates of 1:3 being nowhere near the required rate of 2:1, the government has implemented many initiatives to encourage women to stay at home. These include child benefit allowances and a parent’s salary called
Elterngeld, which pays between €300 and €1 800 a month to stay at home (fathers can have some of this leave – a small portion). This has surprisingly not pushed up the birth rate, because, for women, the choice is between career and family, and many choose career. Infrastructure like daycare is completely lacking, societal pressure pushes women to stay at home after they have had children, and school hours are complicated, varied and short.
In contrast, in France, half of the graduates of business schools are women, who actually have more than the national average 2.2 children, and where 80% of them work full-time throughout their career because of the French government’s proactive policies on gender balance. Public-sector policy allows a 35-hour work week and equal parental rights for both parents. In France, societal pressure is for women to work. France’s school systems keep children in schools (which are state-funded) till 18:00, with state-subsidised, extracurricular activities from the age of 3, and subsidised training for baby-sitters. Not surprising, then, that France leads Europe with powerful women and has a robust pipeline of women ready to take over the reins.
In the United States of America, most of the strides made by women have come about as a result of private-sector policy. Public policy is woefully lacking. The Nordic countries allow a certain amount of parental leave for both parents on a child’s birth. This can be taken in any combination. So, with six months’ leave, the parents will decide how they split this up between the two of them. Fourday work weeks are common in these countries for both parents. And fathers play active roles in their children’s and wives’ lives. Imagine how different our lives would be if we stopped talking about equality at work and started understanding that, when it comes to children, we in South Africa have a long way to go before having equality for both parents.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of children brought up by single mothers. Most have battled our systems to get meagre maintenance, and a great many more get nothing. The presence of a father has been much talked about, and, yet, we as a society cannot afford them the opportunity to be fathers. What is five days when compared with four months? What if the woman’s career is on an upward trajectory or she is the major earner? These months have a compound effect on her career. What about how this sets the role of the father as a disciplinarian – “I am going to tell Dad when he gets home about your bad behaviour” – or as the holder of the purse strings – “Ask your father for the money”? What messages do we really want our children to grow up with?
I have a foundation to lay for the women who come after me. My beautiful, 19-year-old daughter should have the opportunity to have a father for her children, and also have a career. After all, I have invested as much in her education as in her brother’s. I want my son to be able to have three months’ parental leave to bond with his children, to know what their different cries mean, to be present in their lives, to leave work to get them to the orthodontist, to ask for a half day off to buy a matric-dance dress. I want him to have the right to be a parent as a matter of policy.
I strongly believe that we cannot advance female careers and quality of life in South Africa if the public and private sector do not jointly come up with policy that advances parental rights. We need to rethink paternal leave, we need to rethink working hours for both parents, we need to get our schools’ hours to change and to include extracurricular activities and sports that do not cost an arm and a leg. Government will then not need to look anxiously for the solutions to why women’s skills are being undervalued. We would not have to see headlines saying: ‘50% of Top Jobs to Women’. After all, which woman can get there when
the hours are relentless, the pace exhausting, and there is no support in policy. It used to be said: “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Now it also applies that: “Behind every great woman is a great man.” We just need to give them the chance.
Anisa Visser is Managing Director of Living your Dream, a 100% black-owned transformation and leadership consultancy. Anisa can be contacted on 082-788-0857
How many women do you know who count their blessings to have men who are willing to do any of these tasks in even the smallest proportion? How do we as a society judge women who give custody of the children to the father? What do these attitudes and perceptions mean? Have you ever wondered if this is okay for today?
Public policy dictates that a female should be given four months’ (unpaid) maternity leave. Public policy has to be adopted by the private sector, and so it is that most companies give between four and six months’ (paid) maternity leave. The corporates that give six months want to be above average in their pull factors in order to retain female employees – especially considering their weighting on the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) scorecard. Doesn’t that give you a warm, cosy feeling?
So, I’ll bet that you are thinking one of the following three things, or some variation thereof:
1) Which companies are these, and where do I apply?
2) Why doesn’t my company give six months, and what will motivate it to change this?
3) Why did this policy not apply when I had my children? The younger generation is so lucky!
Now: Did you know that public policy does not allow any paternity leave? In fact, according to public policy, a man can take the three days of family responsibility leave for paternity leave. Again, public policy has to be adopted by the private sector, and so it is that most companies give between two and five days’ paternity leave.
Glass Ceilings and Sticky Floors