Monday 23 September 2019

Equality can be achieved with a healthy work-life balance - for all of us

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Stella O'Malley

Stella O'Malley

The initial reaction to looking at the latest CSO figures is one of puzzlement. Women are better educated and more qualified than the men, and yet 445,500 women stay at home to look after the family and the home compared to a mere 9,200 men. Surely even the most sexist and chauvinistic among us will admit that this appears to be a jaw-dropping waste of skills and education? What on earth is going on?

Girls perform better in the education system and girls outperform boys in the Leaving Cert in most subjects. Maybe this is a result of our feminised education system or perhaps there are other reasons at play here; for example, exam achievement may be a huge draw for girls but not such an attractive prospect for the boys.

Indeed, if career success was measured in terms of education and qualifications, then the men would have a greater need for gender equality than women, as the CSO figures also show us that 55.1pc of young women get third-level qualifications compared to just 42.9pc of their male counterparts.

But qualifications don't necessarily lead to long-term career success. Although it has been shown that working women in their 20s outperform working men of a similar age group, when we reach the magic age of 30 the roles are reversed with extraordinary speed. Men in their 30s begin to catch up and pass women. From then on, men completely outperform women in terms of career success.

Is it a maturity thing? Do men finally mature in their early 30s and so they are mere boys until then? Or is it a deeper, more biological and existential reason? Do women reach some dizzy heights early in their career and then, in their early 30s - a bit like Alexander the Great who was 33 when he sat down and wept because there were no other worlds to conquer - they realise there is more to life than career achievement?

Most people argue women are afraid to be 'bossy' - that they have been raised to be subservient and so they fear managerial roles. But perhaps it isn't that simple?

In primary schools, all around the country, we see male teachers who are noticeably keener to take on responsibility compared with females who tend to agonise over the needs of their family and over their work-life balance. Women often decide the better-paid position of school principal isn't worth the extra demands on their life. So, in a workforce that is 85pc female, only 50pc of principals are women.

Working too long and too hard and sacrificing your family in the process is a fool's errand that perhaps many women have already figured out. It is accepted that previous generations of men missed out on the satisfying role of being a good father because they were too busy working.

Rather than decrying the lower numbers of women working full-time, maybe it's time for us to appreciate the female focus on flexible hours and a reasonable work-life balance?

It is noticeable it's not only the women who are fixated on the work-life balance - it also tends to be of utmost importance to the millennial generation. Members of this new generation of workers are not as willing to forgo their personal lives. Indeed, millennials are more concerned with a satisfying life than earning a good living.

The consensus may be we need to get as many people as possible into the full-time workforce. But perhaps a more progressive approach that supports part-time workers and places more emphasis on everyone living satisfying lives would be more realistic?

Irish Independent

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