Tuesday 20 August 2019

Lorraine Courtney: 'Career women will keep paying motherhood penalty until men do their fair share at home'

Keeping their feet up: Men zone out when it comes to the drudge work of running house and family
Keeping their feet up: Men zone out when it comes to the drudge work of running house and family
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

One of the worst career moves a woman can make is to have a baby. So much so that some female pilots have to choose between terminating their pregnancy or quitting, according to the Irish Airline Pilots Association (IALPA) this week. Meanwhile, men - even woke millennial types - have children and continue working as if nothing has happened.

Women will always have a motherhood penalty until parenting is shared equally.

Captain Evan Cullen, president of the IALPA, told the Oireachtas Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection how half of pilots operating in Irish-registered airlines are not employed directly by the airline they fly for, but are instead hired as contractors and don't have paid maternity leave.

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"It is a matter of fact that female pilots have terminated their pregnancies when they were in this arrangement, that is an absolute fact," Mr Cullen said.

"They have a choice - you terminate your employment, under this type of employment, or you terminate your pregnancy. You can't have both."

It's a brutal example, but show me a working woman who hasn't had to consider the impact having a baby will have on her career.

Show me a dad who fell off the career ladder when he had a baby. Anyone?

Not everyone will choose to become parents, I do understand that, but you are still discriminated against in the workplace for having ovaries. Despite the dramatic shift in the family portrait over the past few years, workplaces, policies and general notions about how to raise a family haven't caught up. Dads have not caught up.

Yes, childbearing is a woman's business, but that takes nine months and doesn't impact on working life. What comes after can be done by dads just as well.

And before you fling the breastfeeding argument at me, remember that only 15pc of children in Ireland are exclusively breastfed for the first six months.

There will never be proper equality between the sexes until parenting is seen as an equal responsibility - and I mean properly equal, to the point that it is the norm for men to leave work to pick up a sick child from school, to do the night feeds and to scramble to arrange back-up childcare when everything falls apart.

Our fertility rate has been falling steadily in recent years - it's now down 11pc from its rate of 1.98 births per woman in 2012. Irish women are among the oldest mothers in the world, having babies later than in all but nine other countries, according to a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) that looked at reproductive trends in 200 countries.

And as long as the particulars of childcare and career and flexibility are a gamble for women more than men, more and more of us are going to opt out of this dance.

Despite all the talk of stay-at-home dads and flexible working, the stark reality is parental leave take-up rates among fathers in Ireland have been put as low as 10-20pc. Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty recently said new fathers need to stop making excuses for not taking time off work to spend with their children.

They should, but it's not just about the early months and years.

Yes, today's dads probably do more than their fathers did. They change nappies. People say they are 'great' with the kids. But they zone out when it comes to the drudge work of running house and family, not just the actual physical work of childcare, keeping the fridge full and the beds changed but the heavy - and just as real - mental load of thinking, planning and worrying that never ends too.

The Gender Equality Index 2017 shows that almost 90pc of Irish women engage in unpaid housework and cooking compared to less than 50pc of men, meaning that over 40pc more women than men in Ireland are responsible for household chores. Women still do the majority of the childcare and housework - particularly managing the mental checklists of children's schedules and needs - even when both parents work full time.

At the current rate of change, MenCare, a group that promotes equal involvement in caregiving, estimates that it will be about 75 more years before men start pulling their weight around the house and stop treating the washing-up as an optional extra.

Women hit a glass ceiling because they have a baby. And that glass is even tougher to break through because (most) dads refuse to make any sacrifices.

Splitting parental leave would allow us to fight the discriminatory ideals too many employers have about women not being committed to their careers if they have children.

While it's the employer's responsibility to embrace a better parental leave, making women do all the grunt work at home - whether it's for your dad, boyfriend or husband - is oppressive. It is sexist.

Gender equality begins at home. There shouldn't still be a childcare and housework gap. Unless we can get remove the pressure on women to be mothers, wives, professionals and Betty Draper-style homemakers, we will never be equal.

Thinking you do a lot around the house isn't the same as actually doing a lot around the house.

And doing things around the house doesn't mean you deserve praise. Every revolution has to start somewhere so if you're a man and call yourself a feminist, start doing your fair share.

Irish Independent

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