Paid maternity leave? It’s not about the money

There’s some shouting going on (and fair enough, too) because Tony Abbott wants “women of calibre” to produce offspring. Apparently we have enough children born of non-calibre women, and now we need more of those educated executive types to reproduce. Ugh.

It wasn’t a great choice of words. However, rather than leap down his throat (much as I’d like to, but I’ve been beaten to the punch), I’d like to look at what his comments say about the perceived barriers that women with careers face when starting a family.

Truth: Abbott has, perhaps accidentally, hit one particularly gnarly nail right on the head. There’s a very real gap between the ambition that we encourage women to pursue (degrees, postgraduate learning, powerful careers) and what they should do with that education once they pop out a sprog (which is nothing, duh! You are a mother now. Go puree something).

Our society urges women to seek powerful, fulfilling careers, but at the same time detifies mothers in a massive way. We want women to be successful, but not at the expense of their children, who they must be neglecting if they admit that they need something other than their offspring in order to feel happy and fulfilled.

So, to encourage career-oriented women to have families (and we need to do this – as well as the aging-population argument, the work-or-motherhood choice is gouging a divide in society), we need to demonstrate that this is something society and their employers want them to do. The solution, according to Abbott, is generous maternity leave that minimises the income loss immediately after the birth of a child.

Close. So close. But no banana.

As someone working in a corporate environment, and who puts a lot of time and energy into her career, I can safely say that I’m not all that worried about where I’ll get the money for the first twenty-six weeks (or even the first twelve months) after having a baby.

No, what I worry about is, how will my career look when I come back?

Having a baby can and should change your life, but corporate workplaces by and large want that change to be as minimal as possible. Our hours are still more or less 9-5, and there’s the expectation that early meetings and late finishes will be easy to accommodate.

We make a big song and dance about “flexible” workplaces and “options” for working mothers, but in practice, this stuff falls down a lot. It all sounds good in theory, but too many women are returning to their workplace after having a baby, only to find themselves pulled in too many different direction – one simply can’t be at home caring for a sick kid and sitting at their workstation at the same time. Many admit defeat and quit to “focus on family” – others are ousted, with their “lack of dedication” cited as the reason.

Men cop it too, I should point out. The stigma attached to working mothers is one thing, but there’s a whole other level reserved for men who want to be hands-on parents and who are then not seen to be “putting in the effort” in the workplace.

26 weeks or even 12 months of paid leave won’t cut it if our society still expects – and demands – that children be parented by a full-time primary caretaker in the home. Parents who work simply can’t fulfil this role. We don’t acknowledge it much in this debate, but a lot of the work during those post-mat-leave, pre-schooling years is done by grandparents – an untenable situation, and one that offers little comfort to those whose parents are unable to shoulder such a burden. (I don’t know a massive number of people with kids, but the vast majority that I’ve spoken to, where both parents work, rely heavily on grandparents to look after small children.) The only other solutions are nannies and childcare, which are increasingly expensive and difficult to find.

Paying women for a brief absence from their workplace isn’t going to help anything if those workplaces aren’t willing to adopt a family-friendly mindset. The few months off are worthless if, upon returning, women are placed on the back-burner, their skills ignored and their input minimised, and their chances for advancement dampened. If we continue to value one-eyed dedication and long desk hours above all else in the workplace, what hope does any parent have?

Abbott’s policy is good on a bunch of levels, but his “women of calibre” comment reveals what he really thinks about the whole situation: that parenting is the work of women, and finding a way to juggle family and career is up to them. It’s not – if we truly want our most highly-educated, career-oriented men and women to consider starting families, there needs to be a change in how workplaces view the dual identity of parent and employee. A few months of maternity leave with decent pay is a nice thing, but it won’t do anything to drive the cultural shift that we need if we want to create families where both parents are fulfilled and happy.

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On shame.

It’s no secret that I’m quite tickled by the Nice Guys of OKCupid tumblr that sprung up in recent weeks. I love the juxtaposition of these so-called “nice guys” and their terrible, terrible worldviews. Having tried out a few dating sites, I’ve come to learn quite a bit about these creatures. They’re convinced that they’re completely perfect, and it’s just the “bitches” who prefer “assholes” who are ruining their chances of getting fruitfully laid. They send creepy, overly personal messages, they don’t take “no” for an answer (no matter how politely it’s delivered) and they are quick to demonise women for the slightest perceived transgression (“2 hrs to reply to a txt? Guess ur not rly srs about me”).

So yeah, I think this kind of guy is a prime douchebag, and I’m happy to laugh at them as they lay upon my tumblr dashboard.

This morning, I found myself in a conversation about the “shaming” of these men. One person said to me, “They’re seeing themselves mocked, don’t understand why and getting even more angry at women.” Another pointed out that the guys’ unedited images are being broadcast, perhaps unfairly (although it’s worth remembering that, contrary to some people’s understanding, OKCupid profiles can be accessed by non-members in their default setting).

What I’ve realized is, I don’t have a particularly large amount of sympathy for these guys, because shaming and harassment is something that I’ve come to expect as a woman, just for the pleasure of stepping foot on the internet.

For years, we’ve watched as the worth of innocent (if naïve) women has been attacked by sites like the now-defunct Is Anyone Up? This site was arguably worse than the likes of Nice Guys of OKC – it broadcast nude images, mostly of women, often submitted without the consent of the person depicted in the picture. Closer to home, the Brocial Network Facebook group encouraged members to share photos of scantily-clad female friends, along with their names and contact details – making them targets for harassment. The #mencallmethings phenomenon made clear just how much abuse women can expect online simply for voicing an opinion.

And I’m supposed to feel sorry for a few idiots who have bad dating profiles?

Most women I know have become hyper-paranoid about what they’ll put online. Less-than-demure photos are out. Sending intimate pictures to a man is something fewer and fewer women are willing to do. The most innocuous tweet can invite a barrage of responses along the lines of “femenazi slut” that we just have to grin and bear. Putting a profile up on a dating site means girding our loins against in the vastly inappropriate messages that inevitably follow.

Of course, this doesn’t happen to the men so much. Men have rarely been surprised to find their naked image being circulated on the web (not least  because most women won’t start that particular fire for fear of their own nude pictures being released). Their consequences for putting themselves out there on the internet haven’t been so severe.

After all, when the Is Anyone Up? controversy was being discussed, people were quick to blame the people in the pictures just as quickly as those who submitted them. Every discussion was tinged with, “Oh, how awful – but if those silly girls just didn’t take the pictures in the first place…”

Men being mocked for their self-pitying victim complexes and crappy beliefs are really more or less in the same boat, although they retain the advantage of not being naked. If you’re not prepared to have someone criticize what you think, say or look like – harshly – don’t put that stuff on the web.

And while we should all be rising above it, and not being mean to anyone else ever, years of being slut-shamed, called a “bitch” for refusing to sleep with a guy and made to feel that being undesirable is the greatest of sins can’t help but take their toll. Nice Guys of OKCupid gives women what they sorely need after years of walking a fine line online: a good laugh.

To the men who have appeared on Nice Guys of OKC, and their sympathisers, I know it’s not nice to be laughed at, mocked or harassed. (Boy, do I know.) But them’s the breaks with the internet. Women have been learning this the hard way for yonks, and now a few guys are getting a tiny, tiny taste. Look on the bright side, Nice Guys – at least your ex didn’t submit your nude pictures without telling you. Or threaten you with rape just for writing an op-ed. Ditch the fedora, rethink your bigotry and stop using the term “friendzone”. There’s hope for you yet. Maybe.

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So. Rape jokes.

I’ve seen a few comedians pull off this seemingly impossible task from time to time. Louis CK has managed it (is there anything he can’t do?). Glenn Wool did it earlier this year at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and he was one of my favourite acts.

However, the vast majority of the time, comedians who attempt humour around this particular topic get it horribly, horribly wrong.

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This is the poster for a now-cancelled event that was due to take place at Station 59. And yes, you’re reading it right: it was going to be called There’s Nothing Funny About Rape: A Comedy Debate, and it was going to feature an all-dude lineup.

Social media existed, people pointed out how FUCKING OFFENSIVE THIS IS, and the event was cancelled.

Hallelujah.

Enter one of the aspiring comedians who was going to be on the bill: Alan Driscoll.

Station 59’s management had posted on their Facebook page about the event’s cancellation, and amongst the clamour, Alan decided to voice his disappointment that the debate was no longer going ahead. You see, he’s different, guys. His rape jokes would have been awesome.

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Yep. They would totally have been awesome. Even though they were being presented by an all-male panel consisting of emerging comedians who put their hand up in order to get a spot on a stage, as opposed to being chosen because they were equipped to argue the topic well. Even though the event was being promoted with a poster that screamed “trivialising rape! Yay!”

Obviously, this whole thing was starting to sound like a recipe for a big ol’ bowl of disaster. Hence the event’s cancellation and the apology from most involved.

Alan, however, doesn’t feel the need to apologise. His rape comedy would have been a “powerful healing thing”:

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In truth, I’ve not seen Alan’s comedy. However, the only comedians I’ve seen who have included actually funny material about rape in their routines have been remarkably skilled, nuanced and so empathetic. I have a hard time believing that a dude who won’t even say “sorry, the event I agreed to appear in was, in retrospect, not the best idea” will be fitting into that category anytime soon.

I’m not writing this blog post just to rip into Alan. It may have started out that way, but that’s not what I actually want to do here. I’ve engaged with him a fair bit in the relevant thread and I’m not sure we’re getting anywhere (last I checked, he was off to do his laundry and urged those trying to engage with him to “have fun with [their] LOLcats” – he got really riled up about the term “mainsplaining” for some reason, and now he hates memes). But for anyone else who may pass this way, particularly if they’re a comedic hopeful who thinks they could pull off a rape joke, the rest of this post is for you.

I can’t speak for everyone, and certainly not every woman. But here’s why rape jokes are problematic for me.

Rape is terrifying in its uniqueness. It’s most often committed by those closest to the victims, who hold a position of trust. It’s a terrifying abuse of power. It’s a reduction of the victim to their most dehumanised self. Think about it – our bodies are supposed to be completely ours. They are the one thing that we bring into the world with us. We are supposed to be able to decide how and when we use them – and rapists take that away. It is violent. It violates. To have your body abused inside itself – can you imagine it? Can you?

Basically, there’s a reason that it makes so many of us feel squicky.

Furthermore, we live in a culture where what rape is still seems to be up for debate. Everything from “legitimate rape” to the fact that a disturbing proportion of men will admit to rape (as long as you don’t call it that) supports this. We live in a culture that blames the victim. We live in a culture where, if you get raped, it was probably, sort of, mostly your fault. We live in a culture where victims believe this.

To top it all off, we live in a culture where women are at higher risk of rape than men. We live in a culture where access to a woman’s vagina is likened to her leaving the keys in her car.

We live in a culture where many women – too many – must constantly fear Schrodinger’s rapist. We live in a culture where too many women met Schrodinger’s rapist. We live in a culture where far, far too many women have been abused, and hurt, and then told that if they just hadn’t worn that skirt, or sent those mixed messages, or, or, or…

So, comedians: you seriously want to joke about that? You seriously have a special insight into how it might feel to have your body violated? You seriously think you have something really fucking special to say about how it feels when someone in whom you’ve placed the ultimate trust abuses it?

You seriously think that, given the prevalence of rape in our society, your joke isn’t going to add to the trauma of audience members who came to see you in the hopes of enjoying a goddamn laugh?

You seriously think you can make rape funny in a way that is empathetic, respectful and won’t traumatise or shame victims of this hideous crime?

You seriously think you’re as good as Louis CK?

Ah.

I didn’t think so.

Stick to fart jokes.

P.S. I would like to big-up Rob Caruana, the maker of the poster that started this whole thing. He posted a pretty amazing apology that showed that he’d listened to what people had to say about the event and had taken it on board. This is progress, folks. Listening to each other, accepting apologies when they are made and helping everyone understand the points of view of others – this is good stuff.

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P.P.S. I’ve seen some pretty interesting stuff written about me (and to me) in the last few days, and if anyone comes across this post from here on out, maybe just note the following:

  • I am well aware that women are not the only victims of sexual assault, and my heart goes out to the many men who have undergone this horrible experience. I simply said in my post that most victims of rape are women (a statistically true statement) and I drew attention to certain aspects of rape and rape culture, such as Schrodinger’s rapist, that have a greater impact on women. When I wrote the paragraph about rape being terrifying in its uniqueness, I deliberately avoided mentioning women versus men because I am all too aware that people from both genders can be affected.
  • No, I do not think I should get to “decide” what is “funny”. But I do see a disproportionately high amount of comedy, and I have seen a lot of comedians tackle controversial topics and promptly fail, because they are too caught up in the “I can say whatever I like on stage” mentality and haven’t thought through exactly how troubling the subject might be. This post was meant to try and get aspiring comics thinking about that a little more carefully. If you do, and your joke is still funny, GO NUTS. Please. I could use a laugh.
  • I am not affiliated with the management at Station 59 and had no hand in the debate’s cancellation. I am glad it was cancelled because it didn’t look like it was being well thought through, as evidenced by the all-male lineup and troubling poster. That’s not to say that debates of this nature should never, ever happen again or some shit. I am not against free speech.
  • I am also not okay with people calling up Station 59’s management and abusing them or making threats. A mistake was made, an event was cancelled, and as far as Station 59 goes, let’s move on. As far as rape and comedy go, debate is a good, healthy thing. But the manager of Station 59 doesn’t need to hear any more about it, okay? It’s a beautiful day outside. Go have some fun.
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Whiteness and Privilege, or maybe Girls is actually the worst and that’s the whole point of it

I really like Girls, but I’ve struggled to reconcile my enjoyment of the show with the debate that’s raged about its whiteness. On one hand, I can definitely understand why people are frustrated that a show set in one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in the world features four white girls who appear to have only white friends. On the other hand, I can’t help thinking that if any four women on earth would have only white friends, it would totally be Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna.

Do we need better representations of people (and especially women) of colour on our predominantly white screens? Yes. Would Girls be a better show if it had better characters of colour on it? On that count, I’m not so sure.

This is not me trying to be super-racist. Really. I promise, it’s not. Instead, I want to make the argument that the four characters on Girls, in all their whiteness, are about as real as it comes, and that fucked-up aspect of the show is possibly its most compelling. Hear me out.

Hannah and her gang are playing at worldliness, but the fingerprints of their privileged upper-middle-class upbringings are everywhere in their lives. I’m willing to bet that all four of them grew up in nice, predominantly white suburbs full of families just like theirs. They went to school and college and despite the diversity of those environments, gravitated towards people just like them. And now, even though they’re out in the “real world” of New York, they’re operating socially much as they always have. Colour is “other” to them, and they’re not yet mature enough to be better people about it.

For these four characters, the whiteness of their world makes sense. They’re a televisual representation of whitewhine.com.

Contrasting the world of Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna with the much more powerful struggles of America’s black and Latina women would immediately show the four heroines up for the inane, spoiled half-children that they are. That would have been a disaster. The secret of Girls’ success is that it actually took us a little while to cotton on to just how silly these characters could actually be. For the first few episodes, we were plagued by doubt: Hannah seems like a vain idiot, but could she actually be a genius writer? Is Jessa’s boho shtick stupid, or is she actually the wisest of us all?

We discussed these characters passionately, and kept asking why there were so few people of colour on the show. In doing so, we possibly missed the point: that these characters are so privileged, so cushioned, so damn white, that they wouldn’t even know how to relate to anyone of a different background to their own.

What Girls gives us are four young women who have no idea how good they’ve got it. Hannah can’t find a job, but her parents will never truly let her fall flat on her face – they love her, they have means and if push really comes to homeless, moneyless shove, they’ll come to her aid. Marnie’s life has worked out so well – perfect job, perfect boyfriend, perfect clothes and parents who still pay her smartphone bill – that she had to make herself dissatisfied with the boyfriend just for something to do. Jessa is so far up her own ass that she makes wild statements about wanting to have babies with lots of different men of different races, but marries the world’s most Anglo yuppie at the drop of a hat. And Shoshanna (oh, Shosh!) has a parentally-funded princess apartment in a ridiculously nice part of town… and seems to spend all her time in it, watching Sex and the City.

And consider this: Girls doesn’t celebrate its characters the way that the aforementioned SATC relentlessly did. There’s no sense in this show that the four characters are winning at life on any grander scale, and instead, they leave the audience wondering when the fuck they are just going to get it together and act like real people already. This is why Hannah being “a voice of a generation” is such a great joke. With all her hang-ups and neuroticism, she’s barely able to speak for herself, let alone anyone else.

She may be doing it unconsciously, but I think that with Girls, Lena Dunham is actually making a pretty interesting statement about what we expect from TV. We want Girls to show better characters of colour because we know just how rare it is to see such characters on our screens, and Lena Dunham seems like a pretty good sort and how could she have dropped the ball this badly?

What we’re missing is that these characters are white, and only have white friends, because that is all too often the case with people who have nice, white, suburban upbringings. I don’t know Lena Dunham and I can’t speak to her motivations for creating the characters that she has, but as someone who has spent a lot of time in privileged, predominantly white environments, these characters feel real to me. (Crap, but real.) They may be living in New York, but they’re clinging to each other. They’re not very good at branching out into the world and relating to people who aren’t just like them (and that includes Jessa, for all her big talk).

We’re so impressed with this show, and with Dunham, that we wish that impediments to us liking the show even more would be removed. We see shreds of ourselves in these characters and we want the show to accordingly tell the stories of our lives, and when we see a big discrepancy, such as the absence of people of colour, we start getting pissed off. But maybe we’re not supposed to like these characters, or their world, or their values. Maybe Girls is actually about four people who really are just that shit.

Making Hannah and her gang less shit would make Girls a different show entirely. That would probably be a good show, and I would probably watch it. But it wouldn’t be Girls, because Girls is about four very fortunate women who think they’re part of the world but haven’t even started. Perhaps we’ll see these four women develop from their current, very blinkered standpoint into people who actually know and understand a broader range of people. All we know for sure right now, though, is that the foursome isn’t there yet.

We want to see more people of colour on Girls because we want to like these four characters and be on their side, but maybe that’s not what’s supposed to happen here. The very thing that we want to see in it is the very thing that would undermine why these characters are compelling, if problematic. I still like it, but I won’t make the mistake of thinking that Girls is supposed to be the show of our generation. It’s not. Girls is good art about shit people.

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How many metres can I walk on my own at night?

I am desperately saddened by the latest news about Jill Meagher. Mixed in with my sorrow for this poor young woman and her family is fury. I’m angry about the condescending crap spouted by so many people over the last few days about “women’s safety.” This is my response.

So tell me. How far can I walk on my own at night? How many metres, exactly, can I walk unaccompanied without having to fear for my life?

How many drinks am I, an adult woman, allowed to have after work on Friday night before being dismissed as a “party girl” or “asking for it”? How high can my heels be, and how short a skirt can I wear, before being implicated in any crime against me? And, just so that I’m clear, how many metres can I walk to get myself home?

And if something happened to me, how harshly would I be judged? If I vanished on that walk to my front door, what would you have to say about me? Would I be tut-tutted at for not accepting the offer of an escort home? Would idiots take to Facebook to admonish me for supposedly leading some guy on?

Would do-gooders and commentators and Twitterati-types take my parents to task for not raising me to act sensibly? Would they lambast my friends and lovers for not taking adequate care of me? Would everyone in my life suffer because I exceeded my allocated metres of solo walking?

Would every media outlet in the country view my disappearance as an opportunity to point out that, as it happens, women have more to fear in our world than men?

Would you, quietly, at the back of your mind, think that if I’d just stayed home with my partner, like a good wife and woman, none of this would have happened to me?

Are you just looking for one big, smug fucking excuse to say that you told me so?

And just so that we’re absolutely fucking clear, how many metres am I allowed to walk on my own at night?

A small addendum (added 30 September 2012):

Thanks to all who have read, commented and responded. Just to clarify, I am not advocating that anyone put their personal safety at risk for the sake of “principle” – rather, I wrote this post in response to the armchair criticism that certain people made in relation to Jill Meagher’s decisions on the night of her abduction. I wrote a short piece on my Tumblr explaining this further – please read it here if you’d like.

Also, I will not be approving any comments that refer specifically to, or speculate on, the motives of the accused in this case. The Victorian Police have called for restraint on social media in relation to this, and I wish to support them in this.

Addendum to the addendum (added 30 September 2012):

Erm, I also will not be approving comments that contain rape jokes.

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Everything that is wrong with everything. Ever.

I check Twitter before I even get out of bed in the morning. It’s an excellent way to start my day off angry about things.

This morning, the intimidatingly intelligent Dr Jennifer Wilson (@noplaceforsheep) tweeted a link to a blog post she’d written, titled Tankard Reist, motherhood and men. In the post, she takes condescending academic Dr Caroline Nora to task for her recent piece, published on Tankard Reist’s website, that basically deifies mothers and denigrates all men, everywhere. There’s no point in me even trying to out-awesome Dr Wilson, so allow me to quote her summary of Dr Nora’s argument:

“If you are a woman and you have a child you have much to teach everyone, just because you have a child. If you’re  man with a child, shut up and learn from a decent woman. Your life isn’t decent and never will be  ’cos penis.”

Dr Nora’s post is annoying enough with its holier-than-thou-especially-if-thou-is-a-dude attitude, but it’s one of the comments that really got me.

Folks, meet Chris. She has, shall we say, a few feelpinions to share.

Aargh

To me, this comment is everything that is wrong with everything ever. Chris (and your ilk – I know there are more of you), I put to you the following five points:

1. One’s own experience of something doesn’t make them an immediate expert on the entire spectrum of that thing. It’d be like someone saying, “I held down a job once, which I think immediately qualifies me to speak on all employment and HR issues, including but not limited to union law and workplace disability management.” You can have whatever opinions you like, lady, but you’re not qualified to speak for shit.

2. Nobody is looking to silence you. The fact that you have access to a keyboard and the interwebs is a clear indicator of this. People who are actually silenced by those in power tend not to have these things, so stop acting as if your right to free speech is being attacked here.

3. A lack of academic qualifications is unimportant in and of itself, but it doesn’t mean that your child-rearing routine makes you more inherently knowledgeable on anything except your own child-rearing routine. The pursuit of knowledge and the study of practices outside one’s own immediate experience is how we advance as a society. Navel-gazing and a knee-jerk “I’m right, you’re wrong, YOU’RE ALL WRONG” attitude is how we regress.

4. Your post speaks of “the day to day acts of love that women who are mothers perform daily”, as well as “women who care for children.” Fathers, the poor bastards, don’t crack a mention. I feel sorry for any man involved in raising a child alongside a woman who believes herself to be the better parent simply on account of having a particular set of genitals.

5. I know that in Silent Hill, Crazy Laurie Holden’s character says, “Mother is God in the eyes of a child,” but your own child-rearing practises do not actually render you all-seeing and all-knowing when it comes to society in its entirety. Please do not pretend otherwise.

Posts like Dr Nora’s, and responses like Chris’s, are not feminism. They are not progressive. They are sanctimonious and self-indulgent, and they denigrate not only men, but women who don’t (or choose not to) fit within the mummy-worshipping culture. There can be little wonder that both modern women and men are shying away from the “feminist” tag when this sexist, nasty and self-important drivel is still laying claim to it.

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What would a genuinely flexible workplace look like?

I’ve been following the debate around Australia’s “insecure work” problem with some interest. As someone who’s been a casual, a freelancer, a short-term contracted employee and, rarely, a full-time permanent member of staff, I’ve heard a lot of justification for new employment practices, namely centred around flexibility.

What does that word really mean? I see a lot of advertisements for roles that offer “flexibility”, but I’m yet to encounter one that actually reflects what I would assume would be offered under such a banner. To my mind, flexibility means a give-and-take relationship – employees sacrifice certain conditions in order to structure their work life in a way that suits them better.

Wait, what am I talking about? That never happens.

Instead, what I’ve seen in the professional world is a version of “flexibility” where employers get to say, “You can rock up at 9:15 after doing the dreaded school run, but you’d better not think of going home until after 7pm.” Or, “You can have a day off to attend a seminar that is relevant to your non-work interests, but it’ll come out of your leave. And you can’t make up the extra hours over the other four days a week – our working day is 9-5.”

The message is clear: “flexible” workplace or not, if you’re not in the office, at your desk and very, very far away from family, friends and anything else that matters to you, you’re not working.

It would almost be understandable if clear demarcations between “work time” and “not work time” existed, but for many of us, there’s no such thing as true time off any more. We’re connected to the workplace constantly, with work emails forwarded to our smartphones and web logins to major systems from home. We no longer have to physically be in the office to feel like we’re on the job.

So why does this obsession that time at desks equals time worked persist? I find it difficult to understand the correlation, and to me, it’s the biggest barrier to true employment flexibility – particularly in the realm of professional employment where the relationship between the office and work being done doesn’t need to be so clearly defined. We’re treating the COO of Facebook as a flexible work icon for leaving the office at 5:30pm to eat dinner with her children, even though she comes in early and will work from home for a few more hours once the kids have gone to bed. With the technology that working professionals have at their disposal, why on earth isn’t her situation the norm?

Similarly, I was fascinated recently to see a role that was being offered as a 0.8 FTE (salary pro-rated) but that “full-time applicants will also be considered.” The role wasn’t customer-facing – it involved a lot of strategy development and judging by the job description, it could be fitted into four days or performed over five, depending on the working style of the person who got it. Why would one option result in earning less money than another, if the same results were produced?

So, with all that in mind, here’s how I think the roles of the future should be structured:

  • Clear key performance indicators and expected deliverables, so that potential employees know what they’ll be contributing to the company
  • Minimum stated “desk time” to allow employees and the boss to build a relationship as a team, as well as specifying any “on call” expectations (e.g. being available in the case of sudden problems)
  • Set remuneration for the work done, regardless of how many hours they employee actually requires to do it to standard.

The rest would be up to the employee, who is then free to structure their life in a way that allows them to do the job best.

Think of the possibilities! The couple with young children could structure their working week to give each other uninterrupted time in the office and a more equal distribution of home duties. Artists and entrepreneurs working on projects and business ventures could skip the menial jobs and apply their talents to a workplace for a few days each week while earning a decent salary, leaving them with a couple of days free to focus on their other ventures.

People with career- or community-minded interests would have greater options in terms of further study or volunteering. And me? I could do my work when I’m at my most productive (mid-morning to mid-afternoon and late evening), rather than lying awake every night, desperately trying to get some sleep before a 9am workday start but unable to still the ideas rushing around my brain (which, for unknown reasons, only kick in around 11pm).

I’m not trying to denigrate the employment standards that the union movement fought so hard for – in fact, in a lot of industries it should be applied more rigorously. In the professional realm, though, countless talented people are being lost because the employer expectations of what the workday should look like (several hours at a desk in one location) doesn’t fit with the employee’s other life commitments (kids, side projects and community work).

If Australia is serious about workplace flexibility, personal productivity and a culture of professional excellence, we need to unchain people from their desks and start paying people for what they contribute to their workplace, regardless of when and from where they do the job.

Posted in Hey, that IS what she said, Uncategorized | 1 Comment