I left you last week as I went off to have a word with my boys about good manners – and their continuing importance in the business world.
Should I, instead, have been warning Dan and Rory that they might one day face the male equivalent of being ‘mommy tracked?’ That their careers – whatever they may be – will suddenly stall because they’ve decided to take their full year’s entitlement of paternity leave?
After all, paid maternity leave in Sweden is 480 days – which can be shared between the parents. All the indications are that other countries will move to extend paternity leave – and surely modern, caring men will increasingly take up that new entitlement over the next 20 to 30 years?
So should I have accepted the new reality, and instead had a conversation about the possibility of the boys ‘having it all?’ A career, a family and a great personal relationship?
It’s never even crossed my mind to have that conversation with my sons. I very strongly suspect that the same holds true for all my friends with boys the same age as Dan (13) and Rory (10).
But – on a day when the World Economic Forum has said that it will take another 118 years to close the gender pay gap – is that right?
Are we still sending our sons out into the world with the expectation that they’ll have a career stretching from graduation to retirement? And – consciously or unconsciously – sending our daughters into the workplace with a subtle suggestion of ‘not long now and you’ll be having a career break?’
The phrase ‘having it all’ is generally credited to Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmopolitan and the creator of the ‘Cosmo brand’ as we recognise it today. Her message – revolutionary at a time when a single woman couldn’t get a mortgage – was that women could ‘have it all:’ a family, a career – and a great sex life as well.
Helen Gurley Brown died in August 2012. It’s debatable whether women were ‘having it all’ by the time she died and very little has changed in the three years since. What I can say is that some of the best, brightest and most innovative entrepreneurs I work with are women: equally I can say that the anecdotal evidence very firmly points to ‘mommy tracking’ being alive and well in a company near you.
Is that why more and more women are starting their own companies?
My guess is that it’s a combination of that, and work/life balance. Some companies do a great job of offering flexible working: but far too many pay lip-service in theory and ignore it in practice.
So maybe the change needs to start not with the HR departments of large corporations but with our generation of parents. Maybe it’s up to me to let Dan and Rory see that one day they’re going to have to juggle work and family. Hopefully now they’re aware of what I do, but maybe I need to get across a very clear message. The main reason I left the corporate world and started TAB York was simple: “I wanted to spend more time with you guys. I didn’t want to miss you growing up.”
Over their working lives my sons are going to face some remarkable challenges. The pace of change is going to be astonishing: the idea that they’ll have a ‘job for life’ is fast disappearing. But they’re also going to face the challenge of bringing up children and maintaining a relationship: I’m acutely conscious that what I say and do now is going to have a big bearing on how successful they’ll be.