Do women without children face discrimination in the office?

8 Sep

I’ve been published today by the Sun-Herald, Sydney’s Sunday newspaper on whether women without children face discrimination in the workplace. The piece quotes claims and counterclaims and includes some industry interviews.

But, as an opinion writer, I can’t help but share my opinion on this topic. Call it compulsive narcissism or arrogance but I just have too many things I want to say.

So indulge me…

The very real danger in conversations like this is that it pits woman against women and not women against the system, which is where the focus should be.

Instead, when conversations like this arise, it becomes a point of instant gender comparison. Women without children and women with children will compare themselves against each other and not look more broadly: to compare with everyone, not just themselves.

It is illogical to argue one group of women suffer at the benefit of another. Women with children face real discrimination in the office – pregnancy discrimination, career discrimination. There are statistics and studies to show this. The Sexual Discrimination Commission is currently running an inquiry on the matter. Women without children face equal discrimination in a workforce disposed to trying to predict a woman’s fertility as though it were a ticking time bomb and blocking any chance at flexibility to develop themselves as she may choose.

It is in this fallacy that we miss the point: we’re not discriminated against because we do or don’t have children, we’re discriminated against because we’re women and have the temerity to seek flexibility from a system that is already opposed to our presence.

In a recent interview with ABC Radio, Sexual Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick noted that part-time or workers with families might face resistance and discrimination because they don’t fit what employers expect.

“I think because we’re still really connected to what I call the ideal worker model, and the ideal worker in Australia – and there’s good research on this now – is someone who works 24/7, no visible caring responsibilities, and as a result of that, male.”

This leads to a situation where women are fighting for the same scraps from the table rather than demanding more food. This is critically damaging for women because rather than elevate each other, they are fighting one another or demanding one instead of the other.

This flawed approach was particularly evident with criticism of the election night coverage on the ABC. Of the four person panel, there were three men present and one woman, Annabel Crabb (host of the Drum, Kitchen Cabinet and journalist). Immediately people were annoyed Leigh Sales, host of the 7:30 report, was not present on the panel. How did people respond? By criticising the inclusion of Crabb, denigrating her contribution and skills and demanding she be swapped with Sales.

It reminds me of something Clementine Ford often says in relation to women in the media – the current media landscape has 30% (roughly) female participation and yet so often we expect women to swap out existing female roles rather than effect true change: become truly ambitious and seek to expand to 50% representation rather than squabble over the 30% table scraps offered.

It’s always one or the other, we never dream of both. We need to think bigger.

Women can occupy a greater space than the narrow slice society allots them. To do that, we need greater ambition.

This has critical importance for what has happened in the past 24 hours and can be seen in the disparity between right and left wing discussion. The left has spent endless inches and bytes squabbling with itself, a bunch of angry Cassandras demanding to be heard in their castigation and condemnation. By focusing on the internal haves and have-nots, we let the right take the field and the ball. We lost because we were more obsessed with ourselves than what we had to fight against.

Enough of the hand wringing.

When you fight yourselves, we all lose.

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