Tag Archives: Work-life balance

Educating Rosie

Head on over to Giovanni’s place, and check out his fascinating post that starts with Rosie the Riveter, and ends up with… well, that would be ruining the punchline, wouldn’t it. Just go read it.

Educating Rosie, at Bat, Bean, Beam – a weblog on memory and technology

Tell me something I didn’t know already

It turns out that getting good quality childcare is critical in allowing mothers to work. This time, policy makers might just get around to believing it; the claim is based on a paper prepared by the Australian Treasury.

Childcare key to mums returning to work

Well, that’s a no-brainer result. It seems perfectly consistent with my own experience, and with the reported experience of women in my family, and my friends.

It’s not just childcare for littlies that matters either. Good school holiday care makes a big difference to me. As you may know, I do adjunct work at local universities (just take all the problems associated with adjunct work as read – I find it too exhausting to think about the difficulties). One of the big problems for me is school holiday care. I need to make special arrangements with my partner, my friends, my mother (bless her!) to cover the two or three hours here or there that comprise my teaching work. Not enough work to justify the expense and hassle of taking the children to a whole day school holiday programme, but far too long to leave them kicking their heels outside the classroom door, or in the classroom reading a book. I’ve yet to find a university that provides school holiday care for permanent staff, let alone adjunct staff, despite all their fine words about gender equity and work life balance and being an employer of choice for women.

Yes, yes, I have my grump on. I’ve just been running up against the gap between ideals and reality in the last week or so.

You can download the Treasury article from here.

The New Zealand Working Women’s Charter – A Celebration

This is the charter that was adopted by the New Zealand Federation of Labour in 1980.

1. The right to work for everyone who wishes to do so.
2. The elimination of all discrimination on the basis of sex, race, marital or parental status, sexuality or age.
3. Equal pay for work of equal value – meaning the same total wage plus other benefits.
4. Equal opportunity of entry into occupations and of promotion regardless of sex, sexuality, marital or parental status, race or age.
5. Equal education opportunities for all.
6. (a) Union meetings to be held in working hours
(b) Special trade union education courses for women unionists to be held with paid time off for participants
7. Equal access to vocational guidance and training, including on the job training, study and conference leave.
8. Introduction of a shorter working week with no loss of pay, flexible working hours, part-time opportunities, for all workers.
9. Improved working conditions for women and men. The retention of beneficial provision which apply to women. Other benefits to apply equally to men and women.
10. Removal of legal, bureaucratic and other impediments to equality in superannuation, social security benefits, credit, finance, taxation, tenancies, and other related matters.
11. Special attention to the needs and requirements of women from ethnic communities as they see them.
12. Wide availability of quality child care with Government and/or community support for all those who need it, on a 24-hour basis, including after school and school holiday care.
13. Introduction of adequate paid parental leave (maternity and paternity leave) without loss of job security, superannuation or promotion prospects.
14. Availability of paid family leave to enable time off to be taken in family emergencies, e.g. when children or elderly relatives are ill.
15. Sex education and birth control advice freely available to all people. Legal, financial, social and medical impediments to safe abortion, contraception and sterilisation to be removed.
16. Comprehensive government funded research into health questions specific to women.

Reading through the list, it’s impressive that so many of these ideals have been realised, at least formally, in New Zealand law and employment practice. But at the same time, it’s a little shattering to realise that in some ways we are still fighting the same battles that women were fighting thirty years ago. Take a look at item 16: we still have medical barriers to abortion, imposed by individual doctors, and by the requirement for women to get two doctors to give consent to abortion. The formal barriers there have not yet been removed. Or look at item 10. Although the legal impediments to equality in superannuation have been removed, the patterns of working women’s lives, with many years taken out for child bearing and child rearing, and more taken out in order to care for other family members, all of it unrecognised as work of value, means that women have less opportunity to save for their old age, and older women figure disproportionally in poverty statistics.

For all that, what a long way we have come. My daughters will grow up with so much more freedom, so many more real choices, because of the work that was done by people like Sonja Davies and Margaret Wilson and Liane Dalziel and Anne Else and Dale Williams. For the story behind the charter, and an account of what conditions were like for women in the years leading up to its adoption, read this piece by Sue Kedgley, The Working Women’s Charter, from a feminist perspective.

The Labour History Project is running a seminar to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Working Women’s Charter, Working Women: Learning from the Past Looking to the Future, on the 1st of May, May Day, in Wellington. You can download the registration form: PDF (2.1mb) here.


Snippet 1
My dad sent me a link to a radio program on pay equity (first link on this page), also linked from The Hand Mirror. Thank you, Father Strange Land.

Snippet 2
On Monday, local paper The Advertiser ran a story about diet pills creating cardiac risks, right above an invitation to join the 10-tonne challenge. All the usual imagery and tropes apply.


You will notice it is just women who bear the risk, according to the ’tiser, though the press release about the study made no such comment, and the research paper doesn’t single out women either. In fact the research paper only mentions women, and men, in the context of stating how many women and men use diet pills.


PDF of study – 346 KB


Snippet 3
I have finished all my marking, for the time being.

Snippet 4
Our dishwasher has broken down, irreparably. We have been dishwasherless for about a week now, and this sad state of affairs is set to continue until Saturday. The experience has reminded us that dishwashers are indeed labour-saving devices.

Work-life balance; we’re doing it wrong

Professor Barbara Pocock, of the Centre for Work and Life at the University of South Australia, thinks that we shouldn’t be talking about work-life balance at all. We should call it work-life interference, and try to measure how much work interferes with our life.

Professor Pocock leads a research team that conducts an annual survey relating to work-life in Australia. The survey has been running for three years now, so she and her team are starting to be able to pick out some trends. The most recent survey shows that part time work is no magic solution to the work-life balance struggle.

Professor Pocock, director of the Centre for Work and Life at the University of South Australia, told The Weekend Australian full-time working women should not kid themselves that going part-time would solve their problems.

“A third of full-time working women overall, 40 per cent of mothers and 25per cent of women without children, say they would rather work part-time,” she said.

“But this study suggests a lot of women will be disappointed by the amount of emotional relief they get by going part-time. On average, it will be better, but it is certainly not as big a change as you might expect.

“Everyone thinks those two free days mean you can run a house without help. So women tend not to purchase substitutes for their own time — they are much less likely to use a cleaner. But on the other side of that is a workplace that is often asking you to work from home or be available on those days off.”

I was deeply relieved to hear that. My own experience, having worked both official part time hours, and as a casual, is that the juggle gets no better. If I am working part time, then the amount I do at home and in the community simply increases, and my overall commitments don’t decrease. I could forego the community work, but I don’t do a lot of that anyway, and for the most part it’s centred around my children’s school, which relies heavily on volunteer parents (mostly mums, but quite a few dads too). Other parents at my daughters’ school say the same; if they do less paid work, then they simply end up doing more housework. Of course, data is not the plural of anecdote, and until now, my evidence has been only at the level of anecdote. So it’s rather nice to have my suspicion that part time work is a crock confirmed.

But it part time workers are unhappy with their work-life balance, full time workers are even less satisfied, especially mothers. Here Professor Pocock has some interesting data. Overall, about two-thirds to three-quarters of workers are satisfied with their work-life balance. However, over the three years that the study has been running, men’s satisfaction with work-life balance has remained about the same, but women’s has decreased (p.25 of full report). Professor Pocock speculates that this may have something to do with the economic downturn. The survey was conducted in March 2009, when the downturn was still very much heading down. Elsewhere, we’ve seen that although more men are losing jobs, creating the so-called “man-cession” (like, d’oh, go get a job in the caring sector, where lots of women have retained their jobs), women have remained responsible for the daily balancing of household budgets (Time article, UK Government Equalities Office report PDF – 528kb), creating extra stress for them, and perhaps adding to the daily struggle to balance work and life.

It does seem that a bit of flexibility is part of the answer; employees who asked for and were granted flexibiltiy in thier work arrangements reported much less work-life “interference” (Professor Pocock’s term – more on that below). Unsurprisingly, employees who were not granted flexibility remained unhappy, but so too did employees who were granted only a bit of flexibility, not all the flexibility they had asked for (p. 67 of the full report). It’s an all or nothing deal. Professor Pocock suggests that this means that legislation needs to do more than allow employees to ask for flexibility. It needs to put some onus on the employer to grant it if at all possible.

There’s lots of fascinating data in the report. It’s all available on-line, along with several press releases, from the Centre for Work and Life’s homepage.

But… work-life “interference.” I can see why Professor Pocock uses this term; a lot of the work is based around asking respondents to what extent they feel that their work interferes with their life. I’m not so keen on that, because no matter what, if you and the kids are to be fed and clothed and educated and housed and kept healthy and tended when unwell, then someone’s got to work, either running a business or as an employee, or at the most basic level, growing food and making shelters and clothes. Irrevocably, work is part of life, and one way or another, we have to find a way to juggle work commitments with family and life commitments. I prefer to see it as a juggle. That to me captures the sense that work is part of what we do, not something that interferes with what we do. It’s one of the many things we need to manage. “Juggle” also captures the sense that if just one thing goes wrong, a slight mishandling, a ball that’s a bit too heavy or fraction larger than the others, then unless we are very, very skilled, or very highly resourced (family and friends nearby to help, sympathetic employer, plenty of money to buy your way out of trouble), or just plain lucky, then it will all come crashing down.

But that’s a mere quibble. This is a fascinating project, and it will be interesting to see what comes out of it in future years.

Cross posted

Update: Per the comment from TheDeviantE, I have edited the post by replacing the word “gyp” with “crock.”