I was recently stuck at home with a sick baby, trying to make everything in my life work. I was doing some ironing and feeling guilty that I wasn’t at work. I skimmed through Netflix and was in an 'easy watching daggy 80's classic mood' and came across 1987’s Baby Boom.
For anyone unfamiliar with the general premise Dianne Keaton plays J.C. Wiatt successful New York business woman who inherits a long distant relative’s baby and suddenly becomes a working mother. Now if you can get over the fact that the executor just hands over a baby at an airport and enjoy the movie for what it is, it’s quite enjoyable. But as I’ve reflected on the outcome of the movie I’ve become increasingly annoyed.
At the beginning of the movie the narrator tells us that "the working woman is a phenomenon of our time." But it’s been 30 years since this movie was released. I was three years old in 1987!
When I look around at the other women I see – strong, educated, professional women – when it comes to re-entering the workforce once kids are involved I'm not convinced that a whole lot has changed.
The Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency tells us that women make up 46.9% of all employed persons in Australia. Women are over-represented in the part-time workforce making up 68% of all part-time workers. For those who do manage to work full time their average weekly earnings are 15.3% less than men (remember that is just those working full time). That's not an improved figure by the way - it's hovered around that for the past 20 years, in my home state it is worse than the 1997 national average at 22.9%. Career gaps and underemployment not only flow to superannuation savings, but also seriously slow upward progression.
Consider that women in Australia now outstrip the number of men with bachelor degrees in the age group 20-29 years and postgraduate level education at all ages. Women are as educated as men and make up almost half of employed people. So why are there so many herba-life, doterra, jewellery and skin care regime evangelists hitting me up in my social media accounts to join their pyramid schemes? Baby Boom offers some insights that I think are as true today as when it was released three decades ago.
The protagonist (shoulder-pad loving queen that she is) tries to make it work. She hires a nanny. She gets let down. She juggles a sick baby, deadlines and Montessori flashcards; all while trying to keep vomit off her power suit. Her colleagues take the opportunity to pounce and she is overlooked for the promotion. She reaches the end of her rope, buys an acreage and (after a series of unfortunate events) applies her stealthy business acumen to create a thriving baby food apple sauce business. She eventually turns down a multi-million dollar takeover bid to spend more time with her daughter.
Don’t get me wrong – I am paid well for the job that I do. I have had opportunities that many don’t. I was able to be home with my bub for twelve glorious months and my workplace has been flexible and generous in providing me a return to work option that I am able to juggle. But much like J.C. Wiatt, I’m not back in the role that I left when I went on parental leave. I'm in a slightly lower role.
It has actually been a blessing in disguise. I would have been seriously conflicted between my sense of responsibility to my family and to my employer. However, it wasn't my choice to not go back to the role I'd done for almost two years prior. I don't even think there was a conscious bias at play. I'm in my early (ahem-mid) thirties and far too many of my friends have experienced the same. Professional women who have spent years building a career only to hear:
"You're still young." "When your kids bigger you can get back to your career." "Do you really want to spend all of your time away from your baby?" "Your priorities will change - you'll walk out of here and not look back." ...and my all time favourite - "Your time will come."
I kind of agree. My career is taking a backwards step. My priorities are different - maybe they were wrong in the first place. But don't men have children too? I mean I'm sure that's what I signed up for. There are also awesome Dads out there including my own husband who are doing more than their fair share too. They don't seem to encounter this issue.
Now I don't know what to do about this problem. I get that the gender pay and progression gap is a wicked problem to solve and that part of the issue is that men and women are actually biologically different. I understand that now better than ever before. We have the babies and we want (nay neeeedd) to be there to nurture them. At the moment I'm just learning to accept it, treat it as a life lesson and get on with life enjoying the now more balanced time I have both at work and home.
A colleague recently shared with me an anecdote that has really stuck with me. She said that if you got hit by a bus tomorrow everyone would be shocked. The first question people would ask is "what happened?!" Your colleagues would be sad. Very sad even. They'd send flowers and attend the funeral. But very soon after, the second question they would ask is "how are we going to fill her role?" Your family won't ever fill your role. They would grieve you for the rest of their days.
The life Diane Keaton's character ends up creating for herself rings more true today than it might have in the 80s. Social platforms are the new corner store and the new place for women to do what we've done since the 50s; figure out just what the heck we need to do in order to spend as much time with our babies as we can while also being financially responsible. For me that has meant sucking it up and going back to work part time (writing makes me no money btw but the creative outlet for my rants is priceless).
Whatever it is for you - handmade soy candle empire builder; lady start up etsy baby bow peddler; capsule wearing insta collab boss - I bow down to you all - even you Doterra divas (Praise Be). May you all have your J.C. Wiatt mic drop moment.
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