Women and Leadership: It’s About Choice

By Naomi Simson, EO Sydney member and founder of Red Balloon

I have been speaking about the lack of women in leadership for years. Every International Women’s day, the statistics are published, articles are written, and nothing happens. I am very grateful that Sheryl Sandberg is leading a strong media campaign and putting together a ‘movement.’ It has been a long time since we have seen the women’s agenda on the front page of Time Magazine.

This is a community issue. Many men I speak to are equally frustrated with the cost of childcare, and that their partners are putting their career on hold. The fact is that the majority of Australian women will retire with less than $8000 in their superannuation. Financial freedom gives people choices. Having gone through a divorce two years ago I can attest that “a husband’ is not a woman’s financial plan”.

Recently I received a ‘letter to the editor’ in response to my article in The Australian: Role models key to end gender imbalance.

Goals for Women  

IF Naomi Simson‘s goal is to get more women on boards, she should start by not denigrating the role of parenting. The women’s movement has failed in what should have been a prime goal — to recognise and elevate the role of caring — whether it is for young children, the disabled, or the aged. We have a highly feminised carer workforce languishing at the bottom of the pay scale, and capable women facing difficulties returning to the workforce after having ‘wasted’ years bringing up children.

Instead of supporting these women, high profile businesswomen such as Simson compound the problems by categorising the role of parents and carers as something that fails to contribute to society. I can’t think of a better way to contribute to society than raising healthy and confident children. I can’t think of a better way to hone organisational skills, to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and to learn patience and levelheadedness. It is time that powerful women took the lead in elevating the role of parenting, and promoting it as an asset rather than a hindrance to a career.

Brigitte Dwyer, Sandgate, Qld

I was glad to hear from Brigitte because her letter highlights the emotions around the issue of gender and women’s role in the workplace. I do not denigrate the role of parenting – in fact to the contrary, I was the one that gave up my corporate career to be with my children (and I started my business from home so I had the ultimate flexibility).

Nor have I ever said parents or carers fail to contribute to society – quite frankly our society could not function if people did not choose this role as there are not enough options for childcare. Parenting and teaching are one of the greatest contributions we can make, and I concur with Brigitte that the pay scales are not commensurate with the important role all carers play. What my article in The Australian highlighted was how hard it can be for women to contribute back to society through the workplace once they have had children.

The point I make is all about choices. The reality is – currently – after the birth of a second child it becomes even more difficult for parents to manage the expense of childcare and maintain a career. Not everyone has the financial freedom to choose not to take paid work once they become a parent. And while parenting teaches you so many valuable lessons about yourself and your organizational skills, it may not give you the outlet to practice the vital medical skills you studied long and hard for when you specialized in oncology because that is a passion you hold outside of your role as a parent. That is the point: many parents want the flexibility of staying connected to their chosen field because they personally feel that connection helps them be better parents, feeds their passions as well as helping financially.

Brigitte, thank you for adding to the debate. There is no easy answer, and each family has their own set of circumstance. What we seek are choices that work financially. One of my most precious roles is that of parent. But I know I can be a great mother experiencing the joy of parenting as well as working – after all, I started my own business so I could do that.

What I do know is that every woman should have choice. That every woman should be able to follow her dreams. That every woman can create her own financial independence – and the life she wants for herself. And be surrounded with great friends.

This article first appeared as part of the LinkedIn Influencer program. Naomi Simson has received many accolades and awards for the business she founded, RedBalloon.com.au, including the 2011 Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year – Industry – Naomi also writes a blog NaomiSimson.com 

Categories: general Guest contributors


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