Tags: being a good parent

27 Jul 2008, Comments Off on Some reflections on gender in my workplace, the Heath Ledger Memorial Dogs Home (and Cattery)

Some reflections on gender in my workplace, the Heath Ledger Memorial Dogs Home (and Cattery)

Author: Helen

This may not be the actual name of my workplace.
Men at W.O.R.K | working on relationships with kids

(Image pinched from the Carman-Ainsworth Community school, Michigan)

So, to follow on from the comment thread on my last post: My totally fictitious playwright was also a writer of hand-wringing op-eds on the impossibility of being a good parent and a good anything else, because if a woman attempts to combine the two she’s doomed to mediocrity in both (aka “having it all”).

My commenters put their collective finger on the framing of this argument: Totally Fictitious Playwright’s argument was perfectly consistent as long as you assume it’s the woman who does all or most of the parenting work, to which I’d add the domestic work as well.


None of this will be fixed properly until they stop calling it ‘maternity leave’ and start calling it ‘parental leave’, and a vanguard of courageous male souls brave the mockery from their male workmates and take it.


not being geared towards rewarding malfunctioning humans who spend 60 hours a week plus at work for years on end. Which implicitly sidelines people who take time out, whether for family or other things, or who insist on leaving the office by 5.30, or who won’t (can’t) drop everything on a saturday and work because someone somewhere is having a panic attack about file 763.

I think aspiring to the psychopathic boardroom may be hard for women who want to be decent parents. It may also be hard for males in the same situation. Perhaps it’s the boardrooms that need the adjustment, as I believe you are saying!

I’ve worked at the Heath Ledger Memorial for quite a few years now and one of the reasons for that (besides being an interesting sideways career change) is that it’s very family-friendly. Besides having an option for flexi hours, so that you can vary your comings and goings and make up for any lost time, it has had maternity leave provisions since the early 1980s. Two years ago, I applied for – and got – 48/52. This is hard for some people to get their heads around. You’re only paid for 48 weeks instead of the normal 52 for the year (which is 48 at work plus four annual leave). But the income loss is spread over the whole year. So in effect you have eight weeks’ annual leave and everything is otherwise normal except that your pay packet is smaller.

The people taking advantage of the maternity leave so far have all been women, and there have been more women working part-time to accomodate family; but I’m starting to see a change.

I blogged long ago about a software upgrade on which I was working, to allow customers to make staggered payments on their dogs if they so wished. The company hired a developer on contract to work with us, and he was the compleat Economically Rational Man with the wife at home. When I described my new setup, he was surprised and of course a little contemptuous of such flagrant, namby-pamby nanny-employerism. That was very nice, he remarked, but in the real world, of course, such arrangements would be completely unworkable.

Funny, I thought, I could have sworn that school holidays were part of the real world. They’ve certainly existed as long as I have.

Now the Heath Ledger Memorial Dogs Home is in the process of upgrading its entire system, and has employed a team of upwards of eight contractors. Most of them are (still) male, young-ish, with young children at home (and some more children have appeared since.) And I have to say, the vibe is very different to the Big Swinging Dick-ism of a few years ago.

As a courtesy to co-workers, there’s an understanding that we email our group if we’re coming late or leaving early, and the emails at the Dogs’ Home tell me a story of young dads using the flexibility of their contract work to share family responsibilities. They’ve mentioned illness, school events, minor emergencies and just the usual Creche or school pickup. It’s the same with my (male) boss, who has one school-aged and one kindergarten kid. Oh, and we are a very diverse group and lots of the contractors are from cultures that you’d assume were more traditional in their expectations about parents’ roles. But it’s happening. And there is no valorisation of the “staying back to work after hours” ethos. It happens, and it’ll happen more as the new system goes live – I worked weekends myself (tag-teaming with the partner) last time. But it’s not seen as a big virtue.

It gives me hope.

You see, us women / feminists can be as active as we damn well like, but until the change in gender expectations spreads to the men and the dads and the male bosses who are also dads, we’ll still be in the position of having to shoulder the “second shift” largely by ourselves, and that’s one of the biggest causes of our opting out of some of the demanding and rewarding jobs. Looked at the other way, once a man is equally likely to go part-time for a few years, take time off or work flexible hours, the number of men dropping dead from their eighty-hour week will decrease. Then- and this is depressing but true- having a balanced life will be less identified with femaleness, and its status will increase. In other words, it’ll become visible as part of the “real world”. Yes, I know, but it just will.

I look forward to the day when, in response to initiatives to do with parental leave and the like, the Chamber of Commerce spokesperson-types won’t be able to bully us all with their “well, women just won’t get the jobs any more if we know they’re just going to get pregnant and take maternity leave/go part-time/not give up their lives for the corporation!” In other words, employers won’t be able to assume that a male job interviewee won’t want to do those very things.

Oh, and once I’d got my 48/52 arrangement, my boss thought it was such a good idea, he got one himself, although he’s opted to use it to work a four-day week instead. So, well done these dads. I do hope these are signs of more change to come.