In 2010, we blogged, tweeted and even talked in the real world about a) how we need to showcase more positive professional female role models, b) the multilayered complexities of combining a satisfying professional life with a rewarding home and family life and c) the fact that women at board/director level in their 40s and beyond seem to be increasingly rare birds.
And three weeks into 2011, these issues seem even more all-consuming. The high-profile news stories of the last few weeks have really got us thinking.
Firstly, we have total respect for Miriam O’Reilly for standing up against her employers, being prepared to publicly confront difficult issues about women and age and forcing the BBC to back down.
But in parallel, we keep seeing reports that many young women don’t believe that going to university is worthwhile. Cosmopolitan have reported that nearly half of all young women who’ve been through university wish they hadn’t bothered. We have a feeling that people like Miriam O’Reilly will be tearing her hair out. If she’s prepared to take on the BBC to make it easier for women to work after their 30s and early 40s, we suspect she’ll despair of women not wanting to work at all.
And we’ve recently seen a piece of research that suggests that women would rather marry ‘up’ and stay at home, rather than work. It suggests that only 19% of women actually want to work, and that 64% of women would rather stay at home – and many of these women are not currently married or mothers. Rather they’re planning on this happening.
All of this seems to contradict our own experiences that suggest that many women would love to be able to do something for themselves – maybe not a full time, 7-7 City job, but have a way of having their own income, their own space and do something for themselves.
Children or no children, we’re worried by the idea that women would actively seek – from a young age – to be financially dependent on her partner. In our own research from last year, almost none of our respondents liked the idea that they were living off someone else – although many were staying at home to look after their children. The key point, as we see it, is that the young women in the research above are actively setting out with an aim to not work, and not achieve for themselves, and we think that’s a poor outlook for women and our economy if that’s truly the case.
It’s a sorry state of affairs to us that any women wants to live like this, and that any young woman aspires to this. Of course there will always be times in any relationship, if you’re in one, when one person’s career takes precedent, but to plan to be financially dependent on a man is not only foolish, it’s highly risky. If you set yourself up as something to be bought, don’t be surprised when you get replaced, discarded or upgraded.
One of our aims this year is to reach out to other generations of women. Women 20 years older than us who are fighting the battle against ageism. Women younger than us who crave positive role models and mentors who can help them see a future that doesn’t involve vacuous celebrity. We’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing sixth-formers, led by their inspirational teacher Charlotte (tweeting as @talktoteens). Being part of their professional mentoring project has been truly gratifying, and we urge all of you bright, cool professional women to show the next generation down that yes, work can be knackering, challenging, harder than you ever thought possible, and not always a breeze – but that the alternative is so much worse. There truly is no better feeling than going to bed knowing that no-one owns you, and you owe no-one. Ladies, don’t let yourself be bought.
Kath and Fiona