The curious case of the woman in the workplace

First published on LinkedIn on 15 April 2018

There is something gravely wrong with the state of the Australian workplace. As a woman with a PhD and a 16 year career working in the university, government, and private sectors, I and many other middle class women like me, should be forging ahead with my career. Instead, I am considering putting on the breaks for the next few years. Becoming ‘mumemployed’. On a professional level, this is devastating. On a personal level, only time will tell.

Although I have been thinking about my professional future for the past year, the new changes to the child care funding system in Australia have been the prominent catalyst for my current career ‘crisis’. Put simply, the changes will completely negate any financial motivation for me to remain employed. Our family is now paying for me to work. As of last week when our Child Care Rebate (CCR) for the 2017-2018 year ran out, our childcare costs have literally doubled. And with new funding arrangements being introduced in the new financial year, our family’s revised entitlements will not be enough to cover the cost of my current job.

I absolutely do not begrudge those at the lower income end of the spectrum receiving more. The new system boosts lower income earners and helps them (especially women) to work. But it is also the perfect way of forcing middle income earning women (often the secondary income earner in a currently comfortable middle-class family) out of work. My situation is that my wage is completely negated by the new changes to the rebate. It is going to cost our family for me to be employed. I feel awful guilt about this. Not to mention that the federal government invested a lot in my postgraduate education, but is now effectively telling me they do not value my contributions to society. With the current year’s CCR running out for most families, and the new system providing little in the way of rebate for families like ours, there are undoubtedly many women in my position.

My working has effectively become another tax on our joint income.

This is a true middle Australia crisis. On the one hand, our family is not rich enough to get out of paying tax, and on the other, not poor enough to qualify for any rebates at all. Essentially, I am paying to remain in the workforce for the next two years to keep a foot in the door. Many educated women in domestic relationships and with small children are finding themselves in this category. So women, usually being the lower-income earner of the pair, are the half that is disadvantaged.

Women such as myself, those that continue to chip away at that glass ceiling, are a cohort who SHOULD be working and contributing to society. I have spent my career aiming to forge ahead and become the best at what I do, and become a leader in my field. But once again, we have so far to go in terms of equality. Every time I see a gain, there seems to be yet another roadblock put forward by those who are meant to be protecting us, namely our governments. Outwardly, governments are supportive of middle-class women like me working. But when it comes to policy, funding, and real-world support, there is nothing,

Even older women who I might consider mentors are skeptical of my place and professional ambitions. Recently, I attended a forum for International Women’s Day where I was fortunate to ask a question of a woman I admired who is in a senior leadership position. After the forum, when I went to thank her for her thoughtful answer to my question, she looked me in the eye and said, “You know, dear, I did not take on any leadership positions until my children were in high school.” I could hardly believe my ears.

My husband could not be more supportive. He wants me to consider my overall wellbeing (read: mental health) when making this decision, and not just the financial facet. We are proactively considering new childcare arrangements, and what that would mean for our twins who were born prematurely and might suffer negative health impacts by a change in childcare circumstances. We are also thinking about the long-term negative effect of less superannuation, what slower wages growth would mean for me due to taking a ‘break’, and whether I should try to pick up some writing or consultancy work that I could do largely from home. Meanwhile, every day we remain in our current position, my feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and failure to contribute grow.

What next? I really only have a few short weeks to make a decision. But in the meantime, if you are looking for a writer, strategist, public speaking coach, or qualitative analyst, and can offer flexible working arrangements… Please call me! You will be employing a very loyal and hardworking employee, but also simplifying my decision-making process.

 

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