Time to acknowledge that the real glass ceiling for women is childcare

Because our partners or husbands invariably earn more than we do, we are more likely to give up our jobs once we have children, and so we continue to be under-represented in positions of authority, suggests Joyce Fegan.

WHERE are all the women? What are they doing with their time? That’s what I want to know.

Because they certainly aren’t running the country, that’s for sure, not its councils, its boardrooms, its government, its universities, its companies or its newspapers.

Women only make up 18.1% of directors of Irish-registered ISEQ20 companies. At CEO level, women lead about 10% of our companies.

In Dáil Éireann, only 22.2% of our TDs are women. In the Dáil previous to the 2016 general election, just 15% of our deputies were women. At local council level, 21% of the country’s councillors are women (and have been since the 2014 local elections), but only 16% of councillors were women after the 2009 elections.

“Ah, sure, that’s probably because there were no women to vote for,” you might say. You know, you could be on to something there, because, in the 2014 elections, of Fianna Fáil’s candidates, only 17.3% were women.

Yet, when I turned on the radio this week, all I heard were male politicians talking about women’s cervixes, including Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman, Stephen Donnelly. The same happened when I tuned into the final debate on RTÉ before the referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

I watched two male politicians discussing whether women could be trusted to control their own uteruses. Now, in fairness to Health Minister Simon Harris, he did point out the irony of the arrangement.

But back to finding out where all the women are. Are they hiding out in newsrooms? Editors’ offices, perhaps? No, they’re not there, either, because all the editorships of our national newspapers are male. There are some female news editors, for sure, but the buck stops with the men.

Are the women hanging out in education? In the hallowed halls of universities? Yes, actually, you can find some there; quite a lot. Women make up 45% of all academic staff at our higher-level institutions, but men hold around 75% of the professorships and about two thirds of the associate professorships.

The biggest job of all? Taoiseach. We’ve had 14 of those, and, no, not a single woman to be found there, either.

So, where are they?

Women are silently holding the very fabric of this society together.

According to our 2016 TASC (Think-tank for Action on Social Change) report, 70% of the family care work in Ireland is carried out by women.

And why is this? There are a few reasons. Women, on average, in Ireland, earn 14% less than men. In some professions, this is as high as 30%. So when boy meets girl, and they get married and have a baby, and the baby needs childcare, that man and woman sit down and look at their books.

“Oh, look, Mary, our mortgage is €2,000 a month, I earn €3,000 a month, and you earn €2,000 a month and the creche is going to cost €1,500 a month,” says John.

“John, do you not think it would make sense, considering childcare is so expensive and I earn less than you, if I was to mind baby Lucy full-time?” Mary says: “No one is going to mind our baby as well as one of us.” They both agree.

Mary and John have a second baby and a third baby, and as their lives get busier and busier, they feel they made the right decision.

But the odd time, between frantic school runs, endless washing machine cycles, and hurried grocery shops, Mary worries that her working friends will judge her for “staying at home”. But she reminds herself that she is working, too, doing very fulfilling work, and just because it is unpaid labour doesn’t mean it is “less than”.

Meanwhile, Mary’s best friend, Cathy, who works as a dental nurse for 40 or so hours a week and is married to an electrician, Mike, is worried that she should be spending more time with her two young children. But when Cathy and Mike looked at their books, they wouldn’t have had a chance of staying afloat on just the one salary.

In Irish society, there seems to be a line, that unnamed glass ceiling: Childcare.

No matter how feminist our partners or colleagues are, with massive childcare costs, the lower salary, so often the woman’s, is forgone, so that the mother can do the priceless work of childcare and of running the home. Not only does she go unpaid, but her pension, in years to come, will be greatly reduced, too.

Where two jobs are being kept down, there is still all the housework and childcare to do, and little time or change left over to do anything else, never mind joining boards, running for politics, or changing the dynamics of our society, a society which is not family-friendly and where workplaces have such rigid operating systems that there is no breathing room for little ones who come down with tummy bugs or who star in school plays.

Scally Report

In the 200-page Dr Gabriel Scally report into the CervicalCheck scandal this week, one line stood out:

“The major controversies about maltreatment of patients or denial of reproductive rights in the Irish healthcare system have involved women being damaged.”

Male dominance in the Irish healthcare system was also mentioned.

It left me wondering, if women weren’t busy holding the fabric of this society together, doing 70% of the primary care work in the home, and, instead, had the opportunity to be on boards, in councils, in government, in university professorships and in newspaper editorships, would this scandal, or the many others, have ever happened?

If our various corridors of power were more representative of the people that make up Irish society, what kind of Ireland would we have?

Because when everyone has a seat, and a voice at the table, male, female, trans, gay, straight, bi, able, disabled, young, old, working class and other, better societies get built, and not just for women, but for all of us.

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