Having it both ways?

29 Jan

Wonklifebalance is delighted to see two excellent woman writers take on the issues around having both career and life satisfaction.  With their different approaches to the dilemmas of work-life balance, Mrs Moneypenny and Gaby Hinsliff between them, provide a barometer of the current climate for UK women who want to succeed in more than one sphere at a time. Mrs Moneypenny has published ‘Careers Advice for Ambitious Women’, whilst Gaby Hinsliff’s offering, ‘Half A Wife’ looks at how work and family life can be more equitably distributed between mothers and fathers, with both having some home time to accomplish the domestic tasks of the traditional housewife.  Mrs Moneypenny runs a top recruitment company when not writing for the FT; Ms Hinsliff was Political Editor at the Observer, before creating greater work-life balance by working freelance from the countryside.  Both acknowledge tensions in current mainstream arrangements: there is a problem for women in having both career progression and family time. The two acknowledge that to achieve some kind of balance, most people will need to do some planning, decision-making, or at least ‘tweaking’ to make both work and family life satisfying and sustainable.  But the issues we readers need to address are different, depending on whose book you are holding.

 A little crudely, one might summarise that Mrs Moneypenny requires women to man-up, whilst Ms Hinsliff wants us to work with our men. Wonklifebalance is spiritually with Ms Hinsliff, but can see Mrs Moneypenny’s point of view. Whilst both Mrs Moneypenny and Gaby Hinsliff are married to a kind of Mr Hinsliff (i.e. flexible working, can take up some slack left in wife’s wake) Wonklifebalance goes through life with a Moneypenny: corporate employee with little flexibility and much higher earnings.  And there in hangs the tale:  Mrs Moneypenny sees no reason why we can’t all be corporate successes and delegate much of the family stuff for periods; Ms Hinsliff wants us all to live together with Mr Hinsliff.  Wonklifebalance’s  partner’s response to all this after a hard day’s breadwinning? ‘Meanwhile back on planet Earth…’  – both authors might give us points for having the discussion …

 So, what do we learn from each approach?  Mrs Moneypenny is more directly prescriptive, with 10 points to lead to a successful working you; Ms Hinsliff describes the issues of trying to balance work and family within the couple.  She creates a policy agenda to make her solution work for more of us:  this is government intervention for the greater social good, and greater equality of choice for men and women. We need more and better paid paternity leave, flexible working for all,  so that school pickups and flexible hours are accepted for men as well as women; part-time work that is well-rewarded and rewarding.    Mrs Moneypenny, meanwhile, argues that we cannot have it all; the career has to take priority in the short-term to create a long-term where the overall priority of a fulfilling family life is possible. You cannot be CEO of a major company and expect to attend every Sports Day.   Mrs Moneypenny wants us to have the qualifications, confidence and domestic help to propel our career success; Ms Hinsliff wants us to downshift, at least temporarily, and creatively address how to balance work and family life between ourselves.  Imagine there’s no gender pay gap – it’s easy if you try; and even easier if you are in a relatively equal-earning couple with adaptable professions, free of essential presence and/or presenteeism.  Whilst Wonklifebalance agrees with Hinsliff in principle, her vision is easier to achieve if you’re a middle-class professional who can deliver over the internet, and who has amassed considerable advantage before making babies, as she herself acknowledges.  In a better world, these choices would be more widely available for both sexes and more socio-economic groups.

 Wonklifebalance cannot help noticing that Oxbridge plays a part in what’s on show here.  Ms Hinsliff’s pre-baby career was hardly hindered by a degree from there; Mrs Moneypenny urges that we all get qualifications from leading institutions to give us the confidence and credibility we need to attain our career goals.  Haven’t got a degree from somewhere venerable?  No problem, get one now – that will cost £27,000 in fees alone in Britain shortly, and God knows what for the highly recommended Ivy league MBA – it’s never too late for those with the money (and childcare?) to cover it.  Wonklifebalance also observes that if you devote your career to analysing work-life issues, you are less likely to be able to afford the childcare and time required to make the strategy of writing about it work for you later – what might be termed the ultimate irony. Having two such admirable professionals take up the gauntlet is acknowledgement that these issues matter to everyone.

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