Working women’s lives: then and now
Passionate about work and about parenting
Michelle McBride (39), retail director for Butlers Chocolates. “I work, but I am a mother too and I think that’s part of my job.” Photograph: Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Nan Hurley (94), butter maker. “Everyone had to give up work when they married that time. You just didn’t question things.” Photograph: Brian Gavin/Press 22
Michelle McBride joined Butlers Chocolate 16 years ago as a graduate and is now the company’s retail director. Married with two children aged five and three, she now works four days a week.
“Working four days a week has made me much more disciplined and much more efficient,” she says. Her husband also works and McBride says she realises how lucky they are to have a childminder who comes to their home.
“I’m very passionate about what I do. It’s part of me. I love my children, I love being with them and I’d love more time with them. But at the same time Aisling is nearly five and has started school, so even if I was at home, she would be gone until 1.30pm. Seán starts school next year.”
McBride is part of a taskforce looking at the dearth of women in senior retail roles. “There is a lot of talk about glass ceilings but we do have to also acknowledge that a lot of women choose to opt out of their careers because they start families and that is perfectly fine and valid.”
Division of labour
In the home, she believes the division of labour around all childcare and household tasks isn’t equal, nor can it be.
“I work, but I am a mother too and I think that’s part of my job. A mother runs the home. She did it 40 years ago when she was told to give up her job and stay at home and she still does it today.”
She says her husband contributes just as much to the family in other areas. “I don’t even think it’s efficient to try to share all responsibilities equally. It’s like anything, you can’t have two bosses . . . you can’t do everything by committee.”
Nan Hurley began work in the co-operative creamery in the village of Athea, Co Limerick in 1939. She was 20.
There were creameries in almost every village in Ireland then. Processing local milk into butter for export, they provided rural employment with profits shared among farmers. Nan trained at domestic economy school.
“At the Munster Institute, I could have gone on to be a domestic economy teacher but that cost money and there were 11 of us in the family and there wasn’t that much money hanging around.”
She specialised in butter making instead and worked for a year in Dublin after training. “I was in the laboratory at Lucan Dairies. We were all day testing milk, testing cream. We were right beside the Phoenix Park and we would go in there at lunchtime. It was lovely up there, I loved it.” But when a butter maker job came up in her home village, she applied.
“I remember Dad coming home from the village saying, ‘you got it’. Of course they were all thrilled.” She was paid £2 a week for a seven-day week.
She was the only female employee at that creamery to which 319 mostly male farmers would bring their milk every morning. “They were all locals, we all knew one another and we had great fun.”
She left the workplace in 1953 when she married. “Everyone had to give up work when they married that time. You just didn’t question things.”
But with housework more labour intensive then and most mothers nursing their babies for six months or more, she says it would have been difficult to continue working outside the home.
“Sure you couldn’t have a job when you were married. You had to keep a house and keep a husband and expect children.”