Bosses, babies and body hair
REBECCA MOYNIHAN, 30, is a teacher, a Labour Party member of Dublin City Council representing Dublin 8 and a graduate of international relations at DCU.
ROSEMARY McKENNAis a 23-year-old Trinity graduate and director of Pillow Talk Theatre. She is directing rehearsals of Anna in Between, a topical play, for the Absolut Fringe festival.
DR PATRICIA BARKERis a former professor at DCU and a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland. She is the author of The Minority Interest, a study of women partners at Big Four firms.
BARBARA SCULLYis a mother who left work 10 years ago to become a "housewife". She blogs at barbarascully.com
HOW IS THE RECESSION AFFECTING PROFESSIONAL IRISH WOMEN?
Patricia BarkerPeople say, “Sure women have made it now: aren’t there as many as men now, as many partners in banking and finance, law and accountancy?” Well, there aren’t as many, but during the Tiger years firms were really anxious to get staff and would accommodate women. And women by and large were deferring babies, making lots of money, travelling and drinking champagne.
Young women now have never experienced a recession. The gloves are off and it’s the steel fist. They are strolling in and saying business is quiet so they’ve decided to have babies.
But when they return they’re finding very subtle pressure and intimidation. They will be asked to be in at 7am for a meeting or to stay for the 6pm meeting. There will be this attitude of, “You need to be home for the baby? At 6pm? Hmmm. Okay. You’re expressing your milk? You want an hour to express? Hmmm. Okay, we can do that. But do you have to leave at 6pm?”. There’s huge pressure.
Rebecca MoynihanMy mum said to me recently that she thinks women are worse off now than when she was coming of age in the 1960s. Back then the enemy was easy to identify. Now the blockages are more subtle.
JennyI’ve kept my head in the sand because I’ve worked so hard to get where I am. At my level there are loads of women. At the next level, you see a good chunk of them. But at the next level up from there, the ratio favours men. There’s a sense among my friends of looking at the future and at a demanding environment and asking, do you want that? It’s not just the hours; it’s the cut-throat, intense, slightly aggressive way of some people at work.
WHAT STOPS WOMEN ADVANCING?
BarbaraI think we’ve looked to be equal in a world that’s been designed by men for men who have traditional wives at home. That world does not suit women. Society places absolutely no value on the work of caring.
RebeccaThat’s not a just a problem in the corporate world. I represent a very working-class area with a lot of community development projects and often women keep things going. At a kids’ event you will see no fathers or older men, but the people taking on leadership roles tend to be middle-class men.
RebeccaWomen put each other down. In the debates on gender quota, the dominant female politicians implied, “I managed to do it; don’t make it easier.” Politically, women are allowed to be poster girls but not power brokers.
BarbaraYou don’t hear enough female voices in the media. I’m involved in [the campaigning group] Women on Air, and our website has thousands of names, from rocket scientists to ordinary women like me with something to say.
PatriciaI think one of the reasons women don’t get on [media] is because media is about soundbites and fast delivery of information, but women like to tell the story, to fill in the details.
IS CONFIDENCE A FACTOR IN THE SLOW PROGRESSION OF WOMEN?
RebeccaI believe so. If you have a baby at 16, you probably won’t have a Leaving Cert. I grew up in Dublin 8. I see a difference between the old working class and the new welfare class. A dependency culture has developed; there are no male role models. These women’s lives are set out from a really early stage. A little girl’s confidence is gone at nine years of age.
PatriciaBut it isn’t exclusive to those women either. The study I did was of women at the very top, and they still ask themselves, “Was it some terrible mistake that I got this job?”
But they won’t create a network. When I suggested that, they talked about how it would be seen as a knitting circle, even though men can play golf [without the same connotations]. They don’t want to be seen sitting together at meetings. Critical mass is around 15 per cent. After that, you can feel gender-comfortable.
SO THAT MEANS MORE FEMALE BOSSES?
JennyYou will often hear people saying they don’t want a female boss. The view is they tend to be bitches and to be moody, but men are less nit-picky and let you get on with it.
BarbaraI think that’s because women feel they can manipulate men more easily than they can other women.
RebeccaMy worst bosses have been female.
PatriciaIf you had men with more female characteristics, you could achieve something. I think men like that should be valued more. To progress in those environments, women tend to have predominantly male characteristics.
BarbaraPerhaps they don’t feel as compromised about their home life. They might be married to a man who’s in touch with his female side.
HOW DO CAREER BREAKS WORK?
BarbaraI feel for women who feel the pull of home and time with their children but fear letting down the sisterhood or walking away from their education. [After a decade working in the home] I’m out the other end. There should be a way for women to come back.
JennyMy workplace would be unrecognisable.
Rosemary McKennaIt’s the same in theatre. Unless you’ve made your piece of gold and can wander off and have people wonder where you are, you can’t come back in at the same level of funding. You start from scratch.