To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, we put a call out to staff to provide their insight on the triumphs and struggles that women in business and the design industry face. In this special IWD Guest Blog, Gold Coast Principal Emma Ridings provides us with her candid thoughts on gender in life and in the workplace;
I have to admit it has taken me quite a while to put pen to paper – or fingers to keys – on this subject, as I balance my two main jobs – working within the property industry and in the madhouse that is my family abode. This is life, and it’s a situation that many women – and men – are familiar with.
Looking back on my career progression to date, I have to go back to where it all started; I was fortunate enough to have a very strong woman in my life growing up – my mum. Now she might not agree with me and she will probably be scoffing right now, but I was brought up in a ‘traditional household’ with a stay at home mum, a self-employed father and five brothers and sisters. And while my mum loved her role, she was always a strong advocate for her four daughters to have something of their own and to have opportunities that she didn’t feel she had. She believed we could be anything we wanted. And while she may be frustratingly unassertive, I think that too is part of her strength – to push us with quiet and nurturing resolve.
The choice to stay at home and raise children as my mother did is incredibly courageous and a leap of faith; although it can be a frightening prospect to put your career on hiatus, it shouldn’t be regarded as a career roadblock – it’s life.
Modern life and the flexibility fallacy
I recently read an article about how busy modern life is; the piece – and many others like it – debated whether unpaid and paid work has either increased or decreased and if the childcare and financial split between females and males has changed over the years. I personally agree that life is busy (let me tell you!) but life was busy back when my parents had small children as well, it’s just different. Modern life is different. Today we have immediate access to communication, news, information and each other. While this immediate access may create stress in many facets of life, it has also given us flexibility. Flexibility to be in one place and talk to, and share a screen with, multiple people no matter their location.
Unfortunately increased access and communication doesn’t necessarily translate to flexible working arrangements; but people should have the opportunity to wear all of life’s many ‘hats’. Research into flexible working hours has been shown to increase performance and an adaptable workplace is where people are happiest. We’ve seen job sharing within government departments for a while now and we are starting to see it at the executive level of private enterprise, however there is still a way to go before this is adopted worldwide.
Flexible working allows for the part-time parents ‘career hat’ and ‘family hat’ to coexist; supporting sustainable career progression for women – and men – who choose, or are lucky enough, to have a family. This has been my road and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to look after my young ones whilst also keeping my ‘career hat’ on. I have been lucky, but this is far from the norm for many women around the globe.
The road ahead
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a Gold Coast Women in Business event for International Women’s Day, which had the theme ‘Be Bold for Change’. It was discussed that it would take 158 years for women’s rights to meet equality globally – now I’m not sure how this number was derived but it’s really not the point, the point for me was about looking at the global issue and understanding that many women around the world will not be heard today; their ideas and confidences will be stifled. They won’t have the same opportunities I currently enjoy and this does bring about a desire to make it fair for them. This is why I strongly believe that whoever is the best person for the job should get the job, regardless of their gender, race, age, social or personal characteristics. However, it is worthwhile acknowledging that although we in Australia seem to be correcting diversity issues, there is a huge journey ahead for others and it’s the small steps and addressing of unconscious bias that will bring about worthwhile change.
So as I sit here at my kitchen bench, after putting my children to bed, and reflect on the words that have taken me so long to get down, I know that while we have a long way to go we should also reflect on how far we’ve already come. And even though it is International Women’s Day it’s not a day to separate women from men but instead, it’s about ensuring we all have access to equal opportunities and balance. After all, this is life; yours and mine.