Apr 26, 2014

The Class of '87.

After all this time, you're probably very familiar with how my Saturday mornings roll. Willingly waking up at the crack of dawn because I don't have to be early for work, amble to the gym, do my program, find coffee and a croissant, read the paper and then head on home with a side trip for any urgent groceries. This morning was no different, except that I found myself lingering over the paper a little longer than usual.
 
 

 

It was all because of an article I read in the print version of today's Sydney Morning Herald. I've been trying to find the online version to link for you but I've not been able to find it this morning. Anyway, it's on the top of page eight and has the following headline: 'Salary gap opens up as life and family get in the way'. The article describes the findings of a longitudinal research project conducted by the University of Sydney Business School. The subjects were the university's law graduate class of 1987 and the aim was to follow the career paths of the graduates over time.

The graduates were first featured in the SMH in 1989, smiling up at the camera as they embarked on careers on equal salaries in Sydney's most respected law firms. I was in year nine at the time and shared their optimism about career trajectories and equality. It was late twentieth century Australia after all, we weren't being naive, we were believing what we'd been taught and thought we were seeing around us.

You know how you don't come to this blog for journal club or critical reviews of statistical methods and selection bias? Good. Because all I have to go on today are the key findings as discussed in the newspaper article and a few of my thoughts.

First, the key findings from the study:

  • At the end of the study's follow up period, the men were generally earning higher salaries than the women
  • The 'tipping point' for women (presumably between staying at their jobs or leaving them) was three children. Any number less than three seems to be the magic number for staying in the workforce, albeit in a part time position.
  • With regards to workplace discrimination, women reported being subject to it on the basis of family responsibilities and gender whilst for men it was more commonly on the basis of disability or ethnicity.
  • 25 years after both men and women mostly beginning their careers in large law firms, 29 percent of men and 11 percent of women were still working in them. Two thirds of the men versus a quarter of the women are now on salaries of greater than $300 000.

I don't think it's too hard to extrapolate these findings to other professions (except modelling perhaps) and as sobering as they are, they don't actually come as too much of a surprise to me now that I'm a mother of one who's 15 years into my own career. I can relate to the study's findings of how mothers often have to pass up promotions, forgo seniority and put hard limits to the number of hours they can devote to their working roles. I understand the direct relationship between hours worked and take home pay. But perhaps it's not so much discrimination but rather 'biology and circumstance' as one member of the cohort noted.

 

As wide as the gap still looks on paper between men and women in white collar professions perhaps a short coming of the stated findings of the study was a lack of reference to how fulfilled each graduate is now compared to how they were back in the early days of their professional lives. After all, for most of us, our careers are just one part of our lives and those lives become bother more complex and precious as we get older.

 

I've been fortunate enough to have had full time work in the profession I trained for since I graduated from university. I've achieved the goals I set for myself in my career. Motherhood came relatively late to me and has made me re-evaluate where I'm heading with work. But we all have turning points in our careers, don't we? Illness, a desire to follow our hearts for a change, a yearning for a different life, fractured relationships and other major life changing events. Life happens to all of us, regardless of our gender, and we just have to make the decision to see the good that each stage of our lives offer us.

 

And yes, I couldn't discuss being a working mum without at least referencing all those cliches. Prepare to be nauseated. Motherhood came to me when I needed it most. It forced me to change my priorities, to know my self worth and to do what it takes to give that beautiful little life the future he deserves.

 

 

One day on and my retinas are still burned....

 


I can hark back to that unsettling shopping trip yesterday when I happened upon the ugg thongs and thereafter lost my will to dart through the spendy boutiques in search of a new something to covet. Being a mother has broken that hollow cycle of needing to buy more and be more simply because me was all I had to devote my time, resources and energy toward. Life for me now is real. It is good and it is bad, it is joyous and it is painful. It also has a purpose outside of myself that that can't be rated on a scale or quantified purely in dollars and cents.


17 comments:

  1. It is good that your little one has helped you seek the more important things in life.

    For me, rewind four or five years - I had everything I could ever want, but I still felt hollow, frustrated and trapped.
    At that stage, in that relationship, I think having a baby would not have been the right thing to do.

    A baby can bring things into sharp focus. So can having to tread your own path in life, especially that path which is against the expectations of others. I had some time to have a good hard think about my priorities.

    At this stage, even without a baby, if I were (god forbid) given a limited time to live, I would be happy with how I lived my life, especially latterly. I have no regrets, and, moreover, I am happy that things will pan out as they are meant to.

    I think that learning to live consciously and authentically will help me should I be blessed to become a mum. I will be a far better parent than if I'd just trod the path expected of me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Living consciously and authentically. Can you believe it's taken me all this time to appreciate this? Will probably take the rest of my life to fully embrace it...

      SSG xxx

      Delete
  2. I always enjoy these 'where are they now' articles. I skim read it yesterday. I don't like the word career and haven't for a number of years. I do wish someone would do a 'where are they now' article on teachers. I believe the Education field has the highest proportion of women in high places or manager roles. I have other thoughts but I can't get them out. Hung over. Sorry

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Anon,

      Thanks for your comment. I'm a 'where are they now' article addict. I sense you are correct regarding female representation in education but yeah, don't have the stats either....

      SSG xxx

      Delete
    2. It was me. I couldn't recall password to log in. Clearly the lack of Coke in the house was cause of all brain issues not the glasses of champagne.
      Great piece. I keep thinking about this. Not the Ug boots/thongs though.

      Delete
  3. I like this post.

    My children are now both at full-time school. I had always worked part-time (initially only 1 day a week building up to 2-3) from when they were babies mainly due to community need and my desire to 'keep my hand in' so to speak. Just as things got to the stage where I could look at working more, my own health played up. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness that waxed and waned meant that I had to prioritise where I wanted to spend my time. So I have kept my work hours at 2-3 days a week so I stay well enough to spend time with my kids and can stay on top of things at home with a minimum of fuss. I realise how incredibly fortunate I am to be in a financial position to do this. (I also have the most understanding boss in the world.) I am not unhappy with my choice at all and know that my family will always be my first priority.

    I am with you on the parenthood thing - having my children is easily the best thing I have ever done.

    Love to you and Toddler SSG. How quickly they grow.

    T
    xxxxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, T.

      I think the important thing is being able to go to bed at the end of the day happy with the way you've spent your day - at work, at home or trying desperately to juggle both.

      Fantastic bosses make the world of difference.

      SSG xxx

      Delete
  4. Terrific post SSG. So many excellent points - and an introduction to the UGG thong.

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  5. I've liked reading your thoughts about women in the workforce and it's something I think about all the time. Now that Tom and I are thinking about the future we've been discussing having kids and how this will affect my career (as his career will be untouched). UNFAIR!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I knows! UNFAIR :D Though I am lucky I have good supervisors who support women. Most of my colleagues are women.

      Delete
    2. So true, C. Makes a difference when there's a strong female presence in senior positions.

      SSG xxx

      Delete
  6. I'm one of the class of '87 but as I was looking after my seriously injured 9 year old son at time of reunion and research I didn't go to reunion or complete questionnaire. It is the best thing that I have done to hire a hospital bed and bring our son home to nurse him although I was so time poor at the time that I cancelled all my subscriptions to papers/mags. It was also during this time that I started reading blogs for the first time and through Tune into Radio Carly (please forgive me if I got the title incorrect), I discovered Faux Fuchsia and your blog of course. So some wonderful things did help me help my son, my gorgeous 11 year old daughter and my husband. All my friends from law school are unfortunately divided into 2 categories- my 2 closest male friends work full time and are at the apex of the profession and my female friends and acquaintances if they have kids work part - time in law or elsewhere like myself as I work for my husband. I loved most of my work as a lawyer but remember having to stop work immediately when I was 20 weeks pregnant with my son as I had spotting etc

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  7. Dear SSG, sorry think I wrote too much about being one of the class of 87 & it wouldn't let me sign off. Only other thing I wanted to write was that at the start of 2013, I wanted to return to part time work as a lawyer but with the benefit of hindsight, thank goodness I didn't. I tell our kids, for me everything is possible but not at the same time so strive for everything you can and don't waste any opportunity. Thanks for your blogs Den xxx

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    Replies
    1. Den

      Thank you for your wise words and for sharing your perspective on being part of the class of '87. It is true that 'everything is possible but not at the same time'. But yes, strive for it all!

      I hope your son is okay.

      Thank you for your support of my blog. Glad you enjoy reading it.

      SSG xxx

      Delete

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