Choosing between childcare and… well, not leaving the house.

I read an excellent article on LinkedIn today, I’m afraid the original text is not in English, but here’s the translation from the LinkedIn post:

Professor Sydney Engelberg, was unfazed when the child of a mother at his lecture on organizational behavior began to cry. The embarrassed mom tried to leave the class, but instead, the father-of-four and grandfather-of-five scooped the kid up and soothed him in his arms – without missing a beat in the lesson. He allows the mothers that attend his masters’ lectures to bring their children and even breastfeed. No mother should have to choose between a child and an education!

And a link to the original blog (not English)

The comments on this, were almost all incredibly positive, praising the professor for his empathy.  It seemed such a clear but brilliant idea to me – a real win for everybody, as a noisy child didn’t interrupt the lecture (hardly ideal for anyone attending) but this woman wasn’t excluded either.

I wouldn’t normally blog about childcare, because not having children, I feel rather under-qualified to have an opinion.  But, I am a woman in the workplace.  I see talented women leaving, or taking jobs significantly below their abilities, in order to get a better fit with the rigours of child care.   I hear “jokes” often about “let’s hire a man this time – we’ve enough people on maternity leave at the moment” (ha ha – always funny, because if it wasn’t a joke it would be illegal).

But this one struck me, because also this week, I saw this article by Caroline Criado-Perez in New Statesman about how a more radical approach to closing the gender pay gap is required – citing factors such as part time work which are often directly linked to child care.  My one criticism of this article is that it doesn’t go on to say what the more radical approach required is.  How can we measure, monitor and then enforce something with so many variables?

Childcare was also something I noticed a lot while in Cambodia recently.  Women were working everywhere with their children – whether that was babies in papooses or children working and playing nearby, in fields, in markets, in local industries.  In the National Parks, frequently the female rangers were accompanied by their children of pre-school age – and why not?  The ranger is there to support tourists and protect the Park, and why can’t they do this with their children nearby?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not offering poverty as a great solution.  There are health and safety and education issues.  But perhaps there are some ideas to be taken here.

Maybe the answer is that we’re over-complicating this issue.  Perhaps the simple answer is the best.  Perhaps less division between “work” and “private” lives is the answer?  Perhaps moving away from the idea that children should be invisible in our work lives.  That career progression shouldn’t be dependent on invisible children – on a “who can best pretend they aren’t a parent” competition. This has previously been dismissed as a very middle class solution – it’s easy for those blackberry-wielding professionals to arrange their schedules how they wish.  But maybe it could work in so many more ways?


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