When I was in paid employment, like a number of women, I went to part-time hours when I had my first child. At that point, I think it is fair to say that for as long as I remained part-time, there was no prospect of career advancement. And I think it fair to say that because seeking some re-assurance that I was wrong, I suggested to a Partner that my career felt like it was on hold, and they confirmed that it was. When I went back after having had my third child, the situation had not changed. I handed most of my salary over to a nursery to look after my children when I was at work. Some people have help – we had none.
During that time I had a conversation with a friend about my job. I said that I was not enjoying it at all and whilst one could make a number of sacrifices for a job they enjoyed – not even that criteria was being met as far as I could see. I felt that I could sit at that desk for the next twenty years. I could go in and perform my job like an automaton such was the level of interest and challenge it presented me with. And when I eventually left, would anyone even realise that I had gone? She said that I could indeed sit there if I wanted to. But, and here was her crucial point, she said that if I chose to do that, because it was a choice, then I did it with my eyes wide open and I was not to complain about it. And certainly not to her. That thought depressed me so much that three days after that conversation, I resigned. That was nearly eight years ago.
Absolutely none of what I have said above is news to any women who works part time. And it is overwhelmingly women who continue to work part-time. (The reasons for that could form part of another blog). I bet they’ve heard it all. But they will have also not heard a lot of it because they will have been excluded from the conversations, because they’re only part-time.
I wish I could say that this has changed over the past eight years, but it seems to be a prevailing and persistent view that part-time paid employment, and full-time unpaid employment, doesn’t count. Except, it would seem from my reading, that part-time paid employment does count towards massaging the unemployment figures.
In the first instance, only recently, a friend who works part-time was messaged by their child asking to be collected early from school. When they didn’t receive a reply because their mother was working, they sent another one. And another one. Oddly enough, they did not send one message to their father, who works full-time. They weren’t collected, btw, because not oddly, their designated driver was working.
In the second instance, two people have recently suggested that because I don’t currently have paid employment that I have nothing better on the Earth to do except for my hair. And they’ve seen my hair. First one – I help out with childcare for a close family member on a Friday (another blog about women being lower paid there). Another day of childcare is needed. The response from someone else who is available but unwilling was: “Can’t Natalie do it?” Presumably because I spend the other six days of the week wafting around my Estate sixty miles away shouting at the staff. Second example, and in that same week, I was opining to someone (who frankly should know better) about when I could get back into paid employment without my family sinking further into chaos than it already is. Their view? “A little part time job wouldn’t do you any harm.” Ah bless me, with my Law Degree for Girls and well-thumbed copy of ‘Being a Solicitor for Ladies’.
Just over eight million people were working part-time in the UK in October 2022, which is nearly thirty five per cent of the workforce. I wonder what would happen if we took them out of the workforce? Would the businesses they work for miss them? I expect so if their productivity went down a commensurate thirty five per cent. How much tax revenue would be lost? What would the knock-on effect of that be on public services? How many more people and their children would fall, or fall even further, into poverty and therefore be forced to ask the State for help? Or as the State seemingly isn’t keen on helping anyone but themselves these days, charities. I daren’t think about it too much.
So what can we surmise from this? Fundamentally the message appears to be: unless you’re earning yourself or someone else money for twelve hours a day, five days a week, you don’t count. In any sense. If you work part-time, your hours don’t count to the business, and your money doesn’t count to your family. If you work for no money you simply don’t count at all because it doesn’t matter what else you are doing, or however many hours you’re doing it for, it is not important. Oh, and did I forget to mention? All of my examples, every single one of them, came from a woman. Shameful ladies. Absolutely shameful. Time to consider being the change we want to see in the world.