A sad story for women, from childcare strikes to blocked executive suites

But a significant number of women still want and have children. Individuals and society benefit when these women can take on leadership positions without giving up everything else.

A number of women have cracked the code. Surprisingly, they seem to ignore it or not want to share it. Author and columnist Kristina Ziwica argues that the focus needs to be on childcare “so that women can participate actively in the workforce.” Ziwica was supported by an East German au pair while writing about the joys of the inflexible (and more or less compulsory) day care centers installed by the Soviets.

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But the form of childcare she used herself was not rigid, it was flexible and actively supportive. The facts bring us closer to the truth than the theory: mothers who have a successful or high profile career almost always succeed by adapting the care of their children to their situation.

It’s great for those who can afford it. But in our current system, that’s not good news for a low-income family or a single parent hoping to climb the corporate ladder. If more flexible child care were affordable for these parents, many inequities could be resolved in one fell swoop.

This would help single parents who are already dependent on finding alternatives to supplement centre-based care. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare finds that “75% of children in single parent families where the parent was employed usually attended child care. Of these, 61 percent were in informal care, while 34 percent were in formal care. Informal can mean a combination of grandparents, babysitters and other arrangements.

It would also support parents who work irregular hours, such as shift workers. Not to mention the women who need to network, work overtime, or jump at the chance to meet the big boss of the freeway.

It would help breastfeeding women if a carer looking after the baby could come by for a quick feed between meetings. And it would help women who want to take a few extra moments out of their busy schedules to have lunch with their families, as we have done during the pandemic.

In short, it would be easier for women to be both mothers and executives.

But wait, there’s more. Do you remember I mentioned that my housekeeper made more than an hour than a nursery nurse? There is a simple reason for this: she has an ABN and she works for me directly, at my premises, choosing times that suit both of us to work around her university studies. Center child care has overhead costs, such as ownership, management, administration, union dues, and cooks. Public spending on childcare currently stands at about $9 billion a year, while parents pay up to $200 a day in some centers. I can tell you one thing: the extra money does not go to the educators.

When the government makes child care free (i.e. taxpayers pay for it indirectly rather than directly), even more money will be wasted on administration and there will still not be much left for the wonderful women who potty train your babies.

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Instead, the government could stop being the middleman and make childcare tax deductible. That wouldn’t mean daycares would go away — they work well for some people. People who don’t earn income to deduct might still be offered a center option.

But it would solve the twin challenges identified by the CEW and early childhood workers last week: dignity would finally sustain aspiration.

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