TO BE appointed Australia’s first female attorney-general was a dream come true for Nicola Roxon. Yet just over a year into the job, and at the peak of her career, she has decided to call it quits.
She wanted to spend more time with her seven-year-old daughter, an emotional Ms Roxon told reporters in Canberra. It was clearly a difficult decision, over which she said she was ”very torn”. If she stuck around beyond the election, her daughter would be in high school by the time her term ended.
The announcement came as a shock to many. But it is a predicament to which most parents in full-time work can relate.
Just moments after Ms Roxon stepped away from the podium, Nareen Young, the chief executive of Diversity Council Australia, tweeted: ”There’s not a mother in the paid workforce who doesn’t understand the factors that have impacted Nicola Roxon’s decision.”
Women with young children are a particularly rare breed in federal politics.
The Finance Minister, Penny Wong, has a one-year-old daughter, and the Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, is mother to three young children.
The Sun-Herald columnist Jane Caro attributes their scarcity, at least in part, to the gruelling demands of the job – ”sitting hours are ridiculous”, she says.
Caro, herself a mother of two, says juggling work and family commitments can be ”incredibly confronting and difficult” for women with young children. The same is true for men, she adds.
”If the workplace is toxic for women, it’s toxic for men, too,” she said. ”We need to design a workplace where parents can contribute but can also get involved with, and have great relationships with their children.”
And by no means is the challenge unique to the demanding world of politics. There are more than a million mothers with children under six. For those whose youngest child was between of six and 14, 79 per cent participated in the labour force in 2010-11, according to data from Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Banker Gail Kelly, perhaps Australia’s most powerful businesswoman, once had four children under three. At the time, the chief executive of Westpac had just been appointed head of human resources at a South African bank. In 2001, when her children were in their teens, she told Fairfax Media her children had forced her to manage her time better, while also sharpening her sense of humour.
The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, released a report earlier this week, pushing for policy reform to value unpaid caring.
”We need to make it easier for men and women to both work and care,” she told The Sun-Herald.
The mother of two teenagers said child-rearing almost always overlapped with the most crucial career-building years.
When her children were born she was partner in a law firm and continued to work three days a week in a flexible work arrangement.
”When I look back on that, I think it’s one of the best decisions I ever made – to maintain that connection to the workforce,” she said.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.