Thursday, November 19, 2009

Taking pets to work is NOT work-life balance!

I'm really happy for the staff at CWA New Media in Wellington. The Dom-Post says they get to take their pets to work on Thursdays. Fine - though I'm not sure I'd be thrilled to have a blue-tongued skink wandering around the office in search of cuddles...

But here comes the catch:
"Their bosses say it's a way for modern workplaces to address work/life balance, by bringing people's favourite part of home into the office."

Well, no, not exactly. "Work/life balance" is a stupid phrase, but what it's supposed to mean is being able to fit together your paid work and all the other stuff you need to do without becoming totally stressed out. For most of the women I know, it's more about "paid work/unpaid work balance".

What we call "full-time work" means the amount of paid work someone [being very gender-neutral here] can do when they have someone else at home to do all that other stuff. It wasn't ever meant to be done by the people who DO all that other stuff.

But now all these people, usually known as women, have moved en masse into paid work, and even into full-time jobs. What to do? Introduce work/life balance. We mustn't go too far, of course. Pets at work, maybe. Kids at work - definitely not.

But wait, there's more. In a new book of essays just out from Victoria University Press, Rethinking Women and Politics, Tania Domett looks at the reality of this great new idea. The news isn't good: those who make use of such policies are generally seen as not really committed to their work.

These policies, she says, are a "band-aid" remedy for what is fundamentally an issue of gender injustice. While they do "facilitate women's dual roles and allow them at least limited access to the labour market", they also mask and perpetuate existing gender inequalities.

She quotes Philippa Hall of the [now dismantled] Pay and Employment Equity Unit: "Women have got to get more money and men have to get more time. Men have to work less [for pay] and women have to get paid more for things to change."

Sorry, but it's not about the pets.

Declaration of interest: I have an essay in Rethinking Women and Politics.

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