An all round worthy way to spend a day!
Throughout the day, the debates ranged from how to climb all the way back up after adversity, the future of female leadership, work life balance and so on. On of the things that came up many times is the old child care conundrum. How can women reconcile career and family and live without guilt? How can employers offer more flexibility in order to keep their talented women? Can women have it all? Childcare is in my opinion a forever-brought-up-and-never-resolved-issue for women. That is until such time when child care policies are designed with women ambitions in mind. Child care - it was repeatedly said - is simply too expensive and especially for young women, reason why mothers tend to be older and older. Hats off therefore to law firm Vardags that declared at the conference to pay pre-school childcare cost for all employees....if only more employers took that step, the world of work would be populated by many happy, talented and loyal professional women (and their happy families...) !
Of perhaps three hundred or so attendees in the conference room, only a handful were men. And here is where all the ambitions, intelligent debates, insightful discussions and challenging ideas end up wasted. Because unless the men, the male colleagues, the CEO, the employers are in the room, how can we move forward the discussion? I would be utterly hypocritical if I said a women only conference has no value, as I run a women platform myself (Women in Travel at World Travel Market). But we need the decision makers to be in the room and we need to engage them at the right level if we want dreams to turn into possibilities and ideas into actions. Take for example the issue of flexible working to suit child care hours. Nobody will dispute the relevance of this, but why not speaking about that looming catastrophes with awful financial consequences that is Elderly Care?
You don't just need flexible working because you are looking after little people, you also need it if you have senior and possibly ill parents and by the way, most of us will need the support of their children if the cost of care continues to rise at this pace plus there are not enough structures and infrastructures to accommodate us all, at least here in the UK. Certainly men need the flexibility as much as their wives in this instance? Certainly the CEOs, the MDs, The Senior VPs who do not have to worry about looking after their young kids because of the mums and the nannies can however relate both on an emotional level and in practical terms to the fact that their aging mums n' dads need time, care and looking after? By extending the reasons behind flexible working we make the whole more inclusive and democratic, a debate that involves men as much as women, women without kids as well as mothers, stay home dads as well as super charged career dads. And I really believe that all voices must be heard in the room if we want things to become better for women and ultimately for society.
So I do hope that more male colleagues will be in the room next year and that we open up the discussion to include other, perhaps less obvious but equally important areas. I would love to know if you agree and what else we could add to the discussion pot.