Today’s Dom Post says that we need more women at top levels in the police force, and argues that a big part of the problem is the entrenched culture of sexism and misogyny. It goes even further than suggesting that the culture in the police force needs to change, saying:
Changing the culture of an organisation takes time, but the time for soft-footing the issue is past. If there are still police officers who cannot deal with women in the workplace they, not their female colleagues, should go.
And it fingers the sexual harassment and bullying of women officers as the big problem that stops women from making it to the top.
There are two explanations for the dearth of women at senior level. One is that the country’s 1564 sworn female police officers are good for patrolling the beat, making arrests and prettying up the station, but do not have the heads for more serious matters. The other is that the police culture is antagonistic towards women. Dame Margaret Bazley’s 2007 commission of inquiry into police conduct and a 2000 review of female participation in the criminal investigation branch suggests the latter is the case.
Dame Margaret’s inquiry focused predominantly on sexual misconduct, but it revealed a workplace in which antediluvian attitudes toward women persisted well into the 1980s and in which elements of the police hierarchy regarded allegations of sexual misconduct in the same way as the Catholic church. They were to be hushed up and tidied away rather than dealt with.
The 2000 CIB review revealed a similar culture. Author Prue Hyman, associate professor of economics and women’s studies at Victoria University, found an, at times, unwelcoming climate for women ”where mild gender harassment and workplace bullying is often tolerated”.
Wow. Tough talk. Watch out for senior police officers denying it all later on today…
But I don’t think that’s the only attitude problem that’s stopping women from getting to the top in the police force. last Saturday’s Dom Post had a full age article about women in the police: What stops women becoming top cops?
There are some clues in the article about another huge problem for female police officers.
“Reviews have discussed how it takes a ‘special kind of woman’ to get ahead; that there are higher standards for women; that the police internal culture demands a certain assertiveness and personal resilience from women; that there is an element of sexism; and that all in all it’s an old boys’ club.”
She points to the recent departure of Ms Rose, and Superintendent Gayle Gibson, who retired last year.
The difficulty of combining work and family are a barrier to career progression, Ms Hornsby-Geluk says.
Dayle Candy, who had risen to the rank of detective senior sergeant when she quit in 2001, says she couldn’t juggle work and family. She had served 26 years.
“There was an atmosphere that persisted that I wasn’t capable of doing the job because I had a family. And there was very little discussion around changing that. The environment wasn’t created to change that.
One former senior officer believes entry to the top of the hierarchy requires a cop to have served as a detective inspector, an area commander and a detective senior sergeant – all demanding roles requiring long, often unpredictable hours that often don’t suit mothers.
Mr O’Connor wonders if the current push to get more officers serving on the front line will stall progress. “Police work is police work,” he says. “The [current] mantra is front line. What that means is, generally, shift work. Shift work is generally less family-friendly.”
He also accepts that many women officers have partners also in the force.
Both Ms Hughes and Ms Candy question whether the nature of frontline policing is compatible with family life.
“Women in every other workplace are balancing their work with their families, their husband. Does it upset families at times? Yes, it does. I think it is no different from any other workplace.”
Notice the theme in all of that? Childcare and family life is a problem. But more than that, notice who it is a problem for. It’s not a problem for male police officers. Instead, it’s a problem for women in the police force. Male police officers with children don’t have to worry about childcare, but female police officers do.
And therein lies a problem. For a woman to succeed in the police, she has to be a superwoman, juggling career and children and shiftwork, because this is all regarded as her responsibility. Who knows to what extent police bosses just don’t get around to promoting women because they look at her responsibilities, and decide that she won’t be able to manage. Maybe they don’t do this explicitly, but just make a casual hidden assumption that a woman who is a mother won’t be able to manage. That’s certainly the casual hidden assumption in all the quotes above.
A woman shouldn’t have to be a superwoman to succeed. That’s one of the key points that Anne-Marie Slaughter made in her article in The Atlantic: Why women still can’t have it all. Men aren’t required to be supermen to make it to senior positions, but women are. And one of the central reasons for that is that people still think that childcare and families are the woman’s responsibility.
A local journalist contacted me for comment on paid parental leave.
A Manawatu academic and advocate for women’s rights has slammed the government for threatening to veto moves to extend paid parental leave, accusing it of ignoring the needs of babies.
Professor Deborah Russell, a lecturer in accountancy at Massey University, working mother and a feminist blogger said while affordability was an issue, there was always a way if the need was great enough.
“We need to have a think about what are the important things to afford and at the moment we are not very good at directing funds towards small children.”
Dr Russell said if parental leave was extended it might encourage fathers to share more of the load of early childcare, giving them a chance to bond better with their children in the early stages of development.
“Women normally take the parental leave and the childcare duties and that can have a long term impact on their careers. If we extend paid parental leave to six months men might take it up or share the leave and so we lose that gendered dimension.”
Just to be clear, I’m not actually a professor, and given that the paper contacted me, rather than me contacting the paper, that word “slammed” is exciting, but perhaps not quite accurate. However, the journalist represented my views very fairly indeed, and captured the two ideas I most wanted to get across.
1. Childcare is heavily gendered, with women more-or-less always being responsible for it. This shortchanges both women and men. Women lose income and career progress, and men lose connection and confidence with small children. More paid parental leave might enable more men to share the childcare in those early weeks and months.
2. Saying paid parental leave is unaffordable only makes sense if we regard it as something that has to be funded in addition to everything else we already fund. If we were willing to re-examine all our existing spending commitments, such as giving farmers a tax break on the emissions trading scheme, and the lack of means testing around New Zealand superannuation, then it might turn out that more paid parental leave was affordable afterall.
The Sunday Star Times reported today that more and more women, and some men, are giving up paid work because childcare costs are simply too great.
The story is familiar: by the time a family pays for childcare in order to enable both parents to earn income, nothing is left over from that second income. It is simply too expensive. This certainly gels with my own experience, and with the experiences that other women have reported to me. Just last week, one of my cousins told me that she gave up on returning to her interesting job when she realised that she was looking around for cheaper childcare. Given the nature of her job, and the extent to which her partner travels, she needs bullet proof childcare, the sort where she is able to call half an hour before she is due to pick her kids up because an urgent task has come in. That kind of childcare is simply not available at a price where she will have money left over from her salary.
But there is a curious anomaly in our funding of childcare and education. As it turns out, for many parents, the turning point is when their children head off to school. School is virtually free, “donations” and stationery aside, and it is freely available to every five year old in the country. We fund reasonably comprehensive childcare and education for five year olds, but not four year olds. The anomaly exists for historical reasons, but it seems to me that it could usefully be reviewed. Just like our existing spending could usefully be reviewed, both a part of a national conversation about what kinds of support we want to see young families getting.
The National party has made good on its promises, and released a new and punitive welfare policy, aimed at all those wretched sole parents who depend on the Domestic Purposes Benefit for subsistence. The overt aim of the policy is to “assist” sole parents into paid employment, but the implied aim seems to be to characterise sole parents as lazy good for nothings who can’t be bothered working.
And on cue, commentators have popped up letting us know just how hard they worked when they were young chaps. From DPF:
Like Duncan I cleaned a store while at school. But I was 14 and got $1.99 an hour for cleaning at Woolworths. I was so proud to be in regular employment, working every day after school plus Friday nights and Saturday mornings. And my first job after university was $22,000 a year only and at one point I was working part-time for $18,000 a year.
And via DPF, a similar story from Duncan Garner:
I often get accused by some who say I’m a media hack and what would I know about low-paid work?
Well I know something. I know I cleaned the Whitcoulls Queen Street store at 16 in my school holidays for youth rates – about $4.50 an hour at the time. I powder-coated curtain rails for $6.00 an hour in a Glenfield factory a year later. I put lids on toothpaste at the Avondale Redseal factory at the same time to help me pay for my first year at university.
My first job at TVNZ in 1995 was as an intern and I was paid $15,400 a year – about $250 a week from memory. A year later they put me on $21,000. By year three it was $30,000.
I worked like a slave for $250 a week. Try living on that in Auckland – it was impossible.
They were part-time crappy jobs (not the TVNZ one) – and they sure as hell encouraged me to take my studies seriously by year three!
The take home message from these two commentators: I did it, I worked for low wages, so all you sole parents can, and ought, to do it too.
But with respect, gentlemen, you did NOT do it.
Here’s the thing about being a sole parent. In addition to working damned hard at work, as people do, you have to go home and cook and clean and care for children. Your work day doesn’t end when you wave goodbye to the boss. That’s precisely the time when the toughest part of the day begins. No matter how long your work day was, nor how tired you are because you are both studying and working, you can’t just go home and make yourself two minute noodles and crash in front of the TV. You must turn around and pick up children from school or day care, and get them home, on public transport if you can’t afford to run a car, and help them with homework, and make a meal for them, and then get them through the bath and read a bedtime book with them, because that’s what parents try to do, all before you can even begin to think about having a moment to put your feet up. And by that time of day, children are tired and scratchy, making it all even more difficult. It’s not for nothing that most parents of small children refer to the hours between about 4.30pm and 7pm as the hell hour.
I’m willing to take DPF’s and Duncan Garner’s word for it when they say they worked very hard. What they didn’t have to do was take responsibility for anyone else. If they wanted to, they could take a day off work or a day off study. They could crash in bed the moment they got home, or sleep in if necessary. Parents have no such luxury. I’d also lay good odds that DPF didn’t have to cook all his own meals when he was a school kid. I’m sure he contributed to his family home, as most secondary school kids do. But I bet there was food in the pantry, available because someone else in the household had the time to get to the supermarket, if not meals cooked for him. And of course, that’s all fair enough: it’s what most parents try to do for their children who are working and studying. The point is not that DPF had access to such support. It is that it is unfair of him to extrapolate from his own experience as a young person working, and assume that because he was able to do it, sole parents ought to be able to do it too. The same applies to Duncan Garner’s experience. That’s brilliant that he was able to work so hard. But he wasn’t trying to care for children at the same time.
But if we are going to admit personal experience to the discussion of what sole parents should be required to do, let’s start with Paula Bennett’s experience, recounted in an interview in 2008.
The baby’s father “was well out of the picture and wasn’t going to come back”. Bennett says she decided alone to go ahead with the pregnancy. Asked why New Zealand has the world’s second-highest rate of sole parenthood, she says: “Because we back people to have choice … You’re not going to have me bagging the solo mums.”
At 19, still on the domestic purposes benefit, she bought her own house in Taupo for $56,000 with a Housing Corporation loan.
The mortgage drove her back to work. She did a part-time day job booking tourists on lake excursions while Ana was in childcare, then worked the 11pm-7am shift waitressing at a truck stop while someone else looked after Ana at home.
“Then I pretty much fell apart because I was exhausted. I went back on the DPB,” she says.
Over the next few years she worked as a cleaner, went back to the tourist job and was receptionist at a hair salon. In between, she was on and off the benefit.
Working in paid employment and caring for small children is exhausting.
And my own experience. I have never been a sole parent. But I did try to work full time in my dream job when my children were small. It placed tremendous strain on my beloved partner and me, and ultimately, I crashed and burned. Badly. To the extent that it was several years before I could even contemplate going back to work that was somewhat similar to the dream job I had left. And even then, I experienced recurrent panic attacks. It has taken me years to recover.
Working in paid employment and caring for small children is very difficult indeed. Yes, it can be done, and some people manage it, especially if they have good support networks, and if they are sufficiently well paid to be able to afford cleaners and pre-prepared food, and can get household appliances fixed as needed, and run a good quality car. But just because some people can manage it, doesn’t mean that all people can. And especially take note of this: young men without childcare responsibilities who work hard in low paid jobs are not a model for anything at all when it comes what sole parents should, and shouldn’t do.
There’s a pervasive myth in New Zealand that it’s illegal to leave children under the age of 14 at home alone, unsupervised. If you think that you’re not allowed to leave your kids at home alone, that can create considerable logistical problems.
As it turns out, the law doesn’t say you can’t leave children unsupervised. What it says is:
Leaving child without reasonable supervision and care
Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $2,000 who, being a parent or guardian or a person for the time being having the care of a child under the age of 14 years, leaves that child, without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child, for a time that is unreasonable or under conditions that are unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances.
Source: Summary Offences Act 1981
In plain English, you may leave your child unsupervised, as long as it’s reasonable.
Of course, that begs the question about what is reasonable. CYF (Child Youth and Family) has some suggestions about things you should consider.
- the age and needs of the child
- the child’s level of maturity and understanding
- the place where the child was left
- how long the child was left alone, and how often this occurs
- were any other children left alone with the child
- is a pre-arranged responsible adult accessible to the child
- does the child know what to do or who to contact in an emergency
- is there a responsible adult that will check in on the child
Long story short: it’s fine to leave your kids at home while you head out to the supermarket, or drop into the office to collect some work, or go to a meeting, or out for a run, provided you’re sensible about.
For me, that means that I have been leaving my daughters at home, alone, since they reached the age of about eight or nine years, for short periods, and for increasingly longer periods as they get older. I’ve always been more cautious about leaving my younger daughters at home, because of some concerns I have about group dynamics, but in general, as they have gotten older, I have found that they manage just fine. I try to ensure that they have a settled activity to engage in, because leaving children unsupervised and bored sounds like a invitation to trouble to me, and I make sure they know how to get hold of me if they need me. So far, all has been well.
And it seems to me that children will only develop the maturity and skills to look after themselves if they are given the opportunity to manage by themselves.
What’s your cut-off point for leaving children home alone?
It turns out that getting good quality childcare is critical in allowing mothers to work. This time, policy makers might just get around to believing it; the claim is based on a paper prepared by the Australian Treasury.
Well, that’s a no-brainer result. It seems perfectly consistent with my own experience, and with the reported experience of women in my family, and my friends.
It’s not just childcare for littlies that matters either. Good school holiday care makes a big difference to me. As you may know, I do adjunct work at local universities (just take all the problems associated with adjunct work as read – I find it too exhausting to think about the difficulties). One of the big problems for me is school holiday care. I need to make special arrangements with my partner, my friends, my mother (bless her!) to cover the two or three hours here or there that comprise my teaching work. Not enough work to justify the expense and hassle of taking the children to a whole day school holiday programme, but far too long to leave them kicking their heels outside the classroom door, or in the classroom reading a book. I’ve yet to find a university that provides school holiday care for permanent staff, let alone adjunct staff, despite all their fine words about gender equity and work life balance and being an employer of choice for women.
Yes, yes, I have my grump on. I’ve just been running up against the gap between ideals and reality in the last week or so.