9 to 5 is sexist
Now before I accuse me of pretending that all is sexist, let me calmly remind you that in a society built on patriarchal systems … pretty much everything is.
Last names ? Sexist. Queues at the toilets? Sexist. Seat belt? Sexist (go ahead – Google).
We may view our attitudes towards gender inequality as more progressive than ever, but the fact remains that the very framework of society has been developed by men and while women can take a seat at the table, the chair was designed for a man.
Yesterday when rumors emerged that the government may be considering making working from home the default option, I started to think about the history of the traditional work week and how it really is focused on people. men.
The eight-hour workday was first conceptualized during the Industrial Revolution, when the Factories Act of 1833 limited the number of hours children between the ages of nine and 13 could work in a factory.
We have come a long way in the past 188 years, with children placed under the supervision of a teacher rather than the machines of a cotton mill, but with an average school day ending between 3 and 4 p.m., and an average school day ending between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. average working day ending between 5 and 6 p.m.… what are our former chimney sweepers supposed to do with themselves the few hours before their parents leave?
What about school holidays? The average vacation entitlement for workers in the UK is 33.5 days, but school vacations total 58 days. That leaves a whole month for kids to run around in the wilderness, unless a responsible adult is found to fill the void.
9-5 is only achievable if you don’t have kids, have a non-working spouse, earn enough to pay for child care, or have a jaded attitude towards the safety of your offspring. So it’s no wonder that, according to a 2018 YouGov study, only 6% of people in the UK work 9 to 5 hours.
In 2003, the UK government introduced the right to request flexible working for all UK employees, regardless of parental status.
But the law stipulates that employees must have worked for at least 26 weeks before making a request to change the hours adapted to the management of the school. Six months is a long time for a child to wait outside school, so let’s hope they’ve made some snacks.
Of course, not all women want a family – and neither should they – but it seems the odds are stacked against them if they do.
It’s no wonder that women are more likely to take part-time or lower-paying agency jobs in order to juggle childcare or eldercare responsibilities. Perhaps more women would take full-time, career-staggered jobs if they had the flexibility to ensure a healthy work-life balance.
Flexible working is a key player in reducing the gender pay gap, which is why I was disappointed to hear that number 10 pointed out that there are no plans to ” grant a legal right to work from home.
2020 brought about a huge change in attitude towards working life, as our entire nation was legally required to work from home, if we were able to do so. As we take small steps in a post-pandemic world, I would have hoped the government would see how the right to work from home could benefit the female workforce.
I know not everyone is a fan of the WFH. Lack of social interaction after 18 months of social restrictions can take a toll on a person’s well-being and even their mental health. But the right to work from home, even for part of the 40-hour week, would certainly be hugely beneficial for women whose career options would be limited if they wanted to start a family.
Choosing to do one or the other – or both – is key.
Of course, not all women want families – and they shouldn’t – but it seems the odds are stacked against them if they do. Aside from children, women are also more likely to take on roles in caring for older parents or parents with special needs.
Women aged 45 to 54 are four times more likely than men to have reduced hours due to family responsibilities.
While much can – and must – be done to normalize and de-stigmatize the role of men in care work, any opportunity to make the working lives of women already in these positions more flexible must be seized by the horns.
I often wonder how much different professional life would be if it were designed by matriarchy. There would be cribs in every workplace, tampons in every washroom, and the default office air conditioning setting would undoubtedly be a few degrees higher.
Although there are currently no plans to make the WFH the default, the government is continuing with plans to encourage flexible working, with potential changes to be added to an employment bill when the next parliamentary session.
I just hope that with a cabinet of 18 men and only five women, the Conservative Party will look beyond its male-centric, heteronormative, 2.4 child-conservative ideals, and come up with legislation that works for the most. many, not for a few.
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