Mothers, families, work and role sharing: what I have learned

A very significant event for my family occurred on Christmas Eve.

My wife, Michelle was offered, and she accepted, the position of Head of HR at her current employer of six years, Hallmark Cards Australia. I was thrilled for her as I know how hard she has worked to build her corporate HR skills after ten years in agency recruitment. Also throw into the mix Michelle’s role as mother to our (now eight year old) son, stepmother to two teenagers, and her lack of post-graduate qualifications in human resources and you have a greater appreciation of what an accomplishment this has been for her, a few weeks past her fortieth birthday.

Unfortunately Michelle’s ascension to the top HR job at her employer is more an exception than the norm for mothers of primary school aged children in this country.

I say this with the significant knowledge I have gained about this topic in the past three weeks. My holiday book intake included The Wife Drought: Why Women Need Wives and Men Need Lives by Annabel Crabb (Ebery Press, 2014) and Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg (Knopf, 2013).

Annabel Crabb is an experienced ABC journalist and Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook. Both authors relate their respective individual struggles, as mothers who work full time outside the home, and how the general world of work and home has progressed, or not, in the nearly fifty years since the Public Service Act 1966 was amended to allow married women to maintain, or apply for, jobs in the Australian Federal Public Service.

The research that Crabb quotes in her book is always interesting, often startling and, just as often, a little disheartening.

Here’s how stark the drop off is for women in skilled professional jobs:

Women make up 60% of Australia’s graduates, 45% of middle management, 10% of executive positions and 3% of CEOs in the ASX200. (page 29)

Here’s an insight into one reason why this might be so:

Hewlett Packard, in a study undertaken to understand why women were not making it to senior management ranks as frequently as men, discovered that female internal candidates for promotion didn’t put themselves forward until they believed they satisfied 100% of the criteria given. Male candidates, on the other hand, tended to apply once they had 60% of the criteria requested. (page 40)

Here’s how this impacts income across gender in Australia:

Australia is 24th in the world for pay equality. Women are paid an average of 17% less than men when standardised for experience, qualifications and hours worked. Low skilled women were paid an average of 8% less and high skilled women were paid an average of 28% less. (page 27, 28 & 30)

Here’s how the Nine Network’s House Husbands is still very much an Australian exception:

43% of mother’s with primary school children work part-time, but only 5% of fathers do. (page 18) 

Of Australian couple families with kids under the age of fifteen, 60% have a dad who works full time and a mum who works part time or not at all. Just 3% have a mum who works full time and a dad who works part time or not at all. (page 7)

I quote this research because we are in the 3% (I work approximately 30 hours per week) and this has enabled Michelle to focus on her professional work full time (approximately 45 hours per week). This is a deliberate choice Michelle and I made. I wanted to be a more involved father with, and for, James, after the heartache and disappointment of not having that opportunity with my son Guy (now 16) and daughter Nikki (now 14), from my previous marriage.

Of course, there is a lot more to a family with school-aged children than the children; there is the running of the whole household that ensures stuff gets done without chaos and resentment.

To give you some idea of how Michelle and I choose to run our household the calendar year for 2015 looked something like this:

Household responsibility2015 share


2015 share


Food shopping95%5%
Meal preparation and cooking90%10%
Folding, ironing, putting away40%60%
Household cleaning30%70%
Dishwasher packing/unpacking90%10%
Bill paying100%0%
Family holiday organisation0%100%
Play date organisation5%95%
Present buying and wrapping2%98%
School drop and collect75%25%
Attending, or helping at, school events
(in school hours)
School reader80%20%
Mowing and general garden maintenance70%30%
Home and garden improvements research,
planning, shopping and organisingPet (dog) care and maintenanceCar (x2) washing and cleaning






Michelle and I have a partnership that works both inside and outside the home.

I share this information because I want fathers (and fathers-to-be) to step up and I want women to ensure they ask men to partner with them so each woman can have the personal and professional life that they want, rather than the one they feel they have to settle for, because ‘that’s the way it’s always been’.

The current gender/work/family/household imbalance in Australia, and most other parts of the world, is not healthy for a family’s wellbeing and longevity. The way to be part of the shift is tohave a conversation with your spouse/partner now. What does she or he want for the future in terms of work/family? How does that align with what you want? How could you make that work? What needs to change now, or in the near future?

The recruitment industry is one in which women dominate at the entry and consultant level then this female participation drops away sharply for management and executive roles. Many successful women in recruitment, who are also mothers, ultimately start their own business to help make their whole life work more effectively for them.

What conversation will you start on this topic?

1 Comment

  1. Miriam Taylor on 15/01/2016 at 12:26 am

    Absolute gold, thank you for writing this Ross. And good on you for the numbers in the article starting with 9 in your column!

    I think it’s a shame that women don’t get the opportunity that men do – post children. That’s quite often a conscious choice simply because her male partner earns more. Hence, the obvious choice is to keep the person earning more, in full time work. Why though, is the male paid more for this decision to then be the result. If pay were equal, surely (when it’s the right time for a couple to have a family), there would be a percentage closer to 50% of women who returned to work due to the fact that their pay was equal to or greater than their partner’s.

    I think it’s also critical for employers to take note here. If they want to retain the skills of their employees, they could offer greater incentives such as paid maternity leave. One of my friends, prior to starting her family and when she applied for a new role, chose to apply to only companies that offer a paid maternity leave scheme. Smart move. That’s just one example of how equal opportunity schemes allow employers to retain key skill sets.

    This message needs to be shared far and wide.

    Next: read those two books, thanks for the tips!

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