- Isabella Lenarduzzi

Work/life balance: Is part-time work really the answer?

This week’s newsletter (the last before the Forum JUMP on the 29 of April!) revisits the widely debated theme of work/life balance. I find it staggering that so many women are having to give up their career ambitions or reduce their working time so that they can spend more time at home looking after their families and doing the household chores. I was saddened to learn recently that a female managing director had decided to give up her position for family reasons. How many men do you know who would give up a plum job because they have to look after the kids? Perhaps more of them should.

New statistics published by Eurostat revealed recently that in the Netherlands 75% of active professional women are working on a part-time basis. In the Netherlands, as in Germany, women with children who work full-time are often frowned upon. It’s just not the done thing.

Belgium does fare a bit better… 40% of women are working part time.

In the UK part-time workers make up 25% of all the workers in the UK, 80% of them are women.
The consequences of part-time work can be quite dramatic. In France, for example, part-time contracts are often precarious with 23.5% CDD (fixed term contracts) compared to 13.8% of full-time contracts. Part-time workers’ salaries are also feeble. According to Brigitte Grésy, author of a report on professional equality, half of part-time salaries amount to less than 800 euros a month!

The latest salary report in Belgium “Le rapport sur l’ecart salarial 2010” has revealed that on average women earn 11% less per hour than their male counterparts. On an annual basis this rises to 24%, largely because women often work part time. This is even more pronounced in the private sector where female employees earn on average 26% less than male employees and on an annual basis this rises to 37%.

And as for benefits… Employers pay pension contributions of 16% for male employees and 13% for female employees. The amount of this contribution is an average of 46% lower for women compared to men. The number of men and women being reimbursed for their journey to work is about the same but men receive more money, on average 28% more than women. The most striking difference is the options in company shares where there is a gap of 48%. And it doesn’t stop there. The gap widens even further the older we get.

Part-time work is rarely a real choice but a situation that has been foisted on many women who try to juggle their careers with the family responsibilities as pointed out in Anne Chemin’s article: “Le temps partiel a incontestablement un genre, le genre féminin”.

As if the pay and benefits gaps are not enough, the article “Le temps partiel, c’est mauvais pour le moral” suggests that those who have not chosen to work part-time but forced into it by circumstance are more likely to suffer from depression.

In this week’s newsletter we also feature an article by Dominique Thewissen who talks about the new Equiwoman prize founded by Bernadette Pâques. See the article “Bernadette Pâques remporte la première édition de l’Equiwoman award!” The award is given to a woman who has found the perfect balance between her private and professional life. I know Bernadette personally and rate her work very highly, but I do question why we need an award for something that women have been doing now for decades. I am not a fan of it primarily because I believe it can be seen as reinforcing women as primary carers and men as full-time breadwinners. A shame not only for those mothers who find fulfillment in having a family and a full-time career but also for those men who would like to stay at home and raise the kids but feel they can’t because of social pressures. I am more in favour of a prize awarded to people who break out of the expected norms rather than one that reinforces all that is unequal about our societies.

We should be able to create a society where we men and women can make the choices that are right for us and that we are not frowned upon by society. As Kristin van Ogtrop points out in her article “Can Career Women be Successful Mothers?”: “… what has worked for me may never work for my colleagues. Everyone must forge her own path through the briar patch of motherhood, and you’ve got to find the thorns for yourself.”