Although Andrea Leadsom had to withdraw her candidacy over her suggestion that Theresa May could not become prime minister because she has no children, it is encouraging to see that for once motherhood gets its due recognition as one of the qualifications for a top job.
Indeed juggling motherhood and career in today’s world requires the kind of creativity and resourcefulness that leaders should possess. The following is a an inspiring, yet somewhat disturbing, example of the challenges of an Israeli mother, in the relentless business world. Her daughter celebrated her birthday at the preschool and had warned the mother that if she failed to show up to the party on time, she would dismiss her as a mother.
On the appointed day the mother had to attend a meeting which was due to end fifteen minutes prior to the party. As it was rush hour, she knew that she would never get from the center of Tel Aviv to the party on time. Desperate times called for desperate measures, thus she had planned ahead and hired a delivery motorcyclist who waited for her at the end of the meeting and raced through heavy traffic to the school: She wasn't late.
That time the mother found a solution, but I have to wonder about all the other instances when she couldn't, and about the high price that the mother and her daughter have to pay, so that the mother could keep her job. Most mothers are not praised for their resourcefulness, it is part of their job. Moreover, this type of solving problem is silenced because it may hint to the fact that those women don’t have their priority straight. Even in the 21st century mothers are still expected to be at the birthday early with an elaborated home made cake and a big smile.
The story demonstrates a brave mother who thinks outside the box and comes up with innovative solutions. Those are rare and sought after qualities in both the business world and in politics. However, it is also a sad comment on our society when a mother has to literally risk her life to get to a her daughter's birthday party on time.
For generations women have been wrestling with the issue of combining home and work. The great Feminist Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex, (1953) was against women's employment and argued that combining home and work meant a burden of the ‘double day’ which underpinned the subordinate position of women in society. She further details the hardships in store for women, at all professional levels that attempt to combine marriage and work.
Things have not changed much, whether you are a young mother balancing work and children, or an older mother attempting to get back in, the workplace in general is not a friendly environment for mothers of all ages. De Beauvoir, who wrote about the plight of working married women, never married; it was her way of never facing that problem.
Obviously Andrea Leadsom should not have said what she said about a fellow sister, and of course women without children could be great leaders. But it is high time to recognize motherhood as one of the achievements listed on a woman’s CV.