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On mothers and female confidence in the workplace

05 May 2014

Mothers – love them for who they are and where they came from…

Mothers And Daughters Larkes Blog

I read a piece in The Australian by Kate Legge called “The deserted mothers’ club”. It was poignant and disturbing on many levels. Here were women who had no idea why their adult children were no longer seeing or speaking to them any longer. The women in the story were lost and angry and sad and maybe in need of explanation from those they cared about.

Following the huge response this article received, Kate wrote another piece focussing on the other side of the story: “When two worlds collide: why do some adult children disown their parents?”

Here were adult children bemoaning the fact they “never had a proper mother”; that their mother was without the language of “emotional connection”; or that they had weathered years of their mothers’ “tantrums” and had had enough.

In a month in which we celebrate Mothers’ Day, it got me thinking that the mother-daughter-child relationship can be as joyful and supportive as it can be frustrating and alienating.

I had a very close relationship with my grandmother. She was a product of her time and, although I could never accept her doing everything for my grandfather (whether she was up to it or not), I understood on some level that my grandmother’s way of behaving was what you did in that era being the person she was.

My mother, who really was the dominant force in our family, suffered her own “era” issues. To me, and probably like many of her contemporaries, she was defined by her relationships and especially by the relationship of having a good man providing for her and by her side. She was a product of her generation and era.

My grandmother’s and my mother’s ways of thinking were not mine. I saw myself (and still do) as the sort of person who got out there and forged my own way in the world. Even in my marriage, my husband didn’t define who I was and when I did leave with my daughters it was to build a life with which I was happy and which I controlled.

I’ve brought my girls up to believe in who they are and in their own strength. Ideally, like many of their peers and contemporaries (including a number of young guys), they are after relationships and children. The trouble is so many things in our modern lives can cloud our thoughts and change our life paths and it becomes very hard for people to meet the competing priorities in their lives. It’s an issue for both men and women. In fact, just like my mother and grandmother had their particular issues, my daughters’ generations have theirs.

I suppose I must have them too: my own issues that is. It’s just when they’re yours they’re harder to identify, let alone discuss.

I’ll admit, even though I’m looking forward to the imminent arrival of my own new puppy, I’m happy with my own company. What I can’t assume is that everyone is in the same boat as me. One thing I’ve learned is that just because something doesn’t exist in your life, or among your friends and the people you know, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

It’s like being confident. Did you know that the biggest decider around whether a woman will move forward in her career to better pay and/or to the top echelons of management comes down to confidence levels. It appears guys are way ahead of us on this and our lack of confidence is what’s holding us back.

When women ask me to speak at events or to have a cup of coffee and a chat to discuss career and life and what they may or may not be thinking of doing, I always try and say yes. It’s really important I think if we are going to inspire change that we take the time to listen and communicate with others and discuss our similarities and our differences.

At the end of this month I’ve been invited to present at Power Shift: The Oxford Forum for Women in the World Economy. This annual symposium held in the UK at Oxford University on women as economic actors in the global marketplace had its inaugural Forum in 2013. It focused on the theme of “Women as Entrepreneurs”.

The 2014 Forum will investigate the relationship between women and the world of finance. The papers are being put together for submission to the UN, to recommend how women and the female economy can be empowered to succeed. Westpac’s position globally as best practice for what we do in the workplace in relation to our women employees as well as our women customers provides me with a fantastic launching pad for presenting on women and finance. As the number one company for sustainability assessed using various socio-economic measures, including diversity in the workplace and how we work with women customers and in society, I have much to tell the Forum participants – and a lot to talk about when I return.