“I can’t look after the children because my job is more important than yours and I earn more money.”
That’s just some of the talk that many women are confronted with as they try to grow their careers after having children, says Lynne Pezzullo, partner at Deliotte Access Economics
Without question, taking time out of the workforce to have kids can be a make or break for a woman’s career.
For Lynne, the decision has been a good one. She earns more money than her high profile hubby Michael after spending nearly a decade caring for four kids.
“We had very similar earnings in the early years… but I moved from the public sector where my husband remains, into the private sector, where you tend to start being paid less, but have greater earnings’ potential.
While her situation may be a little unique, in that she is a highly respected economist with a savvy financial mind, she’s well aware of the struggles that many women face as they pursue careers while having kids.
“In terms of the family, negotiations are important because often there can be implicit or explicit positions from a partner, like ‘oh, I can’t look after the children’, or ‘I can’t take time off’, or ‘my job is more important than yours’.
“One of the most important things a woman can learn is how to be empowered to negotiate, and it’s important to do that on the home front and at work.”
Lynne’s switched to the private sector because it offered greater work flexibility, including part-time and work-from-home options.
Having a career while managing the work and family juggling act is something she believes will lead to greater demands for flexible workplaces and ultimately shake up the status quo on women’s pay in the future.
“I think as more women participate in the work place, and some of the glass ceilings are shattered, we are likely to have a situation where a larger proportion of women do earn more than their partner.”
Eleven years after making the decision to chase job flexibility, Lynne’s career has powered ahead with a long list of achievements, including being a 2008 recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards.
Research shows that women tend to earn roughly the same amount of money as men prior to having children, but that the pay gap widens once women take on the primary caring responsibilities.
“I think it’s the individual couple’s choice how they manage it [the arrival of children]. But certainly it is important to have respect in those decision-making processes. I think often women don’t get that respect.
“This is particularly the case where the man earns more than the woman does, and where the man runs some bank accounts that the woman can’t access.
“This is not a true partnership, but in my view it does happen and in my experience, it happens a fair bit,” says Lynne.
Cathryn Gross is another woman who at one stage earned many multiples more than her husband, but admits she wasn’t fully prepared for how her financial status would affect her family once kids arrived.
“When we started having children, I don’t think that my ex had adapted to the mind-set that I was unable to work at that time because I had always been so financially independent.
“So I felt like I had to look after our three kids and still contribute financially. And that’s very hard.”
Indeed the arrival of kids is why Cathryn decided to start her own financial planning business Twelve Wealth, so that she could work on her own terms and still be a mum earning good money.
“I don’t think we did a good job of having a conversation about what would happen when I wasn’t the breadwinner, and how we valued my contribution.
“So that was a challenge, because I had always been financially independent I never had to ask for money.
“And when I had my children I wasn’t earning any money and there wasn’t that natural flow back the other way with income, which meant I had to draw on my savings to contribute to the family.
“Because I’d always been so financially independent, I hadn’t thought through the consequences of taking time out for children and the need for a change in the status quo,” says Cathryn.