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A womans place in the kitchen and boardroom

16 August 2006 Beachhead Media

The challenge of balancing the demands and stress of a working life and family requirements is at best tricky. For women the situation gets even trickier as their responsibilities include having to be homemakers, wives and professionals all rolled into one, as well.

The homemaking bit is what progressive and ambitious women are finding to be a constant bone of contention between spouses.

Mpho Nkeli, Executive Director of HR and Transformation at Alexander Forbes, said women are forced to balance their desire to succeed in the corporate world with their traditional roles as mothers and home-keepers. The pressure to balance is more on women rather than men. Some men are struggling to come to terms with their role as equal partners in parenting and home-keeping.

This battle of the sexes creates unnecessary pressure on a couple, and can have a negative effect on the family on work performance. To manage this, "most professional women need to have a joint plan with their partners about how they are going to tackle the problem", she said. "Wading aimlessly in the hope that somehow the problem will sort itself out is not being realistic", she added.

Nkeli said it is impossible to have a high- pressure job and still be expected to perform house chores. Because of gender empowerment, more and more women are beginning to earn more that men, which further complicates things.

In a society that is still mainly parochial, where men are expected to be breadwinners, men struggle with the disparity in earnings and then deal with this by trying to reassert the "head of the family" role. In instances like these, some men become more demanding of their wives to perform roles traditionally seen to be performed by women, i.e. cooking, looking after kids and general house chores. Others accept it and enjoy the benefits it brings, and become support pillars to their wives.

Nkeli said part of the solution is to develop a support structure which ranges from a good house keeper, employ the services of an au pair, even if it means having to cut down on other expenses. Buying a house next to your childrens school will solve the perennial problem of who between couples drops the kids off at school.

It is amazing how many people still do not have the necessary tools of the trade such a computer or laptop with interconnectivity so that some work pressures can be alleviated by working from the comfort of your home.

"The rules are the same whether you are a woman or a man in the workplace, delivery and meeting deadlines and targets remains paramount. However, women need not act and perform like men in order to meet the same work requirements". The differences between the sexes must be used optimally to achieve the same goal without loosing the sense of who you are.

Nkeli said the South African government has created an enabling environment for women to progress in public and private companies.

In instances where men provide a support structure for their partners, this bodes well as this serves as good role modeling for their sons.

Note must be made that many men do not have role models in their own fathers taking part in house-keeping duties. This makes the transition stage quite difficult. This generation is in transition and will bear the brunt of change. However, men must take it upon themselves to make it easier for their sons by being the role model they never had in their fathers in being home-makers. Mothers too should teach and train their sons that being a home-maker is part of what is expected of them in a partnership.

Girl children too have to be socialized differently in order to prepare them to confidently play meaningful and leadership roles in business and government.

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