Once again, here we are at International Women’s Day, arguing about whether we need a quota system to ensure more women get on the boards of big companies.
I’ve got an idea for a quota.
How about we work towards 30 per cent of men taking up the role of “Wife” by 2015?
For all of our agonising about workplace culture, professional pathways, mentoring, partnerships for success and whatnot, it’s as plain as dog’s bollock that the main reason women are under-represented in the senior echelons of just about any professional field is that they hardly ever have wives.
Gender-inclusive language and women-only fun runs are perfectly fine, but show me a female executive who wouldn’t trade them for someone who makes the kids’ lunches, is capable of composing a believable robot costume using tissue boxes and toilet rolls, and changes the sheets a couple of times a week to boot, and I’ll show you a very unusual lady.
Wives are the reason men can work long hours as executives, succeed in politics, edit newspapers, run their own small businesses, work in mines or other shift work, and still manage to have families.
And the bad news for chicks who are in the market for wives?
There’s a definite skill shortage.
Why? Not because the job of running a home and raising children isn’t a lot like other jobs, aside from the pay issue; brilliant some days, infuriating on others.
The problem is that it’s still just as hard for men to get out of paid work as it has been - historically - for women to get into it.
After a long hard slog, paid parental leave for women is starting to become accepted.
Paid parental leave for men - hell, any sort of leave beyond the routine two weeks of patting and burping that most working new Dads in this country take - is still something of an exotic event.
Why are our discussions about women in the workplace always about the barriers that block women’s entry to it, and almost never about the barriers that block men’s exit from it, when practically speaking, the latter phenomenon is such a significant cause of the former?
Why are we always talking about women’s rights to work more, and hardly ever about men’s rights to enjoy the same workplace flexibility that we have amassed?
How can women ever have equality in the workplace, when there are still so many barriers standing between men and equal opportunity in the home?
In the federal Parliament, a workplace I’ve been observing for more than a decade, the pattern is unmistakeable.
I see the male politicians who have young children; they spend long weeks away from their families, which no-one ever finds remarkable or surprising, and a couple of times a year you meet their spouses, whom I always feel like giving a hug.
I see the female politicians who have children; they’re the ones with crèches in their offices and Weet-bix on their lapels.
They have understanding staff, and they’re hardly ever ministers; I stand to be corrected, but I think Nicola Roxon is the only woman ever to hold a Cabinet ministry while raising a child under the age of five.
It’s not because they’re not capable, or even because they don’t get asked; it’s just that it’s a major struggle, and women don’t have wives, so they tend in the main not to attempt it.
And when they do, like Tanya Plibersek who you can see any sitting week, with her baby son in the sling as she runs her ministry and her office or feeds him up the back of a meeting, there are always some people who say: “Should she really be back at work?”
More usually, women who advance in politics don’t have children (Julia Gillard, Julie Bishop, Amanda Vanstone) or get a head of steam going once their children are older (Jocelyn Newman, Jenny Macklin).
On the bloke side, Joe Hockey claims the honour of being the first MP to take formal paternity leave, and that was only last year.
I’m not having a go at blokes, by the way.
I think it’s sad that they don’t have the same ability to move in and out of the workforce as many women do, after years of campaigning and complaining and hard work from the sort of women we silently thank on this, the 100th International Women’s Day.
I think it’s a pity that lots of fathers who would love to have more time with their children feel they can’t ask, because of some mad workplace culture that confines them in some atavistic hunter gatherer mind-set.
I think it’s a pity that when we think about women and work, it’s often about how we can do more work at work, when the other half of the equation - how better to share the work at home - is still so unresolved.
“Choose your spouse wisely,” is what Pru Goward once said, when dispensing - as she still does - advice on how to “do” family and career.
And I did: My other half, bless him, is a beautiful juggler and a hands-on parent.
Not a wife, exactly, but definitely a spouse with benefits.