Life in fast lane leaves no time for children

By Deborah Gough
October 16, 2004

Sixty-nine per cent of women in some professions are unlikely to have children and pharmacists are nearly twice as likely to have babies as women in engineering and architecture.

A survey by the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers asked 535 women about work and family balance and other professional issues.

The survey showed that 59 per cent of pharmacists had children, while just 24 per cent of engineers and 21 per cent of architects began families.

Pharmacists were also the most likely not to work full-time, with 64 per cent working either part-time, on an hourly contract rate or another form of flexible working. By comparison, 86 per cent of engineers worked full-time.

Less than half of the business managers, scientists and computing professionals had children. Average ages in different professions ranged from 30 to 41.

The association's national women's co-ordinator, Erin Wood, said it was the second time the survey had been completed and patterns among professions and parenting were constant.

Ms Wood said workplace culture made it difficult for many women to mix work and family life, with many full-time professionals working an average of four hours a week above the 38-hour week.

She said the rigidity of working hours for some professionals inhibited family life, compared with pharmacists, who could work part-time and had flexible hours, including weekends and nights.

Ms Wood said many women had to make the "heartbreaking choice" either to leave their careers, taking their skills, education and experience with them, or to have a life without a family, which most believed was a right and part of life. "I speak with women who find themselves at the crossroads," Ms Wood said. "They love their profession and some have to make the crippling choice."

While training topped respondents' wishes for employer benefits, 57 per cent wanted more flexible hours, 48 per cent wanted parental leave and nearly a third wanted extended leave on half-pay.

Pharmacist Janet Vello, who has three children, works part- time on Friday nights and weekends. She feels lucky that her decision to have children coincided with industry deregulation which meant longer opening times and seven-day trading.

Workplace culture and a lack of paid maternity leave contributed to architect Roberta Esbitt's decision to place children on hold.

"Your 20s are used largely for partying, your 30s are for building yourself a career and then in your 40s you decide what you want to do when you grow up.

The problem is that if you put off having a family for your career you diminish your chances."

Ms Esbitt now mentors younger women architects in their careers but tells them to keep an eye on the clock. "I think the answer is industry and government partnerships. There needs to be recognition that having kids is part of life."