Just over a week ago rumours began to circulate that Brendon Grylls, leader of the Nationals in WA, was planning on stepping down from cabinet and the leadership position. The rumours proved to be true last Monday. He spent half an hour explaining his decision to resign from the front bench that was largely motivated by his desire to spend more time with his family and children. He explained that a diary planned twelve months in advance isn’t conducive to being an active parent. It was heartening to see him take that decision and make that statement.
Grylls has been a leading voice of reason and a diversity champion in West Australian politics since the 2008 election, since which time he negotiated some of the major policy innovations for regional Australia. And he represents the changing nature of fatherhood in Australia: a man who at the peak of his career is prepared to take a break to be more involved with his family. This is inspiring to see, because by doing it in such a public manner he is giving other men the chance to think about their own roles in their families.
It is decisions like this that will allow more women to harness their career and aspirations by having greater support from their partners. When men start taking flexible work seriously that’s when women can flourish in tandem.
Many men under 40 want to be more involved fathers and, increasingly, it is the expectation. Being an active parent means making judgments on where your career is going and what your life will look like. It is easy to push family to the side and focus only on career success, but it is far harder to juggle parenting and a career.
For some people it means working full-time and being able to adjust schedules around school events, for others it means taking a step back — but these can be difficult choices and they’re options we need to be encouraging men to undertake.
When I discuss this issue with women who have had supportive partners they note that they wouldn’t have been able to reach the heights they did without the assistance of their spouse. For many it is difficult to quantify but is more about a sustained conversation over who can be where when.
Having more men involved in this discussion allows for women to have the option to pick up more work. We call it gender equality because it is about men and women, but too often the onus is solely on women to take action. I will feel more comfortable now should I choose to spend more time focusing on my family rather than my career and it takes high profile men to push more men to think about it.
Maybe it is time we start having this conversation more sternly with the men around us.