Sadhana Smiles: “When you get labelled by other women it is infuriating and insulting”

Sadhana Smiles - Harcourts VIC CEO

Ambitious women get labelled, that is a fact of life. But when you get labelled by other women it is infuriating and insulting.

Journalist, Miranda Devine, wrote an opinion piece called “Don’t let your career make you a bad mother” and “Women should not to let their career define them”.

She then went on to suggest that young women felt coerced into prioritising careers and becoming feminist warriors against the “so-called” gender pay gap.

Read more: How leading chief executive Sadhana Smiles is using her personal brand to drive change at work, home and in the community

Miranda Devine, I am one of those feminist warriors who is making a lot of noise about the very real gender pay gap! I am a single mum who works damn hard to make sure that her kids have the best I can afford to give them.

The pay gap is very real across the globe. Women have been paid less than men for the same job for many years and parity is a long way off.

The International Women’s Day themes for a number of years has been focused on this, Michelle and Barrack Obama have campaigned on this, organisations are now starting to report on their equality and parity status to attract people in to their businesses. Clearly, they must have it wrong then?

The very real pay gap means I will retire on 30% less superannuation than men, that many women will retire into poverty and that my very intelligent and capable daughter will earn 10% less than her male counterparts for the same job.

Then of course there is the issue of my job defining me. My work does not define who I am, my love for my kids and my family do. I am a very smart, intelligent, ambitious CEO, I have earned my successes and awards and at no point in the journey have I put my family last. In fact, they have stood by me, proud, supporting, cheering from the sidelines; I have become their role model.

Here’s a reality check that most women will agree with; I would have loved to have stayed at home with my kids but the cost of living, the desire to give my children a private education and at least one overseas holiday a year meant I needed to go back to work. These were choices I made not because my career defined me, but because my family did.

Why is it that no one accuses men of letting their careers define them? Why are they not judged or labelled if they choose not to take paternity leave? Men share in creating children and should be equally responsible yet it seems that opinion-makers like Devine fully support them having a career. And frankly, I don’t really remember a time in history when women didn’t work.

My mum grew up in rural Fiji, in a village with no electricity or running water. Her father believed in education and he sent every one of his daughters to school. My mum finished her nursing degree in Brisbane and when she had my younger brother decided to stay at home and look after us.

She regrets not having gone back to work to this day, to have a career, a life, that would have satisfied her. She loved us but she gave up what she wanted for us and she shouldn’t have had to.

Women must have the freedom to make the choice of staying at home or going to work without guilt.

This sort of diatribe does nothing in helping women navigate their lives today. We have the right to work and earn the same money as men, we have the right to have kids when we believe we are ready to do so, we have the right to choose whether we stay at home or go back to work and leave our kids with a nanny or at childcare.

Together with our family we will choose what works for us. There is no magic formula for parenthood, there is no correct way to bring up your children. Life is about choices, parenting is about choices, career, marriage and divorce are all choices. Each of us is different and we are entitled to make life choices and know that it is ok to put ourselves first sometimes.

What we shouldn’t do is judge each other for our choices, or label ourselves. To quote Madeline Albright; “There is a special place in hell for women who do not support other women”.

So my last words to Miranda Devine, is that perhaps you need to view choices other women make through different lenses, be more empathetic and understanding of the many situations women find themselves and the choices they make for themselves and their families based on economic, social and health reasons.

If it works for them and their family who are you to judge?

Sadhana Smiles is the chief executive of Harcourts Victoria and founder of non-profit Links Fiji. 

This article was originally published on Women’s Agenda. 

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Sadhana Smiles is the chief executive of Harcourts Victoria and founder of non-profit Links Fiji. She's also an author, public speaker, AFR 100 Women of Influence 2016, Telstra Victorian Businesswoman of the Year 2013, and a mother.