Jobs for all, Gordon, but not as you know them

Gordon Brown's vision of full employment is all very well but the future of work is about more than reducing the dole queue. Ann Treneman says that perhaps a woman's place is not in the workplace we know.

For weeks I have felt as if I am living in a time warp. It all started when City high-flier and superwoman Nicola Horlick insisted in her new book that we working mothers can, in fact, have it all. This assumes that we all want five children, a job in which we juggle millions of pounds, a Mary Poppins nanny and a spotless kitchen too. "Can you have it all?" her book asked. All sensible women answered: "No, you go ahead Nicola, we don't mind, honestly."

That, I thought, is that Eighties argument laid to rest. But then Nicola's alter-ego Brenda Barnes - the president of Pepsi-Cola's North American operation - decided to quit her pounds 1.25 million a year job to spend more time with the kids. "Superwoman's coming home - to the family," the headlines proclaimed. "I'm not leaving because my children need more of me," said Brenda. "I'm leaving because I need more of them."

And then yesterday came Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown with his comforting phrases about full employment for the 21st century. Now nobody can be against full employment but I'm not sure the chaps have really thought this one out. Whose employment are we talking here? The commitment was first put by Sir William Beveridge in 1944 and the very phrase conjures up a Britain full of men down the pits and women back in the kitchen. But most of the new jobs now are women's jobs and it is women who are increasingly filling them. It is one thing to reduce the dole queues but that is not enough.

The truth of the matter is that we all have to start thinking about work differently. Gordon Brown has to think about a future where men and women have lives of full employment - and enjoyment - and that is going to require a revolution. Nicola Horlick and all the superwomen out there juggling away need to be seen for what they are: exhausted. And the question we should be asking about Brenda Barnes has nothing to do with why she quit her job. What we should really want to know is why one of the top executives in America felt that she couldn't change her own workplace to enable all of her employees to spend more time with their children. "Hopefully, one day, corporate America can tackle this," she said.

Can it really be so hard to change the workplace culture? A friend once told me about a trek he had taken with a charity into war-torn southern Sudan. They were in the middle of nowhere, the truck had broken down, the sands were shifting and there was a communications crisis. So what did he do? "Had a Pepsi," he said. A Pepsi? "Yeah, god knows where it came from but it was the only thing we had." And it's true: wherever you are in the world there is always a Pepsi. I cannot believe that the people behind this marketing miracle cannot figure out how to get employees to spend more time with their children. But to hear the likes of Brenda talk you'd think it was impossible.

So for a moment, stop listening to Brenda and start listening to Rhona Rapoport. She has just finished a five-year study for the Ford Foundation on how employees can have a life and a job too. The study is refreshing because it tackles the real problem. Home and work first became separated in the Industrial Revolution and to find a new balance between them we need to challenge our core beliefs. We now celebrate the worker who lives for the job: he or she toils 12 hours a day and can always stick around to solve a problem. But why isn't the ideal worker someone who prevents problems happening in the first place and who is so efficient that they and everyone else in their office gets to go home on time?

One of the workplaces in the study was an administrative centre where the work was routine and the hours rigid. The bosses didn't like to allow too much flexibility because they thought productivity would fall. The study changed this: as an experiment it was decided to give everyone flexi- time. The result was that nearly everyone had a different schedule (worked out in their "teams") and that absenteeism dropped 30 per cent. People enjoyed work - and home - a lot more. And in all three workplaces used in the study, productivity went up.

This is the kind of thinking that we should be using when we plan our future of full employment. I want my children to grow up and work in a world where they will not have to make the same choices that I have had to make. Why should they have to juggle their lives and pretend they don't have kids (except on sports days, of course)? Such a future is possible but first we need to quit looking over our shoulders and to see that there is a lot of work to do to make this revolution happen.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power