“Yummy mummies” who give up work and “put all their effort into their children” are making a “dangerous” mistake, Cherie Blair told a conference of business leaders this week.
Mrs Blair, the wife of the former prime minister, risked reignite the “mummy” wars about whether mothers should work or stay at home by arguing that “being the best possible mother” did not necessarily mean giving up your job and suggested that the children of working mothers gained valuable independence.
Mrs Blair, told first international FORTUNE Most Powerful Women event that she worried about today’s young women whose ambition was to marry a rich man and give up work.
She said: “One of the things that worries me now is you see young women who say: “I look at the sacrifices that women have made and I think why do I need to bother, why can’t I just marry a rich husband and retire?” and you think how can they even imagine that is the way to fulfil yourself, how dangerous it is. In my case I saw my mother abandoned by my father when I was eight – but even good men could have an accident or die and you’re left holding the baby.”
Mrs Blair, a barrister and mother of four, urged all women to remain self-sufficient.
She said: “Every woman needs to be self-sufficient and in that way you really don’t have a choice - for your own satisfaction; you hear these yummy mummies talk about being the best possible mother and they put all their effort into their children. I also want to be the best possible mother, but I know that my job as a mother includes bringing my children up so actually they can live without me.”
Cherie Blair made her comments as part of a panel discussion on leadership and female representation on UK boards. She told the audience: “I did many foolish things that I wouldn’t encourage any young woman to do today, and I made no concessions to the fact that I was pregnant... One way I got into trouble was ten days before my son was due to be born I was still working and they compulsorily hospitalised me as they said the baby wasn’t growing. It was rubbish – he was fine.
"As a barrister I was self employed... It meant that I could find time in my day when I would go home so I could see the kids and then and carry on working because I realised because I was working for myself that as long as I did my tasks, it didn’t matter when I did them. The question was the quality of the work and the fact that I was able to organise my life to suit me.
“What is important is that women have a choice. We need to devise business strategies and societies that allow women to make choices that aren’t all-or-nothing choices. We’ve been conditioned to think that if we make a choice to have a child at this point, then that defines what you do for the rest of your life. That’s not true – it doesn’t have to be like that…
She called for the Government to intervene if necessary to get more women on company boards.
She said: “Whether you call it a target or a quota, what you are actually talking about is better diversity and getting more women onto the boards of businesses. The truth is we have been waiting a hell of a long time and seeing very little progress, and unless you have some sort of kick up the pants that is never going to happen.
“I have spent my life working in employment law and discrimination law and I can tell you that every time you say “can we talk about discrimination for disabled people”, they say “of course that’s a nice thing to do but it’s really quite difficult”. It’s only when there’s something that tells them that this is not just a nice aspiration but something really serious that things really begin to change... All the research from the equality and human rights commission shows that we are going to be waiting a hundred years to achieve these targets unless we take them seriously. If that doesn’t happen then I’m afraid that the government has to act.”