Sunél's Blog | What we expect of women

Sunél Veldtman, | 08 March 2024

On International Women’s Day, I reflect on the opportunities available to women for financial security.

When I started working in the investment industry, I quickly realised that if I wanted to fit into that world, I would have to look the part. By that I mean, dressing like a man. I acquired pantsuits, tailored shirts and even a few pairs of cufflinks. There was little space for flair or femininity.

Dressing like men was just one of the ways in which women adapted to working in a world of work designed by men. Since its dawn, the investment industry has been the domain of men, as have so many other fields. As women entered this world, it was on men’s terms. ‘Adapt or die’, was the challenge and women accepted it.

In the decades since women started working outside the home en masse, the world has changed dramatically. It is now accepted that women must forge their own paths, and take responsibility for their own financial security regardless of whether they get married or have children.  Financial security is no longer the domain of feminists but is expected of all women, whether they realise it or not. 

By this, I am not saying that women are necessarily expected to continue earning their own income, but that they are expected to ensure that they are financially secure should the marriage end.

Yet, very little has changed to accommodate the unique needs of women, to adapt the work environment to support those with families, or to acknowledge all the unpaid work needed in society. Women still work in environments predominantly arranged around the expectation that someone is at home to care for the kids and home. Most middle-class and wealthy schools expect the same.

Women still do most of the housework and caregiving, including caring for parents and extended family members. Women also do most of the emotional and mental labour, considering the emotional well-being of children and the family, and thinking about maintaining the household.

This contract that women have with society is curious – not only have they taken on the challenge to compete with men in a world designed by men, but they have also agreed to continue with most of the work they were doing while they did not have full-time jobs outside the home. It has left a generation of women fatigued, time-famished, and financially disadvantaged.

Admittedly it is changing, but too slowly, and mainly because women have finally woken up to the unfairness and unsustainability of this contract.

While women are no longer expected to wear pantsuits at work, there remain significant impediments to equal access to financial security because of the remaining elements of the contract with society. It needs to change until it is recognised that all people with or without children, should have the same contract with society – a contract that fosters an environment in which everyone can have an equal opportunity to financial security.

It has to start with expectations. When we expect the same from men as we expect of women, from dads as we expect of mums, and better share the load in fostering a caring society, perhaps it will change.

On this day, as we celebrate women around the world, let’s reflect on how we can renegotiate the contract with society.

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Kind regards,