Caring must no longer be our 'dirty little secret' – COBCOE Chief Executive

It’s time for gender parity at home and a debate about the next industrial revolution

By Anne-Marie Martin, Chief Executive, COBCOE

Only when it becomes the norm for men and women to share caring responsibilities equally will women achieve true equality. Women are, of course, the bearers of children, and our culture has been ingrained over many thousands of years, but in many countries we are seeing women’s partners take on a greater share of the duty of caring for and bringing up children.

How men and women agree to do this is, of course, between the individuals involved. But if our society is to move into the real world and be current, we must change our attitude and, more importantly, our behaviour.

And this change is not only related to having children; with other community responsibilities and the digital transformation of the workplace, we need to seriously reconsider the future of work.

Managing the children and the home are not the only duties which tend to fall to women. Caring for ageing parents, or in-laws, has culturally fallen to the woman in the family. Shared responsibly is as important here as with children. And with an aging population the demand on women will only become greater.

Past laws and policies have not helped, with differing pension ages and parental rights. There are now equal maternity and paternity rights in many countries. But here in the UK, fathers have not been taking up the new paternity leave. Once of the main reasons is financial – because men still earn more on average, making paternity leave a bigger financial risk. 

This leaves us in a vicious cycle, since part of the reason women are still systematically paid less than men is because of career breaks for parenting, or even the possibility of such breaks. It’s obvious that men do not want to subject themselves to the same disadvantages at work that women have!

We cannot change the fact that women are the ones to go through pregnancy and childbirth, and women need as much support as possible during this time. But women are still taking up the lion’s share of caring responsibilities that go well beyond the period of what used to be called ‘confinement’.

Carers UK ( have found that women are more likely to be ‘sandwich’ carers, looking after children and elderly parents at the same time and that this tends to affect women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. In fact, one in four women in the UK aged 50-64 has caring responsibilities for older or disabled loved ones. The same organisations found that women were four times more likely than men to have given up work because of multiple caring responsibilities, with 72% of those receiving Carer’s Allowance being women. And whereas women have a 50:50 chance of providing care by the age of 59, men do not have the same chance until 75.

 From my own personal and professional experience, I have come across many women who ‘work their socks off’ to ensure that they fulfil their obligations – and then some. We are walking, talking, feeling, multi-tasking working machines with energy beyond belief. It’s true that some men also fulfil these caring roles, and we must not underestimate them either.

In our society, family units are changing with increasing diversity taking over. And yet it seems odd that despite the great strides made in recent years, here we are still debating whether women should stay at home to look after the children whilst men go out and earn the daily bread.

But in this age of technology, with artificial intelligence (AI) about to revolutionise the workplace, this could soon become an outdated debate. The next industrial revolution is just around the corner; it’s time to stop debating and drive action and change and now. Let’s just sort it, once and for all, and move the conversation on to other challenging issues, such as gender-neutral robots and AI programs changing working patterns that will anyway render the debate obsolete.

Given these unprecedented advancements in technology, our duty as parents and citizens must now be to ensure that we bring up future generations capable of managing a new world order where there will be less work, but the same expectations for balance.

Why women shine in chambers of commerce

The chambers of commerce sector is one in which women shine. Throughout our member and affiliate network, we have increasingly seen women take on chief executive roles, and more recently, roles on boards as presidents/ chairs. And, let’s not forget the men in our network who are also leading the diversity debate in their respective countries by joining or launching exciting new initiatives.

I believe that this gender diversity success story is not only due to the talent, acumen and abilities of those running our chambers, but also due to the culture of mutuality in chambers and the way in which they represent their business communities. A successful chamber is driven by members for members.

Among COBCOE members, well over half of the staff teams, executive directors, general managers and managing directors are female. We have also seen a significant rise in women on boards with around 30% of our members now having women in top board positions. 

I feel very proud to have within our network of chambers so many talented people of both sexes that are so passionate about giving value to their members and stakeholders.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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