It used to be the man brought home the bacon, and the woman stayed home to raise the children and work part-time to supplement the family’s coffers, but women are quickly becoming the main breadwinners in homes across the country.
Last year, Roy Morgan Research showed more than half (52%) of women say they’re the main breadwinner, up from 39% in 2006.
According to business consultant Angela Henderson despite traditional roles in constant flux, it still seems to surprise people that women are capable of building empires. “Since 2001, the number of households where women earned more than men rose from 385,000 to 521,000. Men are taking on the role of being the stay at home parent. Role reversal is becoming more common and soon it will be the norm,” she said.
“The amazing thing is Aussie men are embracing this change in roles.”
Award winning copywriting legend, Kate Toon, said she and her husband Hichem found a way to balance parenting and building big businesses. Kate is highly sought-after speaker and expert on copywriting and SEO. For the past decade, they have worked together to raise their eight-year-old son.
“I started my business because I got pregnant, unexpectedly after being told I couldn’t have kids. I knew I couldn’t keep working my intense agency job any more. I was contracting and didn’t get maternity leave, so I had to create a business swiftly,” Kate said
“The first year was hard, I was the breadwinner and my salary had gone. I tried to make it up in the few hours I had but eventually, we had to agree that we would share childcare equally, one day on, one day off, we still do this to this day.”
Kate said in the early days the arrangement irked Hichem. “But as I earned more, now he doesn’t care. Our son sometimes wishes his dad had a proper job and wore a tie and the other mums do more at school,” she laughed.
“I also think he’s blessed as we’re both at home, can walk him to school no before or after school care.”
Hichem, who now runs VoulezVouloz, a French teaching school, sees it as an equal partnership between two business owners. “Sometimes Kate supports me in busy times, other times I support her. I’m not hung up on male stereotypes, there’s no competition, it’s just an even plane,” he said.
Fresk Skincare founder, Teang Pao, started her business after becoming fed up with using expensive commercial skincare that had many strange sounding ingredients. “I told my husband Paul I would like to make homemade skincare – for myself, and gifts for friends and family; and maybe to sell. He was very supportive and encouraging,” she said.
With two kids under six, Teang and Paul have had to find a way to make it work.
Paul took the bulk of the load with childcare as Teang was testing, trialling, marketing her wares and Fresk boomed.
“At one point I was changing so many nappies I got RSI in the wrist. Another time my back went, and I couldn’t pick my kids up when they needed comforting, that was hard. It was hard transitioning from a quiet reflective person dreaming up solutions at a desk to being a full-time dad,” he said.
“Noise, questions, needs, crying, hunger, constant busy-ness, lack of mental stimulation, lack of quiet time to myself. Now I had kids and a family to take care of. I often wistfully thought of my desk job. But the closeness I have with my kids and the confidence and creativity I see in them now makes it all worth it. It is a gift to them they may carry through the rest of their years. And it is a gift for me too.”
Jane Heidrich, owner of the tech firm Wichwon, has been in business for 20 years. She and her husband Clint have two daughters, 17 and 15. “I started as an accountant at a practice. In 2004, I bought that business; it had approximately 80 staff so was a full-time commitment. I sold out in 2014 and have continued to consult for the practice to several the clients. I also built my own tech company, Wichwon, which has only recently launched,” she said.
“It was a natural career path move for me. It was something I had aspired to do under some great leaders in the practice. Whilst I had some minimal time off when I had my girls, it was always my aim to return and achieve that.
“The practice had not previously had a female partner and nor had anyone ‘worked from home’ as back in 2000 that was groundbreaking stuff from a technology perspective.
“It always had the potential to give us a very comfortable lifestyle plus allow us the luxury of Clint staying home with the children when we were to eventually have them. After having our second daughter, it was clear, financially, it made sense for me to be the main breadwinner.
Clint, an agronomist and grain trader, has learnt many new skills over the years. “I am the cook, the nurse and the taxi, but probably not much of a cleaner. I learnt how to do the girl’s hair, girl chat, cooking beyond the very basics, washing lots of clothes and Wiggles songs. I thought I had the patience down pat but even now that sometimes gets stretched.,” he said.
“Sometimes, I’m the one that has to listen to the girl’s problems but these days they probably do that more with their mum. Otherwise, over the years I’ve been the backbone and support whilst Jane has travelled and worked late.”
Angela said the growth of women in business is seeing a shift in how men see their roles in the family. “So many men as recognising that their partners and wives have created extraordinary ventures. It is no longer seen as ‘wimpy’ or strange for a man to be the full-time carer of the family’s children,” she said.
“Most families I speak to find their circle of friends and family embrace their way of raising their kids, but some people still find it hard to understand how a woman would rather build a business than be the full-time parent.”
Paul, who swapped a career in information technology to full-time dad, said when he is out with his children at the shops, people always ask the children where their mum is. “When I am with my kids in the mall, people don’t see me, even though I have the backpack with kids’ water bottles hanging out the side pockets. They say, ‘where is your mum?’. Even if I wave and point at myself, it takes a while to click, if at all,” he said.
“Another huge transition was one of perception. Some men look upon child management as ‘easy’ or no big deal. Before children, I did too. I’d look at a mother pushing a pram or meeting a friend for coffee and think ‘what a life! So much free time!’ But now I know what’s involved I can see the fatigue in their eyes and the desperate need to have a ‘normal’ adult conversation.
Jane and Clint have only ever found support for their arrangement. Jane said these days, it’s only compliments. “They can see how the girls have turned out. They can see we are still married,” she said. “Today, whilst it’s still not the norm, there is more role reversal which means it’s not so looked upon as being ‘not normal’.
For Kate and Hichem, communication and a willingness to share the load is the key to their success. “Also trust. I don’t stick my nose in Hichem’s business unless asked and vice versa. We’re very open to letting each other do our own thing, travel, meet up with people,” she said. “I think people are often jealous and surprised. That we both work from home, that we share the household load so equally, that we get on so well, that we do it all from home.”