Pacific Brands CEO says women are being held back – by dinner

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald this week quoted Pacific Brands Chief Executive Sue Morphet, saying that people should all be made to go home from work for dinner with their families, to give women a better chance at obtaining higher level executive jobs. Make no mistake – Morphet does not say it will improve family time, connections at home – any of that. She outright says that it is meetings that run late into the evening that is holding women back from accomplishing higher level roles in the workforce.

She followed this statement with the real kicker – that after dinner was done, women could continue working at home on the dining table, while their kids did their homework.

To break through the glass ceiling, everyone needs to go home for dinner. Pic: Roger Smith, Flickr

Oh really? This is what she calls progress?

Thinking this balances the playing field for women is completely wrong. Being a generous person, I wonder if Ms Morphet has been taken out of context (after all, we’re talking about a short news piece here), or was she actually saying that women’s place is to make dinner, and only if we make everyone go home for dinner do they really have a chance at success in the workforce?

She’s holding on to some outdated assumptions and using them as excuses for why women are not accomplishing high level jobs. She’s saying:

a. Women make dinner.

b. Women should do office work at home after going home and making dinner. (Worse, she says that work can then be done at the dinner table!)

c. Men should be made to go home for dinner so women can catch up to them on the corporate ladder.

Further implications are that the women are the ones who should monitor their children’s homework at the same time as doing their own. Where are the men? Is it really true that all that they need to have is an enforced ‘go home for dinner’ rule, and suddenly that will make things better?

Oh, and what about that pay rise you took in 2009, Ms Morphet, doubling your salary to $1.8million at the same time as you announced plans to lay off more than 1800 workers from your factories? How ‘family-friendly’ was that? Perhaps instead of advising everyone on how women can be more successful at management, you should be focusing on how to give them the jobs they need in the first place, and let them own their own journey up the ladder – just as you did.

At the end of the day, I’ve come to a realisation – every situation is different. Every single one. There are no blanket rules that work for everyone, and making recommendations such as this is foolhardy and narrow minded. For many women, the flexibility in hours they work in the corporate sphere enables them to get ahead – heck, it enables them to work for money in the first place. Recommending placing limits in any sense on that is not woman-friendly. For example, what about the corporate ladder climbers who have no kids every second week (ever heard of divorce?), and have managed to get a workplace environment set up where they can work late those second weeks? Suddenly this recommendation gets implemented, and they’re held back.

As women we work in myriad different ways. We juggle it all, and every single one of us manages differently. Little things make a massive difference. If things such as making the entire workforce go home to dinner would allow women better access to the corporate lifestyle, then that would be nice, but it’s too big a claim to make. If only Sue Morphet had said something more akin to it being beneficial for family values and togetherness – the kind of stuff that resonates with all of us. Sorry Ms Morphet, but you’re voted off the island. (Bad Pacific Brands pun/link/oh just give me coffee.)


  • Really, there was no mention of men needing to be home for dinner other than to even the playing field for women? Maybe she meant that woman choose to go home for dinner every night and make their family a priority while men don’t always do that. I’m reaching though, I have no idea if that is what she really meant.

  • I agree Catherine – I am hoping this report doesn’t tell the whole story, but this CEO has had some public missteps in the past with her views (someone needs some media training), and I would not be at all surprised if this were exactly what she said. It’s unfortunate that we need to guess at the real story and we can’t rely on a mainstream media source to tell the full story for us.

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