The future of work for Australian Parents

March 11, 2020

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Over the last 100 years parenting has changed almost beyond recognition. Supporting working parents is definitely shifting from a nice-to-do to a must-do. And the reasons go beyond just caring for kids.

According to the National Working Families Report, two thirds of working parents are struggling to manage their physical and mental health due to the tension between work and their parental responsibility. As many as one in four were thinking about quitting or “actively intending to” leave their job because of this conflict. The report also finds that women continue to carry the greater share of “the caring load”  and flexible work is still seen as mainly being a problem for women. So what’s happening to change that and stop us all from burning out?

Closing the Gap

Equal paid leave is a major factor in the ongoing wage and wealth gap between women and men.  And for businesses that want to show they are serious about addressing the gender pay gap in the country and seeing more women in leadership, one of the things that needs to be actioned is getting parental leave right.

Introducing a shared parental leave scheme provides men and women with equal access to leave. As such it goes some way to tackling an underlying gender bias by eliminating unhelpful definitions which force parents to decide who will be the primary carer. This being one of the critical elements towards a solution.

Sharing the load

Encouraging, facilitating and supporting fathers to share responsibilities in the home is fundamental to achieving gender equality.  Until there is balance on the home front, the work front will remain deeply skewed for women. Looking longer term, fathers who are given the opportunity to be primary carers in the first year – even for a short period – are more likely to be involved in childcare later on.

This is something father and CEO Alexis Ohanian knows all too well. Two years after taking paternity leave, when his wife Serena Williams gave birth to their daughter, he penned an article for the NY Times advocating for men to take the time off and do more. “There is no stigma in our house about me changing diapers, feeding Olympia, doing her hair or anything else I might need to do in a pinch. They’re all just dad things -not ‘babysitter’ things. I hate it when people refer to dads spending time with their kids as babysitting,” he says in the article.

The economics of it all

From an employer perspective, equal and flexible paid leave increases retention and productivity as well as reduces turnover of workers, saving employers up to one-fifth of an employee’s annual salary.

Also important is the ability of a business to attract and retain the best talent with employees looking beyond salary to broader personal benefits.

It’s also a health issue

The shorter a woman’s maternity leave, the greater the likelihood that she will suffer from a postpartum mood disorder.  Babies whose parents have more reasonable time at home are more likely to get their growth checks and all vaccinations, and are more likely to be breastfed for a longer period.

Leading the change

Less than one in three fathers are accessing even the minimum two weeks of ‘Dad & Partner Pay’ on offer. And less than 5 per cent of dads in Australia access paid parental leave as the primary carer.

Unfortunately, very little talk is occurring at the political level in Australia to change this. However, on the plus side, many of the county’s biggest employers are taking it upon themselves to reshape their policies and start their own discussions.

One such company is Deloitte who has recently announced changes to their paid parental leave program, specifically designed to ensure parenting, career breaks and flexible working are shared between both men and women.

Employers should go beyond just thinking about the role they play in encouraging staff to share the care but should introduce specific policies to make it happen. And for good reason. Research indicates that focusing on increasing men’s roles at home will help close the gender gap better than workplace policies designed for women.

Global research indicates the provision of paid parental leave for fathers – whether it’s paid by the government or an employer – is one of the most effective ways to get more dads to take leave.

Deloitte already offers 18 weeks paid leave to new parents, regardless of gender, and the new policy means that leave can now be taken over three years, broken up in a range of flexible ways to suit each family’s unique needs.

If they want to work three or four days a week for a chunk of time they can, or, they can take it in one go. If both parents work for Deloitte, they are entitled to take parental leave at the same time if that suits them.

“You’re not just a parent for 12 months,” Deloitte Australia Chief Executive Officer Richard Deutsch says. “Nothing is more important than the arrival of a new addition to the family and both parents should have the opportunity to provide support to their children through those early years.”

Under Deloitte’s new parental policy employees will be eligible to access the leave as soon they join the firm, as long as they successfully complete their probation period. Superannuation contributions will also continue to be paid while employees are taking parental leave.

“The new approach will allow our people to pursue and develop their careers with flexibility and purpose. We’re encouraging them to take an active role in caring responsibilities for their families while minimising the financial impact of having a break for parental leave,” Deutsche said.

“I want to encourage everyone to access the parental leave they’re entitled to. We’ve led the way in removing the barriers that previously confronted some people from doing so. This is a time of shared responsibility and the new policy is one I’m proud to initiate.”

Other Australian businesses with great parental leave programs for both men and women include QBE and Mirvac, acknowledging that Australia will not close the gender gap if we don’t advance Parental Leave Equality and promote ‘shared’ parental leave policies.

Making these adjustments in the workplace and providing support for working parents certainly goes a long way towards facilitating a stable home life for you and your family. And developing a culture that has an emphasis on the work life environment,  and offers opportunities for each partner to equally participate in one of the most critical and formative periods of life can only be positive.

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