'Why do we fret so extensively about the impact on children of not seeing their mothers enough, but care so little about what happens when it’s dad who’s always away?'

Annabel Crabb

Annabel Crabb is one of Australia’s most popular political commentators, and her new quarterly essay titled ‘Men At Work – Australia’s Parenting Trap’ is released in September 2019.

Annabel Crabb

In the essay, Annabel argues that gender equity cannot be achieved until men are as free to leave the workplace (when their lives demand it) as women are to enter it.

“This isn't about social engineering,” writes Annabel in an article released today for the Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s about social de-engineering, if any­thing. Nothing is intended to suggest that men be forced to work flexibly, or take parental leave. But if you accept – as I do – that our culture presently puts pressure on men not to do these things, then it is a step towards freedom and equality to remove those constraints. If women and men have some sort of instinctive or primordial urge to behave a cer­tain way, then let them do so in circumstances of utter freedom to do otherwise.”

Decades of modern feminism has made positive progress on the way women manage their lives, with flexible work hours and parental leave. Yet these sorts of family-friendly policies are often only directed towards women, with men seemingly forgotten or assumed to not need them. But this is not keeping up to date with the needs of the modern Australian family, especially the modern Australian father.

Emma Walsh, Parents At Work CEO, was interviewed for Annabel's essay, and firmly believes that the language many companies use in relation to their employees and caregiving has an adverse affect, and reinforces the idea that men being being at home with their family is unimportant.

"We've got to get rid of this idea of primary and secondary carers, because no parent defines themselves like that," says Emma. "I think we have to change the language so that we equalise it ... the most successful countries at managing work and family do so from a position of absolute equality - the idea that fathers are just as important as mothers."

"But that’s not how we approach it in Australia - here, it’s a system designed for mothers. Fathers are an afterthought. So we don’t have gender equality around parental leave. Men have been excluded – and that needs to shift. It’s now time to do this." - Emma Walsh

Annabel writes, “What I want to know is: why do we expect so little of fathers? Why do we fret so extensively about the impact on children of not seeing their mothers enough, but care so little about what happens when it’s dad who’s always away? Do we think dads are just for weekends? Or are we simply so roundly prepared – based on what we see – for their absence that we neither mourn it nor remark on it?”

And although the personal wellbeing of men or a father’s ability to balance career with family is affected largely by this, it isn't all it affects. The business case for best practice family-friendly policies that accommodate the working father and their desire to be a present parent and thrive in their career is proven time and time again.

“In a 2016 study by consulting firm EY of 1500 firms offering paid parental leave, 80 per cent reported a positive impact on employee morale, and 70 per cent reported increased employee productivity,” writes Annabel. “Parental leave is a prudent investment, in other words. It might cost 12 or more weeks’ wages to grant it to an employee, but if it saves you having to recruit and train a replacement, wins you the trust and loyalty of that employee and advertises you as an employer of choice, then the expense starts to look manageable.”

And it's not just companies that need to recognise the importance of equal parental leave opportunities. Anna writes that flexible work and parental leave is coming faster for 'well-paid, white collar workers' than other workers.

"That's why we need to make sure that the government is in step with the mood," Emma says. "Leaving it to the private-sector has the effect of improving things only for a certain group."

Read more in the SMH article, ‘Why Australia's culture around work and parental leave is trapping fathers’, here.

Excerpts taken from SMH article above and 'Men At Work - Australia's Parenthood Trap' by Annabel Crabb, September 2019.