International Women’s Day 2020: It’s time for Parental Leave Equality

This International Women’s Day, as we celebrate ‘Each For Equal’, Parents At Work is calling for vital reform of Australia’s gendered approach to paid parental leave to ensure all parents have an equal opportunity to share the care.

Australia does not currently have a shared-care paid parental leave model unlike many other countries, which means women and men do not have an equal opportunity to access and benefit from paid parental leave. Further to this, Australia remains one of the least generous OECD nations, paying only 18 weeks minimum wage compared to an OECD average of 50 + weeks.

And while there has been progress in mainstreaming flexible work for all, there is still much room for improvement as the recent National Working Families Report highlighted - 64 percent of respondents think ‘it is more acceptable for women to use family friendly work options than men’.

This lack of equal access and limited investment in parental leave and flexible work access impacts women’s career and earning potential, the ability to save and invest in superannuation, places an unfair burden of primary caring and household chores and increases the risk of poverty.

This compromises the health and wellbeing of women, their children and their families. The inequality effects men too.  Men miss out on playing a critical role in sharing the caring responsibilities, bonding with their children and are burdened with the ‘breadwinner’ stereotype with little to no access to flexible work or parental leave benefits. All of which holds back gender equality progress – for everyone.

The policies and culture that we need

Our National Working Families Report found that the work-home caring dynamic is still very much gendered, and unfortunately many employers workplace policies reinforce this.

More than half of the fathers surveyed said they felt the parental leave offered to them was too short, and approximately 25 percent of men said they were weren’t eligible at all for parental leave under their company’s policy. Combine this with the common stigma around flexible work options being less acceptable for men, and this gives us an alarming insight into not just existing policies, but the current attitudes surrounding men taking leave or working flexibly to care for their families.

What’s more, women are struggling to further their careers and battle the ‘motherhood penalty’, with cultural attitudes and workplaces policies hindering them.

More than a third of mothers reported having missed out on an opportunity for promotion due to taking parental leave, and more than half reported missing out on training or development opportunities. Further to this, 28 percent of mothers who returned to the same employer after parental leave were met with changes to their jobs.

What are we doing?

Parents At Work are working with businesses and individuals to implement more gender neutral family-friendly workplace policies and culture that enable people to thrive in their careers, but also have an equal opportunity to flourish at home too. When men are actively encouraged to take parental leave and participate fully at home it supports women to fulfil their career potential and secure their own financial wellbeing with flexibility and purpose.

Not only does Parents At Work provide work and family education, guidance and policy advisory services to organisation wanting to better support their working families, we have established the Advancing Parental Leave Network (APLEN) to lead UN global gender equality efforts to advocate and advance parental leave equality.

Take a listen to the ABC interview I gave recently if you’d like to hear more about the issues surrounding parental leave equality and how that will impact gender equality plus how you can be involved in the solution.

International Women’s Day is a time to recognise the importance of continued focus on moving towards a more gender equal future. It starts with each of us – women, men, businesses, community organisations and Governments. #EachForEqual

By Emma Walsh, CEO Parents At Work