NEWS TODAY: What’s the link between ‘shared parental leave’ and ‘gender equality’? The UK Government thinks it’s big and today our Government announced a step in the right direction for Australian families

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This month, Elysia McCaffrey, the Deputy Head of the UK Government Equalities Office is in Australia touring with Libby Lyon’s Director of Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Together they are reflecting on the progress made in Australia over the past five years when it comes to the gender pay gap, and how this compares to what the UK are doing following its first year of data collection under new gender pay gap legislation.

Emma Walsh, CEO, Parents At Work interviewed Elysia in this special employer podcast for her views on how the introduction of the UK’s Shared Parental Leave Scheme is key to driving gender equality outcomes at home and at work plus how this is contributing to reducing the pay gap.

The Shared Parental Leave Scheme in the UK includes up to 50 weeks of leave to share and up to 37 weeks of paid leave to split between parents. The reason the UK Government have implemented such a scheme is varied but essentially it is to break down some of the barriers that make the decision for who cares for a child easier for parents by providing more equitable options.

In Australia we don’t have a shared parental leave scheme. We were one of the last nations to introduce paid parental leave (PPL) just eight years ago and Australia offers the least generous statutory PPL scheme in the world compared to it’s OECD peers. There has been no parental leave progress or reform to the scheme’s design since 2013 when Dad and Partner Pay was introduced (two weeks at minimum wage).

It’s clear Australia is now falling behind its international counterparts. Although there is some progress with shared parental leave in individual organisations – like Medicare and Spotify who are designing progressive policy and partnering it with a genuine commitment to sustainable cultural change – there are still very few organisations who are making it an equal opportunity for both women and men.

 

More flex in Government parental leave – A welcome change today

Just today however Kelly O’Dwyer announced that more Australians will be able to access paid parental leave under a number of changes aimed at improving women’s financial security.

“This is a real game-changer for parents and particularly for small businesses. We want to deliver choice to women and their families and we know fathers also want to take time with their children so there needs to be more flexibility in the system. These new measures won’t just give women and their families greater choice, they will also help grow the economy.”

Hon Kelly O’Dwyer, Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations and Minister for Women

“What we find most hopeful is the greater flexibility offered in the policy where families will be able to split their parental leave period into blocks and take it up to 2 years from the time of birth or adoption. These new changes to our system are more inclusive as it gives families more options – for example dads are more likely to use some of it, as has proven popular in countries like Sweden where similar policies have been adopted with success.”

Emma Walsh, CEO, Parents At Work

Whilst Australia is still well behind it’s OECD nation peers on the topic of Paid Parental Leave this is a very welcome change to see how a policy can be more inclusive in that parents can flexibly use and share it.

In Australia it is predominantly employers who do the heavy lifting around parental leave – we think this move by Government will inspire them to get behind adopting more flexible parental leave policies in general.

Deloitte is great example of an employer leading the charge with flexible parental leave policies.

“One of the best ways we can make an impact that matters is by striving for equality in all its forms. Providing flexible leave options for parents and individuals with caring responsibilities is one important way we can help our people feel safe and secure so they can be their best whilst also helping to bring about gender equity. In 2017, Deloitte made significant enhancements to our parental leave policy, making access more equitable for women and men. We also introduced a flexibility option – which directly led to an increase of 128% of men accessing parental leave entitlements. Recognising that families come in all shapes and sizes, these support mechanisms apply to all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or the circumstances under which a new child arrives.” 

Richard Deutsch, Deloitte Australia CEO

 

With progress comes next steps – How the UK are paving a path to gender equality

From today’s announcement it is clear parental leave reform is underway in Australia. Finally there are moves to advance it and look at ways to improve it.

This is encouraging for Australia but there is of course more work to be done. In this podcast with Elysia McCaffry it highlights how critical the UK Government’s decision to introduce a shared parental leave scheme is to the gender equality agenda in the UK, an example Australia can continue to be inspired by.

Elysia also shares:

  • What’s working with the scheme and the challenges thus far
  • The benefits to organisations and their employees
  • The key for making it a success within the workplace environment
  • How the next generation of parents are leading the change

 

“There’s a whole lot of research on this – that awareness and cultural expectations and views of family and friends have a greater impact on the likelihood of men taking shared parental leave than financial considerations do. We know millennial fathers are more keen to spend time with their children and will use shared parental leave and flexible leave to do so. With this new generation of parents coming through that will start to drive some of the change. We cannot underestimate the power of influence and cultural norms.”

Elysia McCaffrey, Deputy Head, UK Government Equalities Office   

 

LISTEN to this insightful podcast here:

For more great podcasts for employer organisations and working parents LISTEN here.

If you’re organisation requires support in designing a progressive parental leave policy Parents At Work of consultation services and present regular industry forums to support organisations take the next step in creating a more family friendly workplace. Our upcoming roundtable, co-hosted by Baker McKenzie booked out in days. If you would like to learn more about these and be added to our newsletter list please contact info@parentsatwork.com.au.